Sunday, May 31, 2009

Climb Down at Low Tide

The low tide on Saturday was around 10:30 in the morning.
We set out for the rocky shore below the garden, down the repaired ladder on the ocean cliff , across a granite precipice as gray as a storm cloud. Other faces of the rock are white marbled with golden butterscotch streaks or peppered with black speckles.

We climbed down to the rocky floor of an outdoor room; it is no lost City of Atlantis, but it is nearly the size of an average American house. There is no ceiling but the sky of soft gray morning fog floating above us. To the north of us the water was still, a pool reflecting the colors of the sea's dark vegetables, captured in tall stone walls like soup in a pot.
pictures (c) & courtesy of Mark

At the stone floor's southern edge we could see the open waters windowed through an arch carved by the waves in the native granite buttress over which we had walked. The rock wall is gray above the water line, but below where life clings, the wet walls are a purple red hue. Cypress trees grow atop the bluff of the steep cliff to our east and the west side is protected from the ocean waters and wind by a wall of rock. At one point small debris tumbled down the cliff and struck near where I was exploring. Do you know what I think caused this? A gopher above me tunneling near the edge and dislodging stones and dirt. As far west as I'd come, I couldn't get away from gophers.

Have you ever encouraged a child to use their words, or admonished a frustrated toddler yourself, to talk instead of wail? I feel like a verbal toddler without pictures to share, it's hard to imagine I can summon words that can bring you the glory of this particular place where land meets sea. I was wearing gloves and as I often needed my hands to complete the stability of my sometime crab-like crawl out to this glorious spot, it was a good thing I didn't have anything else to be responsible for. I'm sure there are folks who could make the same journey (I can think of two to whom I am most closely related), and be graceful in every move, but I was simply glad to arrive and later explore the further domain of these beautiful walls of rock that jut out into the ocean where I live and return safely with a little cache of shells. Constant postural grace was not an option I encountered. .

We found the empty shells Haliotis rufescens Swainson, Red Abalone and Haliotis cracherodii Leach, Black Abalone. One abalone I found is oddly turquoise blue but it is still called black abalone. Here is the photo that I took of the shells once back home. Driftwood and a few striated tumbled smooth stones found their way into Mark's backpack too.

We saw colonies of various kinds of limpets living on the rocks. The most common ones, shield limpets are shaped like rice farmer hats with a little pointy apex near their center. We also saw flat dark plate limpets with their fine little stripes and checkers of color.

Ah...a new development, my partner in fun is offering to share some of the photos he took. We will see if I use them, if they have me in them, I might not want to spoil the view. (Well, as you have seen I did use some of his pictures...with a little cropping.)

There were of course barnacles on the rocks, lots of barnacles. I saw several live Chitons. Their shells are often called Coat-of-Mail. They are odd leathery life with eight butterfly shaped plates of armour. I think the ones I saw, attached to the rocks just below the low tide line, were Red-lined Chiton or Gum Boot Chitons. I only saw one cast off butterfly shell and it had one chipped wing.

Below the tide line are long thick groups of different life forms, brilliant pinkish treelike forms that I think are called nudibranches, black mussels, white and pink tiny volcanoes of barnacles, and tangles of kelps and seaweeds. These colorful bands of colonies ring the side of the cliffs like a woman wearing all her jewels round her neck at once.

The Mussels were plentiful. I recently read that one mussel lays several million eggs per year. I think the species I saw were Mytilus califonianus Conrad, California Mussel.

We saw acorn sized black snails with pearly knobs and crabs no bigger than a fifty cent piece that preferred to stay scuttled under the rocks. Depending on how you cock your head when you look at them, you might decide they are a murky brown or a motley array of iridescent glows. The tidal pools house purple spiny urchin and green pulsating anemones. The starfish were some of the bigger residents and orange and wine red were the colors of the day. There were groups of pointy white shells, I should learn what these are. Maybe one of my readers knows?

Not knowing at first that I would have pictures to share has helped me work harder to describe some of the sights of our low tide climb to you. I hope you got at least a glimmer of the beauty from this missive and had some fine adventures yourself this week.


In Memory of Lillian...who loved the mountains and the shore.

I don't think she ever saw a rock she didn't admire.



Gretchen Joanna said...

Ah...I'm so glad you took the trouble to share your outing with us, to find the words to describe all the wonders.

Sarah Beth said...

Lovely!! Both the pictures of creatures, the writing, and the picture of you!