Life on the mud flats

Over the last few days I've been reading a novel by Jim Lynch called The Highest Tide.  It's a first novel, rather Steinbeckian in its attention to detail, about a 13-year-old boy, small for his age, who spends most of his time prowling the mudflats of Olympia, Washington at low tide.  He finds (and notices, because he is not only attentive but a huge Rachel Carson fan) some unusual species and becomes a bit of a local phenomenon in the process.

I'm reading the book because I'm going to be playing a role in the play that was adapted from the book, but I'm enjoying it because I, too, live on mud flats: summer days are low tide days here, and it's always tempting to go out and poke around the mud to see what's floated in and what lives there beneath the rocks and the seaweed.  I don't do that much anymore -- the mud has a way of sucking off your shoes -- but it does give you a different perspective on life, and I've been enjoying the opportunity to relive the pleasure of that in this book.

Since I've just been reading about two hermit crabs battling over a snail shell each wants to call home, I'll share this poem from Mary Oliver:

The Hermit Crab

Once I looked inside
 the darkness
of a shell folded like a pastry
and there was a fancy face—

or almost a face—
it turned away
and frisked up its brawny forearms
so quickly

against the light
and my looking in
I scarcely had time to see it,

under the pure white roof
of old calcium
When I set it down, it hurried
along the tideline

of the sea,
which was slashing along as usual,
shouting and hissing
toward the future,

turning its back
with every tide on the past,
leaving the shore littered
every morning

with more ornaments of death—
what a pearly rubble
from which to choose a house
like a white flower—

and what a rebellion
to leap into it
and hold on,
connecting everything,

the past to the future—
which is of course the miracle—
which is the only argument there is
against the sea


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