Last June, I roamed the shores of Puget Sound during a super low tide. I spent my time on the harbor side of West Seattle, facing downtown. The scene was memorable and photogenic, with blue sky and white clouds, reflections in pools of water.
This year I decided not to try to repeat those images and instead chose to experience the lowest tide around the bend to the south, where people go to look for marine life and volunteer beach naturalists are present to identify creatures.
I guess it’s the moon phase and summer tilt of the earth that produces these low tides. Lucky for us, that’s a better time to explore near the water’s edge than winter!
During these super low tides, I’d say the tide goes out at least twice as far as it usually does, if not more. This is when Mother Nature reveals the hidden world that exists beneath the sea, and hordes of people young and old come out to witness the spectacle.
I went down for a -3.4 ft. tide, and saw some exciting creatures. For the first time, I found a small fish, a gunnel.
Gunnels are long and narrow, similar to eels. This one was a saddleback gunnel, Pholis ornate, about four inches long, though they can get to about 11 inches long.
I learned that they are found close to shore areas, on mud bottoms among eelgrass and seaweed, and that they feed on small mollusks and crustaceans. The pattern on its skin made me think of a snake.
I searched for and found several chitons clinging to rocks, though their lovely shell shapes and patterns were completely obscured by coats of seaweed. A stunning find was a “gumboot” chiton, Cryptochitonstelleri, which reminded me of shelf fungi I see growing on logs.
If it grew above ground, you’d easily mistake it for fungus. Someone had spotted it way under a rock and asked a volunteer what it was. It was huge, as far as any chitons I have seen. In fact, it is the largest chiton in the world, reaching up to 13 inches in length. It has a reddish leathery exterior that covers its shell plates, unlike smaller chitons. How lucky was I to see it!
There were plenty of anemones, with the large bright reddish ones screaming for attention. They come in many shapes and sizes.
If you were going to make a horror film with sea creatures, anemones would surely be the stars. Remember the movie, The Blob? Exactly. With their slime-like glistening amorphous bodies, they stick to rocks and seem to ooze down to the ground.
The larger ones take on these stretchy shapes, while the smaller species are circular masses that can be easily overlooked among the wet sand.
Stars and Cucumbers
Also looking soft and squishy were the many bright orange sea cucumbers. They are not large, but easy to spot.
Another orange creature was the delicate looking blood star, Henricia leviuscula, with its narrow rays. It was much smaller than the beefy brown mottled sea star, Evasterias troschelli. This guy eats clams, shells, snails, chitons, barnacles and sea squirts.
Nudibranchs are among the most colorful of undersea creatures. Although the magnificent Opalescent sea slug can be found in Puget Sound, on this day, all we saw were bland beige ones of the genus Doris. They were like big flat worms.
There are many kinds of sea weed along the shore, and one visitor even sampled one!
With all the commercial tanker traffic, ferries and other vessels, I’m not sure I’d eat anything from that particular body of water.
Always my favorite, a moon snail clung inside its beautiful shell. These gastropods have been called “voracious predators” of clams.
The snail envelopes the clam with its big foot and then drills a hole in the clam shell. Through the hole, it slowly sucks out the clam.
Salix viminalis, Osier willow, common willow, osier.
These are names for what I believe is my little tree in the front yard! It has stymied me since I moved in 12 years ago. I suspected it was a kind of willow, but when I searched “willows,” none matched my tree. It’s not weeping and it has really small, narrow leaves. It has catkins in the spring, a willow-like characteristic, and gets lots of suckers and turns yellow in fall.
This morning, I broke off a small branch, including catkins and leaves, ready to send it off the National Arboretum in Washington, DC, for identification.
In one last ditch effort, I searched the internet for “trees with catkins.” This time, It didn’t take long to find a photo that looked like mine! “Osier willow” was what was pictured, a tree native to the United Kingdom and across Europe to western Asia. I am 99.9% certain that this is what it is.
I have a female tree, according to the description of its green catkins.
Male trees have yellow ones. Interesting! These trees favor wet areas and their branches have widely been used for basket making.
Osiers and Green Men
But, more interesting is the folklore associated with osiers. According to one British website, Chediston, Suffolk, has a local custom known as a ‘willow stripping’ ceremony. Typically held at the first full moon in May, this Druid-like event features a ‘Green George” figure dressed in willow strippings, who dances around and is then ceremoniously thrown into the local pond.
Wow! May Day is coming. Perhaps I should dance around my tree, though where it’s planted makes that impossible.
I wonder if Green George is what we also call Green Man? I have several versions of Green Man in my garden.
Myths abound about Green Man or “Jack-in-the-Green.”
Figures of Green Man can seen in numerous churches, cathedrals and abbeys, largely in Britain and France. He is variously depicted as good or evil, frequently with vegetation coming out of his mouth. This can represent life returning each spring, fertility, nature and in general faith and hope.
Obversely, Green Man has been depicted as a demon, devouring all of nature, instead of bestowing it.
Whether you know him by Green Man or Jack-in-the-Green, I prefer to think of him as a spirit who guides us back to our nurturing relationship with Mother Earth.
Jethro Tull did a delightful little song about Jack. It always makes me smile and imagine the little people living in my garden.
By the way, in case you didn’t know, the name Jethro Tull pays homage to an 18th century English farmer and agricultural pioneer, credited with inventing a horse-drawn seed drill, an improved plow, and a horse-drawn hoe. So, he was a bit of a Green Man himself!
Here are some of the lyrics for the song by Jethro Tull, the rock band. Have a listen sometime!
Have you seen Jack-In-The-Green? With his long tail hanging down. He quietly sits under every tree in the folds of his velvet gown. . .
He drinks from the empty acorn cup the dew that dawn sweetly bestows. And taps his cane upon the ground signals the snowdrops it’s time to grow.
It’s no fun being Jack-In-The-Green no place to dance, no time for song. He wears the colours of the summer soldier carries the green flag all the winter long . . .
Jack, do you never sleep does the green still run deep in your heart? Or will these changing times. motorways, powerlines, keep us apart? Well, I don’t think so I saw some grass growing through the pavements today . . .
The rowan, the oak and the holly tree are the charges left for you to groom. Each blade of grass whispers Jack-In-The-Green . . .
March 20, 2019: the first day of spring – the equinox, full moon and the third and final Super Moon of the year. That’s a lot of weight for one little day to carry. I was curious about what it all means, so I consulted those most in touch with and knowledgable about the cosmos – astrologers, of course!
This is what they had to say about this overwhelming energy.
Under this Libra Super Moon, “we are going to be guided to enter into the new.” Under these three Super Moons, they say, “we have been encouraged to tune into our intuition . . . to purge and release all that is holding us back.”
Under these Super Moons, they say we have been guided to clear the slate and set ourselves “back to zero” and prepare for the new chapter that is ahead.
March’s Full Moon “opens a portal to a new wave of energy. It falls around the same time as the Equinox, which is the start of the astrological year and the beginning of a new cycle.”
And, get this! “Zero is the number of infinite potential, and it’s no coincidence that the March Full Moon falls at zero degrees of Libra. At the time of the Full Moon, we will actually have three planets in the cosmos aligned at the vibration of number zero, which means the Universe is just going to be blossoming with potential.”
“. . . the Libra Moon will be calling us to take inventory of how we are using our energy and to assess whether we are using it in a way that serves us or drains us . . . we may realize that we need to let things go, and to do away with things take up too much of our precious energy reserves” This is interesting because that’s exactly what I’ve been called to do during the past week.
This Full Moon reminds us to center ourselves, to return to the blank slate . . . get perfectly balanced, so we can feel more peaceful and in tune with our lives.
Stay on this path, one astrologer says, because April also brings another Libra Full Moon, and this will bring the closing of the portal.
We will have one lunar cycle to integrate these new energies and walk into the new.
A final warning from one seer:
“Full moons tend to make us purge and release things from our lives, The bright light of the sun throws a spotlight on our subconscious and our shadow. This can feel uncomfortable as the Sun literally blasts out the demons who have nowhere to hide. Often the full moon is a time when we reap what we sowed at the new moon . . . for good or for ill.”
“The veils between the worlds are thinnest around a full Moon, so be very careful what you invite in.”
I crossed the border to visit Boquillas del Carmen, a tiny rural village next to the Rio Grande in the prinicipality of Ocampo, in the Mexican state of Coahuila. The town was recently featured in a New York Times article in which the reporter visited border towns to portray life on each side. At the time, Boquillas was suffering from the U.S. government shutdown; it’s largely dependent on tourism.
The U.S. makes it simple for its citizens to venture to the other side. I had taken my passport along on my trip to the Big Bend area of Texas, just in case something strange arose, such as a need for prove my citizenship. You never know, right?
A few days before my trip began, the shutdown ended and the passage to Boquillas opened up again. I hadn’t planned on going over, but a few days into my trip I decided I could fit it in, and, why not? I had never been south of the border, and it was a quirky opportunity.
On the day of my crossing, I drove through Big Bend National Park to the little southwestern style Border Crossing Port of Entry building.
I went in and showed my passport to the agent. He looked through my backpack. OK, that’s it. I was approved to go.
“How do I go?” I asked the agent. “Through that door and follow the path to the river,” he pointed. I stared at The Door. The magical door to the other world.
I returned to my car briefly to figure out what to wear and take, and then walked excitedly back to the building. I gave a nod to the agent, ensuring he remembered just seeing and approving me, and opened The Door.
I found the dirt path and walked the short distance to the river bank. I looked across. There it was: Mexico. The storied rowboat that I had read about awaited me.
The Rio Grande is narrow and shallow here, facilitating friendly relations and easy passage and trade between countries over the past centuries. Even the customs agent had seemed easy going and not too concerned about anything.
The boat trip lasted maybe two minutes. I admired the oarsman’s strength and wondered whether he was the only one who had to make the round trips many times a day, every day of the week.
On the Mexican bank stood many local men, who waited to take visitors by burro, horseback, or pickup truck into town. I opted for a burro, after seeing most tourists on them.
A couple of firsts: first time in Mexico, first time on a burro (or donkey, as they are interchangeably used).
My guide was selected for me, by a process unknown to me, and he then selected my burro. Daniel was my guide and Machete was my ride.
I hoisted myself up to the animal’s back. It was not an easy task.
The saddle was hard and the walk into town was sometimes bumpy on the dirt track. If a truck was coming down the road, Daniel would shout “Burro,” and Machete would move over. Again, I wondered how many times in a day or week that Daniel did this. I paid $5 for the boat ride. I paid another $5 for the burro ride. How much did Daniel get to keep? He did not own the burro, so I imagine there is a big cheese somewhere who owns the burros and “employs” the guides.
When we got within sight of town, it was time for me to dismount, so Daniel could tie up the burro where he could rest, and we could walk up the hill.
I did not ask too many questions of Daniel, but I did learn that he was born there and has lived there all his life. It’s a hard life, I’m sure.
But the village, with a population of about 100, is run entirely on solar energy!
Daniel gave me a tour of Boquillas, during which we passed very modest homes, a couple restaurants, a bar, a grocery store, a school, a health clinic, a customs office, and the solar energy facility. I was amazed at that, and happy for the residents. I especially liked the colorful buildings.
In front of many homes, along the street, there were tables filled with handmade crafts. It seems everyone makes the same items: small beaded, wire-framed figures of ocotillo cactus, roadrunners, spiders, scorpions and such, and embroidered objects and T-shirts.
Many items proclaimed No Wall and No Al Muro. I wanted to get something with that message, for sure.
One surprising feature of my tour was a look at some sand dunes. I have seen sand dunes before, so I wasn’t too enthused when Daniel offered to show me theirs. But, when we got to the viewpoint, yowza! It was stunning.
It was lunchtime and I had to choose a spot to try the local cuisine. I settled on one and sat outside with Daniel.
We both enjoyed “Mexican” Cokes, made with Mexican sugar, the owner proudly pointed out. Another first for me! I offered to buy lunch for Daniel, but he declined. Another American couple sat at a nearby table.
While we waited for our food, we tourists stepped inside the small eatery to check out the crafts for sale. Women were busy in the small open kitchen, making our food. There were T-shirts and religious items, along with table cloths and food items. When I spotted a shirt with a burro, I had to get it. Machete would live on once I returned to Seattle.
It was easy to see how tourism is the life blood of Boquillas. I couldn’t buy something from everyone there, but I could help in my small way. I tried not to seem like the typical American tourist, and I hope I succeeded. I had purchased a couple items from a woman near the other end of town, and then after meeting Daniel’s wife and young son, I bought a couple more from them.
Then it was time to head back across the “big” Rio Grande. We collected Machete and I hoisted myself up again. I turned and waved “Adios, Boquillas.” When we got to the river, the boat was waiting, with the other couple already seated. I dismounted, said goodbye to Machete, thanked Daniel and started to walk toward the boat. Suddenly Daniel said, “My tip?” I was startled. I had not even thought of a tip! I quickly went to my wallet and found a few dollars.
Back on U.S. soil, the couple and I looked at each other and were sad that our little adventure had ended. We chatted about how we wanted to do more traveling.
I kept thinking I should have given Daniel a much bigger tip. He had walked me round trip, in the sun, on the dusty trail, showed me all around the village, sat while I ate, and allowed me to take his picture. Because the residents take only cash, I had spent most of my small bills, so I didn’t have much to give except a large bill. I wondered if the burro owner pays the guides at all.
The experience was definitely worth it and I recommend it to anyone who is going to Big Bend. I’m sure visiting Boquillas for a brief excursion into Mexico is a much more personalized and authentic experience than crossing the border at, say, Juarez or Tijuana. And it reinforced the knowledge that we Americans are so lucky to be able to cross borders freely, to come and go, while others are not so fortunate.