From the Fog Bank At Sandy Point

As I See It

Bill Sargent, The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition July 15, 2019

“June 26 was a dark overcast day with a large gray fog bank lurking just offshore. I woke early so I could drive to Sandy Point before the parking lot filled.”

“But I needn’t have bothered. The only people who were interested in coming out on such an overcast day were bird photographers eager to get their early morning shots. Nobody else wanted to drive to the far end of the island on such a foggy day.”

“The southernmost tip of the island had grown over 100 feet and a giant sandbar had swept around the point almost swallowing a shallow lagoon that had been over 200 feet long just two years before.” 

“Now, so little saltwater flowed in and out with the tides, rainwater was filling the lagoon with enough freshwater that a copse of phragmites was sending its adventitious rhizomes toward the lagoon. Soon the phragmites would fill in the lagoon and help develop a new system of dunes. So should we consider phragmites an evil invasive species or was this simply plant succession that would help gird Sandy Point from the effects of sea-level rise? Depends on your point of view.”

“I marveled at what a perfect place this was to see such rapid change. Where else could you see the land grow 100 feet a year at the same time the middle of the island was receding four or five feet a year. Only earthquakes and volcanoes can create such active natural change.”

“I walked along fencing put up by rangers from Sandy Point State Reservation to protect nesting plovers and terns. The tracks of a fox wound through the colony and one of the enterprising tern couples had found one of the footprints to be a perfect place for their nest, usually a simple scrape in the sand.”

“I saw the reason why when the male flew overhead, stalled over the line of tracks, then plunged straight down to feed his mate. He was using the tracks as landmarks to guide him into his nest as surely as an airline pilot uses runway lights to lead him to safety.”

“When the female flew off to take her turn diving for silversides, I saw that she had been sitting on two tiny chicks that scampered into a nearby copse of goldenrod.”

“I continued around the point and set up a towel to warm myself before continuing my explorations. The tide was going out so I made my way to the water’s edge over 100 down from the beach. There, craters marked where horseshoe crabs had been feeding on Gemma gemma clams the night before.”

“I spotted a cluster of mussels jutting out of the soft mud. This was unusual because mussels normally use golden byssus threads to attach to solid objects like rocks.  Scientists think these byssus threads were used to make Jason’s golden fleece and dentists now use the proteins of the threads to make a potent glue that can adhere to teeth in the moist environment of a human mouth.”

“But what were these mussels attached to? I had a hunch and gently brushed silt away from the base of the mussels and discovered what I had expected to find.”

“The mussels were attached to the carapace of a male horseshoe crab. I removed the mussels so he wouldn’t be encumbered during mating and took photographs of his shell to add to our collection of 23 other crabs from this immediate area we could recognize as individuals.”

“As I returned to the beach, the fog bank started to roll in. First, it obliterated the sun, then the far shore, Sandy Point, and the boats swinging on their moorings.”

“All I could see was our own tiny strip of sand. I was sitting on a private beach encompassed in this silvery gray void.”

“Suddenly I heard a sharp call and looked up to see a large turkey loom out of the fog, strut down to the shore and wade up to his knees to gulp salty water. Then he continued his stately passage down the beach and disappeared into the dunes and fog.”

“Had I really seen that? I lay back in the sand and watched the sun emerge from the fog. Was I truly back from the strange interlude?”

“Toward evening high tide returned and I photographed the same crabs we had seen dug into the distant clam flat cruising inshore to spawn and lay their eggs. This was the third or fourth day I had seen these crabs spawning on either side of the full moon.”

“After a refreshing swim, I made my way down the beach toward civilization. That evening I checked the literature and found that turkey hunters always look for large sources of water, necessary for the large bird’s metabolism.”

“But I couldn’t find anything about the birds drinking saltwater. Gulls do this but they have evolved a special gland that enables them to extract the salt. This is why they so often shake their heads; they are getting rid of the briny water supersaturated with salt.”

“If you check out a dock where gulls have been sitting for a while you will see it is covered with grains of glistening salt.”

“I discovered that according to Indian lore if a turkey approaches you it is a sign that you are about to have great abundance. I don’t know if that is true but right after checking the literature I received an e-mail from my son. My first grandchild had been born right after I had seen that propitious but strange turkey.”

Copyright © 2019 The Daily News of Newburyport, Edition 7/15/2019

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