Island meditation

Work was slow. Jack, our longtime volunteer, suggested I take a long walk while he watched the fort. I walked the mile or so around the west point of the island. There were some formidable dunes with sea oats there before, now the dune ridge is somewhat flatter and the grasses are short. There is enough debris washed up on the north shore to make it unattractive. I found a little tidal outlet from the marsh that was cut off from the sound. The water was dark brown in the manner of these little pools. I think the marsh deposits a lot of tannins into it as the plant matter decays. Fast little fish swam away from me as I walked past. Fiddler crabs were everywhere along the edge of the pool. I have never seen them before on this island.

Down at the point the sound and the gulf were sloshing together creating a long sand spit almost parallel to the south shore. I walked out to the end of it. No garbage there. The water was sea green and choppy. A big hermit crab in a whelk shell was crawling around the swash zone. The waves would sometimes knock it over. If it was upside down it would wait for another wave to right it. Being a hermit crab must mean a life of patience.

The west point was a little Wild America experience. I saw a shark (or maybe a lemonfish) in the shallow water about twenty yards out, and a school of sheepshead. Some least terns were fishing along the beach. They hovered, sometimes amost over the sand and then dive headfirst into the water to catch small fish that you and I never notice when we go swimming. Least terns make little rattles and squeak-toy noises. A few other birds, royal terns, forster’s terns, laughing gulls, and brown pelicans, hung about nearby. A couple of medium-sized brown birds flew by, heading north and making a bee line for the mainland. Probably they are spring migrants from the Yucatan that otherwise have no business in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact we passed some migrating songbirds on the ferry ride to the island this morning. I’ll be looking for them around the fort, because sometimes woodland birds stop there for a break.

The wind blew from the north today, so the south shore was calmer and I didn’t hear the wind in my ears. The water was unusually murky, a rich brown to reddish; I could see little bits of detritus washing up as waves lapped weakly on the beach. They will fertilize the sterile sand. Otherwise I couldn’t see into the water too much (a couple of sheepshead and a sea nettle). I know with that silty, nutrient-laden water brings the whole food chain with it. I wondered if this was a red tide. I couldn’t smell anything funny the red algae produces a noxious gas), but I was upwind from the water anyway.

I’m glad I didn’t have a camera. I like taking pictures but it gives you cameravision: you start looking through the narrow world of the viewfinder and stop paying attention to your other senses. A couple of sandpipers ran from me along the sand flats; a pair of ospreys is nesting in the Coast Guard’s range tower–the only other structure left on the island–and I could hear them chirping a quarter mile away at the fort. The island is coming back to life. I will miss watching it do that.

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Adam's artificial habitat is my official website and blog. I write as often as I can, so it is the best way to keep up to date on my goings-on.

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