Archive for June, 2011

Tidal Pool–by Keith Shields

I am sitting on a rock on the edge of the Pacific Ocean on Galiano Island staring into a tidal pool carved into sandstone. It is completely detached from the rest of the ocean as it is each day when the tide goes out. I am having an E.O. Wilson moment. The pool is approximately 1 meter in diameter, slightly elliptical and about one meter deep. It is teeming with beings. About a thousand minnows in two sizes, crabs, bottom feeding fish, orange starfish, purple starfish, tiny jellyfish, and barnacles; and that is just the fauna. The flora is more diverse, kelp, several kinds of weed I cannot identify, a liver coloured weed with iridescent blue spots that look like eyes staring up at me. Is this the way this weed protects itself from being eaten?

I was at this same spot yesterday just before the tide came in and I wondered how many of these creatures would still be here today. I am surprised to see that all are present and accounted for. I often feel sorry for fish in a fish bowl because they have so little space to swim. But after seeing these fish who choose to live in 2000 litres of water every day, I have no such sympathy. (The mathematically inclined will find themselves wanting to check my calculations.) These fish could leave when the tide comes in. They could say, “Let’s swim to Hawaii,” for the equivalent of a piscine weekend. But these are the safe fish, the smart fish who know that, by staying in this tiny pool, they will not end as food in the belly of a baleen equipped grey whale.

I am awe-struck by this tidal pool and feel that I am teetering on the edge of something large and ominous. E.O. Wilson once came to a tidal pool just like this. When he walked toward the pool he was a child; when he walked away he was a scientist.

I stand in shallow water, staring down at a huge jellyfish in water so still and clear that it’s every detail is revealed as though it were trapped in glass. The creature is astonishing. It existed outside my previous imagination. . . . why do I tell you this little boy’s story? Because it illustrates how a naturalist is created. A child comes to the edge of deep water with a mind prepared for wonder. – E. O. Wilson, The Naturalist.

Elsewhere, Wilson describes how he left his faith because he did not find a place for scientists in the church. When he found mystery and awe in nature and looked for ways to explore his world, he found himself alone. The church had lost interest in the mystics who delved into the wonders of nature. How many other small boys and fifty year-old men might lose themselves in a moment like this and teeter into the tidal pool of science. Will there be anyone in the church willing to dive deep with them? Can we love God and love the science of a tidal pool?

Photo credit: John Van Sloten.