We got our first decent beach walk in since the flu knocked me off my feet a couple of Saturdays ago. The February light was spectacularly gray. The brown-gray bay faded into steel-gray fog.
A few huge oyster shells littered the beach--I have yet to find the bed off our beach, but I will. Plenty of smaller oysters have chosen to live on the local jetties, a few destined to end up in our kitchen pot.
Clumps of reddish seaweed strewn at the tide line reeked of wet dog, unusually rank. A seagull sat on the beach, not bothering to move, maybe hurt, maybe not.
On the way back we stumbled on a piling tossed up just beyond the water's reach. Barnacles covered its lower half, some still alive, but not for much longer, bound for life to this piling.
No sense trying to figure out the why of the barnacle. It spends its early life swimming around until it finally glues itself to something, anything. They keep themselves protected with trap doors that snap open when conditions are right, allowing them to comb the sea for food. I've wiled away good chunks of time watching them sweep the water.
When we talk of barnacles in school, if we ever do, we talk of the wonderful adhesive that stick to varied surfaces, of its potential commercial value. Or we talk of they're unusually long sex organs. We might mention that Darwin studied them for 8 years, as if that should hold a student's interest.We could calculate the damage they do to the shipping industry.
We show the photo, maybe a quick video of barnacles eating or mating, then move on.
Few of us dare talk about barnacles just being barnacles, nor would most of us let a child stare for hours at a barnacle on a jetty, at least not during school hours. In the end, what we learn nothing about barnacles, although we do learn a little bit about humans--how we classify animals, how we use animals, how we reduce knowledge to trivia.
And in the end, it may not matter if a child is acquainted with barnacles or not. But I will say this much--if I take a tiny strand of my DNA, and spliced it into the DNA of a barnacle, the barnacle could conceivably make a human protein. If I take a tiny strand of the barnacle DNA, and place it within mine, I could conceivably make a barnacle protein.
We share the same basic DNA structure, the same sorts of amino acids, the same kinds or organelles--we are more alike than we are different. I learned little about the barnacle while in school, but I did learn a little while staring many living a foot or two below the surface of the bay.
The barnacles did what they needed to do, no more, no less. They ate when they could, clammed up when they needed to, reproduced when they wanted to, and eventually died.
As they have since before I was born, as they will long after I die. Barnacles as they relate to humans hardly interests me--I know almost as much about humans as I care to know. But barnacles as barnacles fascinates me, and they fascinate children who stumble upon them in the wild.