Friday, January 10, 2014
Looking At My Feet
After mining for shells a couple years ago, I haven't really done more shell picking these last two years. Once you find large perfect conditioned shells by the bucket load, it is hard to go back to picking small shells along the shore. Never-the-less, I am still fascinated at looking at them after they wash ashore. Because the skies were cloudy most of the time, I found myself looking at my feet more than I had on previous trips. I noticed several things which I am posting here. The first discovery is that shells tended to wash up in groups at certain points on the beach and not evenly distributed along it. After doing a bit of research, I think this is due to beach cusps which is far too technical for me to understand enough to explain here. Google it if you desire. But basically I think it causes area of larger particles of sand and shell to get deposited in areas of the beach and finer sand in other areas.
All along the beach where the water met the sand, these black particles would be left behind showing how far the last wave had traveled up the sand before receding. At first I didn't pay much attention to it but later after talking to a local, I think I now know what they are. The first trip I made to the gulf was eight months after the BP oil spill disaster in the gulf and I found several of what I thought were tar balls. On the next two trips I still found them but perhaps to my imagination, thought there weren't as many. This time I learned that they weren't tar balls at all. Instead they are balls of peat from the ocean floor and when I break them up I can see many layers to them. I think the above black particles are all bits and pieces of peat that washed up onto the white sand.
I have always felt the attraction to sand 'gardens' that you sometimes see portrayed in the movies at Buddhist monasteries or in Japan. I'm not sure if they actually have them in real life but if they do, I can understand why. For me, seeing the ever changing patterns in the sand it quite calming. I can sit for hours and watch the sand come and go along the shore creating new patterns. I found the above pattern one morning while walking and am not sure how it formed.
Most of the time when the waves receded, the beach would be full of smooth sand with overlapping lines where one wave stopped. Walking along the beach in this area is such a treat. The waves continually wipe the 'slate' clean so to speak giving me the illusion that I am the first. Unlike further up the beach where the sand it pocked by hundreds if not thousands of beach goers walking too and fro, the edge up next to the water if untrammeled and smooth. The water settles the sand grains down tight making it firmer to walk on which doesn't hurt either. On this trip it got me to thinking about a nice trip. It would be nice to put on a pack and just see how far one could hike around the country via the sandy shore. For rivers or streams that cross my path I would have to wade or have some sort of inflatable boat to take with me. I'm not sure what I would do about camping at night because I'm not sure of the legalities of sleeping on the sand especially in populated areas.
I'm not positive on what is being shown in this last picture but I have a theory. After watching a fascinating video on crabs molting on YouTube, I think these tubular things are probably pieces of the molted legs that have broken up and washed ashore in clumps. I briefly considered that they might be some sort of sea worms but they are hollow and irregularly broken into pieces. Perhaps some plant life? If anyone knows for sure, please leave me a comment.
I'm not sure what causes this to happen but I suspect it has something to due with high tide and perhaps wave action as well. Our first night there these sand 'cliffs' twelve to twenty-four inches high were formed along the beach for two miles in either direction from our house and probably went further had I walked further. For the rest of our stay, the waves never got any further up the beach and as the air dried out the cliffs of sand, they slumped off and disappeared under the feet of beach walkers.
The riffles were actually still under water in an area along shore where the waves were blocked by a shallow sandbar a little farther out and the wash from the waves traveled along horizontal to the shore over this part of the sand until they found an opening to drain back into the ocean. In sections of the sand, it was riddles full of miniature volcanoes that my biologist brother said were made by crawdads burying themselves. I dug out a couple with my shoe but never found any of them. I'm guessing they were too small and my shoe to blunt of an instrument for the task.