Living where I do, smack on the southeastern edge of the USA, sometimes the natural wonders of my front yard get overlooked and lost in the passing days and weeks. Most days here are sun-drenched, idyllic and colored by a wealth of seashore biology. Still, it’s easy to grow blasé and take it all for granted. But every now and then a wake up call opens my eyes afresh to the miracle of life along the ocean’s shore, and once more I stop to examine a small thing or two of beauty so special to my environment.
Walking the same stretch of white sand beach early every morning will over time blot out many of the details along that path. Oftentimes, eyes become set on the sand under your feet, and things outside that focus get fuzzy and indistinct. Surely not the best way to appreciate the blessing of water, sky and life that throbs all around you. It is after all, not a treadmill inside a walled room. And so I try to jerk myself out of those times when the ocean surroundings are lost to my inward focused reverie.
The sun was behind thick clouds when I began my walk this morning, and judging from the thin and watery light leaking from those clouds, you might have thought it earlier and the sun not yet over the horizon. But before I had covered half a mile, suddenly the sky did one of those Hollywood things with rays of sunlight bursting forth like the birth of a miracle. There must have been others like myself who were brought to a standstill, unable to ignore the play of light on clouds and ocean. The attached photo offers little more than a weak reflection of that splendid sight.
I was still thinking about that sunlight when my eye caught an odd shape just at the water’s edge. Dead fish, crabs, jellyfish and even the rare bird carcass are not unusual along this beach, but I was surprised by the sight of a baby hammerhead shark not long dead. This was a first for me, and I didn’t hesitate to examine the shark with a finger. The flesh was still soft and moist, which led me to think it was only recently dead. The body appeared to be undamaged and I wondered if it had been sick, or perhaps stranded when swimming too close to shore. Hammerhead sharks characteristically like warm shallow water—or so the book says.
You would think the sunlight and then the shark enough for one morning, but it wasn’t over yet. On the second half of my walk, I came upon five or six others stopped and looking intently at the sand about ten feet above the surf line. As I approached, I sort of expected to see something dead on the beach. Far from it. The attraction was a newly hatched sea turtle making his dash for the water. The nest was higher up the beach, and the tracks showed it was only one baby turtle from a nest of probably about 100 eggs. The predicted hatching window posted on the nest made it clear this one turtle was an early hatchling. Had the people not been gathered to watch, the turtle would have been savaged and eaten by a dozen or so gulls waiting at a short distance. But the turtle made it through his dangerous gauntlet and disappeared beneath the waves. Hopefully, he is now on his way to an offshore haven.
Not far from the end of my walk I came upon three snowy egrets looking for breakfast in the shallow water. These birds are not unusual in these parts, but you don’t often see three of them together. They appear to be solitary birds. I watched a child chase one of the birds for fifteen minutes, sure he was going to catch it. The egret seemed to laugh at the boy’s futile attempts, dodging away casually each time his inept stalker made a dash.