Ranking high on the list of things Doug loved about Seattle was the tide pools at Alki Beach. Alki was a beautiful strip of coastline located on the other side of the water from the city proper. The stretch of sandy beach in close proximity to the bars and restaurants, particularly during the summer, was packed with frat boys partying around bonfires, wannabe gangsters up from Tacoma, tourists, and other such undesirables. The result was a nightmarish vista of crumpled beer cans, broken glass, and all manner of discarded plastic. About half mile south, though, things were quite different. The sand disappeared and was replaced by sharp and slippery rocks coated in kelp, sea anemones, and other such marvels of the sea. And, fortunately, this terrain was largely inhospitable to the obnoxious masses found up the road.
Alki was particularly special because Doug would frequently take his son here when he was up for a visit, sharing with him his love of the sea. Most times, though, he came alone, content to poke around the tide pools, marveling at the countless and temporary tiny ecosystems contained in each pool of water exposed by the ebb tide. He wasn’t completely by himself, of course. There were other people scattered about, never more than a dozen or so in number, doing precisely what he was, exploring the life at their feet. Unlike the drunken idiots up the beach, these were people Doug could understand and relate to. Such folks were of like mind. Inquisitive, like himself.
Doug especially enjoyed seeing children expressing interest in the natural world, taking time off from staring with glazed eyes at the screens of their computers, phones, and tablets. When he saw kids marveling at the numerous animals inhabiting the tide pools it was a breath of fresh air, a dose of much needed optimism regarding the future generation.
Such were Doug’s thoughts one day in early autumn as he settled in for a relaxing hour or two of exploration at Alki. The sky was overcast, just as he preferred it, and the temperature was a very comfortable sixty something degrees. He hadn’t been there very long before discovering a 6-7 inch adult crab peering out at him from under the shelter of a rock that was roughly the size of a pillow. The beefy black-tipped claws, rusty coloration, and scalloped edge of the carapace made it instantly recognizable as a red rock crab, a fairly common species along the rocky coasts of the Pacific Northwest. The crab was well up the beach, past the mark of the tideline. It was unusual to find an adult stranded so far from the water. Most crabs that far from the waterline tended to be tiny shore crabs, hardly larger than a thumbnail. If a large crab was found, it was usually the empty molt or the remains of a meal, certainly not a live and healthy full grown adult.
The rock wasn’t ideal cover for a crab of such size but, stranded by the ebb tide, it didn’t have much of a choice. There was a larger rock that would have provided more cover but it was a good fifty yards distant. The crab had made what was arguably the wise choice of avoiding the no-mans-land of perilous hungry seabirds between the two spots. Rather than risk such exposure it had opted to play it safe and stay put, waiting for the water to return.
Doug raised the rock just enough to reach around and pick up the crab from the back end of its carapace, ever mindful of the pinchers, just as his former instructor at the University of Washington, Dr. Jenkins, had taught him. Aware that this would stress the animal, he held it just long enough to determine if it was male or female. A quick glance confirmed it to be the latter. He gently lifted its wide abdominal flap and saw countless clusters of tiny eggs densely packed together. This lady was ready to burst. He gently returned her to her spot and carefully lowered the rock to its original position.
The shadows were beginning to lengthen and the tide was steadily creeping up so Doug left the crab in peace and moved on to a small cluster of promising rocks about six feet away. As he did so, a boy, probably curious what he had been looking at, approached and squatted near the crab’s rock.
“It’s a red rock crab,” Doug said. “She’s just underneath.”
The boy grunted acknowledgement without looking up.
Doug continued looking for more sea-life and left the kid to his own curiosity. His back turned to the boy, he lifted a small stone, sending a dozen or so tiny shore crabs scurrying for cover in the process. A beautiful kelp crab also briefly made an appearance before backing itself beneath an adjacent rock. As he gently probed in the wet mud, Doug more or less forgot about the boy. It was only upon hearing a sickening crack that his attention was drawn back.
Looking over his shoulder, Doug immediately noticed two things. The first was that the boy was peering off into the distance, trying a little too hard to look innocent, kind of like someone casually whistling a tune after committing a crime. The second was that the rock had been dislodged. Not picked up and moved but rotated. It had clearly just happened. Furrows of mud were at that moment beginning to fill up with tiny swirls of water from an adjacent pool.
Doug knew immediately what the boy had done. And, it was clear the boy was well aware he had been caught. He casually stood up and, hands stuffed in his pockets, strolled away at what was probably supposed to pass as a leisurely pace but was a bit too hurried to be at all convincing.
Apprehension mixed with sadness and a fair dose of anger flooded Doug like the incoming tide itself. He slowly approached the crab, knowing all the while that the rock which had formerly been its shelter would now become its tomb. Grabbing the rock firmly by each side, he lifted it and carefully set it aside.
Perhaps the worst part was that the crab was still alive. Body broken, she tried to limp and hobble away from him, making it only a few inches before collapsing from the effort. Her entire right side had been crushed, the front pincher completely detached.
Doug picked up the rock and gently put it back in its place, allowing the suffering creature to at least die in peace and dignity, out of sight of humanity. Looking up, he noticed the boy had managed to make it quite a ways down the beach, apparently having broken into a run at some point while Doug’s attention was diverted.
The sky had already started to glow a pleasant orange. There was a good hour of decent light left to explore but Doug’s heart was no longer in it. He stood and walked slowly back to where he had parked, his spirit and faith in humanity crushed every bit as much as the shell of that unfortunate creature whose only offense had been to draw the attention of a child.