The Tide Pool Starfish
Summer 1999. I’d heard from Jim, our in-house catalog guy, about the monster starfish under his dock on Great Diamond Island. We were talking about our fall catalog cover. He said he had starfish the size of dinner plates under his dock. I didn’t believe him. He said they were all colors: red, orange and purple. I didn’t believe him. As we continued searching for a cover, Jim brought it up several times more and he said he had long poles to fish them out.
Finally, I said I’ll take the ferry out. So, one fine August morning, I departed Custom House Wharf with a five gallon galvanized pail. Still doubtful, I met Jim at the dock. As we walked up the dock, I looked over the edge and could see hundreds of starfish in the shadows. They were deep and I couldn’t quite gauge the size. Jim got a twelve-foot pole with a net on the end and we began fishing. We pulled them up slowly, one at a time. They were huge. Some bigger than dinner plates. We collected a dozen.
I filled my pail with starfish and saltwater. I said to Jim, “Are the rocks out here radioactive? I’ve never seen starfish so big.” Jim said, “No. There have been starfish under this dock as long as I’ve lived here.” I went back on the next boat to Portland and headed to our family cottage at Higgins Beach in Scarborough to meet the incoming tide.
Growing up, every August tide would have hundreds of starfish swept in with seaweed and sea urchins. Thousands in a week would come ashore. They were tiny. The size of a quarter, the medium size, near the size of a silver dollar. Big ones might be half the size of a saucer, but never, ever monster size starfish, dinner plate size.
The tide was coming in. I took my pail of starfish up to the cliffs and tide pools and began setting them about. If you’ve ever handled starfish, they have hundreds of tentacles with sticky cups on the bottom and they move. The starfish can walk, not quite a scurry, clearly though, they have a mind of their own. Put three or seven in a tide pool and they begin racing off in different directions.
I stood there mid-calf deep with an old fashioned Nikon camera with 36 exposure Kodachrome slide film. (Loved my old Nikon with real film.)
The starfish were the stars of this photo-shoot. I have them in tide pools with waves coming in. I have them on rocks with seaweed. I have them on the beach with waves sweeping in. Probably 50 pictures in all. I would show you several starfish pictures, but to make this email deadline we’re waiting for a part for our slide scanner. Maybe next time…
What you also can’t see are the dozen kids that followed me that afternoon and stood around in a circle asking questions. The number one question was, “Where did you get those monster starfish?” The number two question was, “Where do I get a starfish that big?” The number three question was, “When you are done with them, can I have one?”
The Ocean in the 1950s
When we were kids in the 1950’s we spent hundreds of hours in the tide pools in the same place I was taking pictures of my monster starfish. In the tide pools we would find limpets and whelks, crabs and baby lobsters, sea urchins, and of course, starfish. In 60 years, my ocean has changed, They say the water is warmer. Much of what we found back then is now gone. They say the alkalinity or acidity of the water has changed and the ocean is less friendly to marine life. I would pause and suggest that we all take these issues of Earth change seriously and individually think about how we can do a better job of protecting Mother Earth as we go forward in time.