When we hold something in our hands, it becomes real. This lesson was etched on me while I was a volunteer in the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps. Years ago, a fellow naturalist was encouraging us all to volunteer for a research trip that was studying seabirds called Xantus’s Murrelets.
I asked him why his recommendation was so strong and he began rattling off a list of bullet point topics. Next he said, “… and then we captured a few birds to band them,” and his voice slowed down, “and, when I held that little birds, in my hands…” His voice trembled to a stop, and sparkles appeared in the moisture growing in the corners of his eyes. The end of our dialogue was unspoken. I understood then, that the weight and texture of a thing in our hands confers a deeper awareness to our emotional being. I volunteered for that trip, and fell in love with that bird, too.
When we read, watch, or are told about something, it becomes an idea, hypothesis, or rumor. By contrast, something very special happens when we hold a thing in our hands. It becomes trustworthy and concrete. It becomes an absolutely reliable landmark that we can subsequently steer by. Holding something in our hands informs every choice and future plan we make with more wisdom than a collection of pixels can ever do.
In the context of things we can find and hold in our hands, the juiciest, low-hanging fruit around here appears at low tide. Tide pools have an incredible diversity of critters that range from trivial to challenging to find. In the winter, give the beach west of Isla Vista a try in the afternoons during new and full moons. In the summer, go in the morning. In spring and fall, it’s best to check a tide table. My favorite field guide is, The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life of California by J. Duane Sept. For those looking for more adventure, try the beach just west of the Vista Point on the southbound 101 between Refugio and Gaviota. The fauna definitely changes as you get closer to Point Conception.