Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Natural Connection

I'm walking very consciously out onto a mud flat. The low tide has pulled back and what remains is a half mile of muddy sediment touched by eel grass and millions of batalaria snail shells. The kids around me - a mixed age group of home schoolers out of Bellingham - run out ahead, their lighter weight and quick steps keeping them from being sucked down into the mud that pulls at my every step. Still, I keep going and when I find slightly firmer ground, I stop and look around to check on what's going on around me.

I'm out on Padilla Bay, tray in hand waiting for the kids to bring me their wonderful finds dug up from the mud. I have a shore crab and a couple worms as well as a broken shell that a four year old little girl really wanted me to have on my tray. The sun is shining, I'm listening to laughter and watching kids get covered in mud while their moms sit back on the beach chatting.  I'm torn between being irked at them for not being out here with their kids and sympathetic to the pleasure they must feel relaxing for a few moments while their kids play where they can see them. I remember how those rare moments felt.

 I've been out here off and on all spring and I'm still learning the ropes - and the names of the different critters. I'm recognizing the stories that are told and how the estuary is explained to different age groups but most of all I see the common excitement that happens when someone shouts out a special critter sighting under a nearby rock. There's always the kid that brought the wrong shoes and doesn't care. I smile because my daughter Jess never cared either. As a matter of fact, it wouldn't matter what shoes she had on - they'd be off and she'd be running around barefoot.

I'm trying to walk toe first and pick up my foot heel first. The boys have gone out farther than I think is necessary and the mud is getting deeper. I think I'm managing okay until my boot sticks - and my foot doesn't. I still have to go out farther where one of the boys has gotten himself very purposefully stuck and is delightfully surprised to find that he can't move. I'm tempted to leave him out there for a bit until he starts to understand why the teachers gave such clear warnings about the mud; instead, I sigh and send the rest heading to shore. After about five minutes of pulling every which way, his boot comes loose with a wet suction sound and off he goes, running towards shore and his friends with an adventure to share. I plod slowly behind, my clothes now spattered with mud.

It's never far from my mind why I am out here. I've had this hankering to help people connect in with incredible natural world of ours. The more time I spend getting to know how miraculous these ecosystems truly are, the more engaged I feel in protecting what I am intricately connected to. I believe that this is true for most people - but sometimes we all need a little help figuring out why it matters to our well being that there are forage fish breeding out in the sea.

The younger kids are easy. Put a shore crab in their hand and they connect. With squeals or shouts, sure, but the moment is marked as out of the ordinary - and will be remembered. The teachers here give the children a strong framework for future beach-combing. How to pick up plastic, how not to damage the animals and - the most important - how to see beyond the surface mud to the vibrant and complex system in front of them.

It's the best of days to watch children discover a new world that is so intricately connected to their own homes and communities here in the Salish Sea watershed. Helping them explore the wonder of the estuary helps me hold on to my own wonder.

If even one child walks away thinking that their individual actions can ripple out and impact other people around them - than I've had a really good day out on the beach.

I just carry extra towels and shoes in the car.

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