Sheer unadulterated joy was the order of the moment, and in that moment, it was clear that if their high-tech toys disappeared tomorrow, the opportunities to be enchanted by nature would more than outweigh the perceived loss.
That assumes that we take our children and grandchildren to the beach (trail, park, wilderness, lake); that their digital toys stay back at the house; and that we can pull ourselves away from our own preoccupation with texting (e-mailing, Web surfing, cell phone answering) long enough to rediscover the beauty of nature.
That assumes that we truly understand what is important and divert our eyes from our preoccupations. Then perhaps we’ll notice the excitement in their voices and be able to answer their questions with excitement of our own, and then send them out in search of more discoveries.
So what made the grandchildren so excited? Jellyfish along the shoreline, including moon jellies (Aurelia labiata, aka saucer jelly) and a few cross jellyfish (Mitrochoma cellularia).
The species of moon jellies we saw lives near shore from southern California to Southeast Alaska. Like most jellies, they live only a few months, rarely more than six months, usually dying after reproducing.
The semitransparent jellyfish have relatively short tentacles with, at most, a slight rash-producing sting and four horseshoe-shaped sex organs that are usually pinkish, yellowish or purplish in the bell-shaped top.
Moon jellies go with the tides but pulsate to stay near the surface where the pressure is lower and their tentacles can spread out the farthest to create a wider net to entangle, sting, immobilize and capture zooplankton.
The cross jellyfish is distinctive because of its transparent bell with a white X structure (internal organs) from the top center out to the edges and a narrow bioluminescent band around the edge of the body.
Oh, sure, there are more jaw-dropping jellyfish – oval-anchored stalked jelly, lion’s mane, red-eyed jellyfish – but it wouldn’t have made any difference to the kids. They had made a discovery, relished the discovery, and wanted to share their discovery with each other and the adults in their lives.
Wait until they discover tidepools.
If you want to see great photographs of underwater life in Washington state or British Columbia on your computer, I recommend www.emeralddiving.com. Go to “species index” and take your pick.
But remember, there’s nothing in your computer that will excite children like a day at the beach. I think that’s at least partially because it’s a visual-only experience (touching the keyboard does not count).
Your computer won’t jump with sand fleas, smell like saltwater, provide washed-up kelp to turn into a whip, put sand between toes, sprinkle in shorebirds or put jellies in your buckets or cupped hands.
And it will never provide the opportunity to run through the waves to share a precious experience with the most important people in children’s lives.
Been to a beach lately?
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.