Yesterday was a perfect day. My son was home from college for Thanksgiving. We made plans to spend the afternoon together and he asked if his 10 year-old brother (from his father’s second marriage) could join us. As he knew I would, I jumped at the opportunity for some Modern Family-style togetherness. I like spending time with my ex’s kids-it assuages my guilt about “breaking up” the family, plus I just plain like the kids. I also enjoy seeing my son be the big brother in a protective, nurturing way, versus the teasing-torturing older sibling he becomes with my daughter, his full younger sibling by two years.
The boys and I went for a delicious lunch before driving out to La Jolla Shores. It was unseasonably warm and clear at the beach and the tide was very low. We walked south along the beach toward our goal, the tide pools. We could see from a long way off dozens of like-minded beach combers. They were exploring the rocks for marine life; sea anemones, sea stars, mussels, limpets, tiny crabs and fish were all over the rocks and in the remaining pools in huge numbers. The sea stars were spawning so there were many more of them than usual. The boys pried mussels from the rocks and fed them to the sea anemones, delighting all parties equally. (Except of course the mussels!) A young woman volunteer from the Scripps Institute cautioned us visitors to mind where we stepped, as almost every surface was covered with living animals. She pointed out the limpets among the barnacles and mussels and explained that they eat little ovals at regular intervals into strands of kelp. We also learned how the sea stars breathe and eat. She showed us a sea anemone that was so heavy with sea water it was hanging pendulously from a rock by its stomach, seemingly inside-out. We laughed as she jumped with fright when a tiny crab somehow hopped into her blouse-even she, with all her expertise, could be startled by the creepy-crawly animals coating the rocks.
As we headed back North across the beach the sun began its final descent for the day. The brilliant orange was magic enough but then we noticed a crowd of people gathering along the water’s edge, their figures silhouetted against the setting sun. We followed their gazes, awestruck like them, as dozens of dolphins swam and played and dove about as close to the shore as I’ve ever seen. From where we were standing, this tableau of humans and dolphins played out in black relief framed by the neon moon. A movie director could not stage such a dramatic sight. It would look too corny, an easy parody, like the beach love scene in “From Here to Eternity”. I stood with my son, a young man, and his little brother, still a boy, and watched, captivated. I thrilled to hear the little one’s exclamations of “whooa” and “wow” and knew he’d never forget that moment. I won’t either. When we continued our hike back to the car we kept up a running conversation about the varying colors of the sunset and the changes from orange to turquoise to purple as darkness seemed to overtake us from the east.
One thing about living in Southern California, in the United States in 2011; our culture reveres nature. Some individuals are callous and short-sighted, but as a people, we get it. Everyone I saw exploring the tide pools at La Jolla Shores yesterday was careful not to disrupt or exploit any of the animals exposed during the low tide. There was a collective appreciation for the glory on display. The dolphins knew they were safe close to the shore, and I can’t help but think they knew they were putting on a show for us. They may even have been engaging us intentionally, in the hopes we’ll be more thoughtful toward them in years to come. Whatever the dolphins’ presence indicated, even if they were just hanging out after some successful fishing, I felt a connection between us and them. It was a unifying moment, in nature and in my family. It was a perfect day.