Strange beachcombing

Published 4:38 pm Saturday, June 2, 2018

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Susan and Biff Andrews

maggie and milly and molly and may

went down to the beach (to play one day)


and maggie discovered a shell that sang

so sweetly she couldn’t remember her troubles, and


milly befriended a stranded star

whose rays five languid fingers were;


molly was chased by a horrible thing

which raced sideways while blowing bubbles; and


may came home with a smooth round stone

as small as a world and as large as alone.


For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

it’s always ourselves that we find in the sea.

— e.e. cummings

We spent the Memorial Day weekend at Cape Hatteras — as you might have guessed from the poem. And our beach treasures rivaled cummings’ girls. Herewith a summary of some strange beach finds. We found a knobbed whelk that was glossy, glossy black. Not mottled black or streaked black but glossy, glossy black. Perhaps it was fossilized? It looked as if it were made of obsidian. I have a friend who will love it.

There were two jellyfish heads and bodies (no tentacles) that weighed about five pounds each. These were not big “moon jellies” but something else. There was no danger of being stung by them, but they certainly were ugly. I’m betting that in their original form they were no more attractive. We left them “in situ”— where they were.

One granddaughter brought us a piece of tree bark about two inches long … that had about six barnacles on it, one of which was the largest I’ve seen that wasn’t a fossil — maybe an inch and a half across. How did the bark last long enough to accumulate a barnacle of that size? I wish I were smarter and knew such things.

Then there was the turtle — on land— that was in the process of committing suicide via a stick in his eye. It looked as though he had been crawling along, encountered a stick lodged against a smooth immovable object, and just kept pushing and pushing against it as it went deeper and deeper into his brain. Some behaviors are their own punishment.

Back on the beach the other granddaughter found a beautiful olive shell — that looked perfect because it was. The olive snail was still alive in it and extruded itself and spread out to let us know he needed to go back into the ocean to find a mate. We obliged.

But the final sighting was the most mysterious- a worm-like many-legged creature that kind of looked like it had a shel l— segmented — but not really. It was about 4 inches long. If anyone has any idea what it was, please call me.

“It’s always ourselves that we find in the sea.”

Wonder if I’m the old fossil, the beautiful young olive, the self-destructive turtle, the rotting jelly?

SUSAN and BRADFORD “BIFF” ANDREWS are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at