Outdoors in a Rainstorm

It was pouring on Sunday, our first significant rain in this droughty winter. I knew I had to be out in it and Mitchell agreed. We headed down the coast to a favorite trail in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where I once led countless urban schoolkids in my years as a naturalist, and not far from the spot I wrote about here.

California’s coastal forests come alive in the rainy season. Banana slugs emerge from their damp hiding places. The mosses revive from dormancy as bright green sponges. The colors of everything are more vivid—the multiple shades of vibrant green, the oranges of madrone tree trunks and of redwood and fir needles on the ground.

We were the only people out on the trail. We listened to the rain and wind moving through the trees above us, but swathed in warm layers and raingear, we stayed remarkably dry beneath the trees. We walked through the trail of fallen limbs and branches that typically accompanies the first windy storm of the season. Only one spot had a limb too large to move, but it was easily climbed through (Mitchell) or around and over (me).

We got back to the car just before the storm picked up energy and the rain intensified—just in time for us to head to the beach for low tide.

I understand why people duck inside under these conditions. Sometimes I do myself. But not that day, not when the storm was part of the adventure of experiencing one of the lowest tides of the season. And not surprisingly, no one else was there, either.

We moved carefully over the slick rocks, placing each foot deliberately to avoid stepping on soft-bodied sea anemones, staying low and going slowly lest the wind blow us over. Exposed rocks were pink with coralline algae. We reached across and touched the barnacles, sea stars, mussels and limpets glued to the rocks above the water line. We peered into the pools for the animals that can only be found at low tide. I picked up a hermit crab, filled my palm with water, and waited for it to emerge and crawl across my hand. The critter was uncooperative this time and I gently placed her/him back home.

Often at the tidepools, it is only when you sit still that you start to see the many residents of this unique community emerge. In my plastic rainpants, I sat on the edge of one pool and gazed into it. The wind was so strong it was whipping up the surface even in this small sheltered spot and making it hard to see, so I looked into just the edge. I spied a crab shell as big as my fist under a rock, camouflaged and no doubt invisible if I hadn’t sat still and looked closely.

I couldn’t tell if it was from a former crab or still belonged to someone. I poked it softly first with a piece of a dead plant. No response. Then I used a finger, and got my answer as the crab slowly raised itself out of the sand it had burrowed into and moved a large claw upward. I got the message, and left the crab in peace.

Perhaps it’s because I saw this trail, these tidepools and a howling storm through the eyes of fifth-graders for whom it was brand new for so many years that I can still approach it with my own sense of wonder each time. And feel grateful all over again that I get to be alive on this earth.

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