A low tide walk reveals the wonders of Puget Sound | Editorial

The view from the water at last weekend’s late-night beach walk on Vashon’s north end seemed other-worldly.

Small clusters of people stood in tight clumps, some crouching close to the dark, wet sand, staring intently. Others wandered the beach alone, the strip of sand in front of them illuminated by the dim glow of their flashlight. A few children pranced; several adults took careful, measured steps through the darkness.

But what was indeed other-worldly were not these hardy Islanders but the life below the tideline they were witnessing — a lovely, strange, colorful world most of us rarely see.

Four-inch tall sea pens, neon orange, waved like small, bright flags in the shallows. A plumose anemone, looking like an alien blob from some b-grade horror flick, dangled from the side of one of the pilings.

Leather sea stars, richly hued, sat in the sand, not far from finely fingered striped sun stars. Delicate decorator crabs, bejeweled by pieces of algae and animals attached to their exoskeleton, scampered under rocks as soon as they were caught in the beam of a flashlight.

Equally fascinating were the trails left behind by the 24-armed sunflower star — a set of neat, parallel lines raked across the wet sand.

This is the life of our nearshore environment, unveiled last Friday night due to the gift of the moon’s tidal pull and interpreted by two Vashon beach naturalists — Erin Durrett and Daoud Miller — who patiently answered question after question. But they were more than patient. They, too, were enthralled by the sights, noting with delight each new discovery.

The purpose of such late-night explorations is to deepen our understanding of this precious and imperiled ecosystem, to capture fully our imaginations — so that we too might become emissaries for its protection. By tiptoeing through this wild kingdom, we got beyond the abstractions of environmental policies and land-use regulations. We saw why it is that some people are working hard to protect and restore Puget Sound.

Who couldn’t marvel over a plumose anemone or love a leather sea star?

A night under the stars on Vashon, when the tide is magically low and a world of otherness is revealed, is a gift of the season. And on this particular night, many people, it seemed, happily received it.


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