In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Monday, August 16, 2010

being at home in the world

I go out in my rowboat only when the water is calm, so there's no need to row to actually get somewhere, or to keep myself from being taken away from where I want to go. And besides, wherever I am in that boat is pretty much where I want to be. Any destination is fine, and sort of made up at the last minute, and bound to change again a few minutes after that. So I zig and zag and stop and start, not doing much and not going anywhere in particular.

Instead, I ship my oars and lean over the edge of the boat to watch the bottom of the harbour. I drift on the current while images stream past below me: rocks flecked with light and limpets or hidden beneath tangled golden piles of waving rockweed, schools of tiny silvery fish, white sand, underwater fields of bright green seagrass, whelks, clamshells, a lone laggardly jellyfish, and huge scary fingers of kelp like a monstrous bronze hand reaching out to grab the boat from below and drag it down to a watery grave. I'm away from each sight as soon as I arrive.

I have been looking for starfish this summer, but I have not seen a single one. Last summer they were plentiful, at least below the government wharf and out on the seal ledges. Maybe they'll return again next summer. The ways of starfish are mysterious.

But while searching for starfish I found sand dollars instead. I hardly recognized them at first since they looked so unlike the only sand dollars I've ever seen: dead ones, whitened skeletons piled in souvenir shop bins, with that silly, insulting Legend of the Sand Dollar attached to them so they'll sell better.
Here, though, I began to see, in particular places beneath the water, as if cast upon a soft bed of pale sand, what appeared to be perfectly round and flat black objects.
As I looked more closely I could see that these dark round objects bore the sand dollar's five petal pattern, but in reverse, like a wax resist technique using fine sand instead of wax to reveal the pattern. The sand dollar is an ocean filter, sucking in organic matter beneath it and releasing water through the tiny holes that form its petal pattern on top. What I could see was, I think, the residue of its filtering process.
Even at low tide they lie a couple of meters below the surface, beyond my reach. That's just as well. As it is I can only look but not touch, as if I am visiting a collection of rare masterpieces. I doubt they are rare. But who knows anymore what's rare or endangered? Things seem to slip away without our noticing, and then they are gone. For now these sand dollars remain where they belong, on the ocean floor, their dignity intact, doing whatever small obscure thing it is they do on behalf of the world.


Piecefulafternoon said...

I love the peace and happiness of your blog.

Janet said...

Another keeper - thanks Anne for switching the sand dollar and sea urchin as 'beachy decor' to living things in the earth's cycle of life.

Karen said...

I never saw sand dollars in the wild, loved this post! ...

Karen said...

Thank you for your beautiful blog and for the fascinating article about the sand dollars. We have recently moved to Nova Scotia so we are still learning about ocean life. My daughter found some broken, white shelled sand dollars on Martinique beach and asked me where sand dollars live in the ocean. I will show her your blog.

Anonymous said...

My sons often see large beds of sand dollars while scuba diving in Saint Margaret's Bay. They look so different alive - as do we :)

Martinique Beach is the place where I've found the most sand dollars along the shore. I usually just find fragments but every once in awhile will spot an unbroken one. The last time I was there, I was so intent on finding sand dollars that I almost tripped on the carcass of a dead seal.