The storm blew in from the Indian Ocean, and gifts from an aquatic underworld have spilled onto the sand. Dragged up by a low weather pattern and high waves, a solitary sea star waits for the next tide. He is alive, and I know that he may be able to survive on this cold day for some time, until the tide returns.
I have nothing to dig underneath and carry him on a tiny sand island back to the waves. I know that microbial life on my hands will almost certainly infect and kill him should I pick him up. So I leave him, keep the dog away from the tiny arms and quietly hope that he has a safe return to his world..
Sea wrack, piles of weed and seagrass, line the beach. The storms have torn them free from “rafts” of seagrass and algae that float beyond the surf line. The rafts are nurseries for juvenile fish and invertebrates such as sea snails, clams and crabs, and are essential to shoreline ecosystems. At my feet, small baby ‘blue bottle’ jellyfish shine in the sun
The perfect dome of another echinoderm (from the Greek: spiny skin) rests on strands of dried seagrass. This dome is the ‘test’, or empty shell, of a once bristling sea urchin.
My foot tamps the sea wrack’s warm tangle of air and weed that belies its heft, and I recall another test. This one in the water, under a raft of kelp that floated between me and the sky.
The wave that dumps my twelve year old self is gnarly enough to tumble and carry me toward and under a nearby kelp bed. My feet grip the sand … a good sign … so I know I am going to shoot up and break through to air. By the time my eyes open, thick twists of wide brown kelp wrap my scalp in a leaden blanket. There is no lifting it, and no way through. At least a ruler’s depth of tangle shines and bobs overhead. Shadow covers the sand, but sunlight shafts water at the bed’s edge. It looks too far to swim without breathing. I duck, already running out of oxygen from the earlier dumping.
Rising to surface again, my head hits the fronds but never lifts a stalk. My chest burns and I push up against another leaden weight. And another. Salt stings my eyes when they search for a gap in the bed. Another rise and head bump … no break. The bed rolls with a serene ripple from the wave’s backwash. Around growing fear, I feel the gap between sand and kelp shrink. It’s getting shallow. I’m probably facing the shore. There will be less push to head-butt my escape. But there has to be one, and I must find a way out. I will find a place where the rolling kelp is thinner and I will breathe again.
With a final turn and wriggle I kick to swim sideways, and bring my feet underneath. I have stopped looking. Any sense of direction is gone. It will be a blind effort; it’s all I’ve got left. My legs are leaden, too. With bent knees my toes grip the rough sand and I push what feels must be a final thrust and my head cuts through a looser tangle and I’m free.
Air whoops into my chest and I stand and cough and look over the rolling bed; careless, benign and dark as a shroud. Open ocean stretches ahead. Turning around to look at the shore people, no one returns my gaze. I was invisible, I am still. All I have is my feet gripping sand, a hole in the kelp and I can breathe. And that is more than enough.
Back in the present, my big toe flicks a broad, flat piece of kelp to one side. What will it reveal? I wonder whether the wrack will still be here when I come to the beach again with some small people, to find tiny blue bottles and cuttlefish. Sponges and shells. I think about the kelp bed of pessimism that children can swim under, week by week. News of environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity … I wonder how they will hold hope when there are fewer promises of sea stars, and higher expectations of them all. They should not live in that place.
I understand why I am drawn to creating stories around the natural world, and young characters’ discoveries of the complexity and connectedness of all life. Of Everything.
I want children, like sea stars, to have a safe return to their world. I want to keep writing stories that put sand under their feet. Hope to push up. To remember that they are good enough, smart enough and strong enough to untangle the kelp.
You are not invisible. There is more magic in plants, animals, oceans and yourself, than you could ever have believed. Your world is full of wonder.
You are connected to it all.
You will breathe again.
You are a part of Everything, and everything will be OK.