The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
On perfect summer days, of which there are many, we take our supper to the shore, sit on flat picnic rocks and eat uncomplicated meals made delicious by sun and surf. A towel must be spread to protect one’s bottom from barnacles that, on this rock, come in two sizes and colors: small white (about 2 mm diameter) and large amber (12 mm). The two groups keep strictly to themselves, and some of the little fellows must die out because they snuggle into one another as closely as only barnacles can snuggle, so what happens when they grow into adulthood?
After our beach supper I am peering into a rocky tidal pool when I notice a long flat reddish-striped worm grazing on some filmy strands of rockweed (possibly soft sourweed). As soon as it spots me, the worm looks up and winks before quickly retreating tail-first into a hole at the base of the seaweed.—Well, it doesn’t actually wink (does it even have eyes?) but it does seem determined to dine in privacy. At home I check my trusty Peterson Guide: it’s a paddleworm. Paddleworms are carnivores, so this fellow must be snacking on some miniscule fleshy creatures that inhabit the seaweed.
Further down the shore on a sandbar, hundreds of tiny tubes stick out of the sand: the burrows of trumpet worms. Rachel Carson in The Edge of the Sea (p. 143) describes these tubes as “natural mosaics of sand, one grain thick, the building stones fitted together with meticulous care.” Here I am casually trampling on a microscopic architectural wonder.
And this red sand I’m trampling on: why is it red? I recently learned that Island sandstone—and hence its sand—is composed mainly of quartz grains coated with a fine dust of hematite or iron oxide, also known as rust. On the North Shore the waves rolling in from the Gulf of St. Lawrence are so powerful they knock this rusty coating from the sand grains. Along the South Shore the waves of the Northumberland Strait “lap” rather than “pound” so the hematite stays on and the sand remains red. The white sand at Basin Head is an exception: it is composed of silica grains that squeak when they rub against each other, earning this beach the name of Singing Sands. (Thanks to geologist John DeGrace in The Island Magazine, No. 46.)
There is no end to the mysteries one may ponder whilst lingering at the seashore. Astronomer Carl Sagan writes that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on earth. Obviously we know very little about what is going on over our heads, but we are equally ignorant about what goes on under our feet.
Enough mysteries for one day. The tide is coming in and the evening beckons. We walk back across the Cove as sandbars shrink and tidal pools swell, and a whole new cycle of shore life begins.