It’s not that when I walk on top of things I completely ignore the surfaces beneath my feet. I certainly look down at the sidewalk when I’m running to avoid tripping over weathered areas and to make sure I crunch every available dry leaf. But wandering around with Jim makes me realize just how much I don’t notice. How much time do you spend lying on your stomach or lifting up rocks or sticking your hand in rocky crevices just to see what’s there?
For Jim, I have a suspicion that the answer to that question would be, now really, how much time don’t you spend doing these things? In Marine Ecology lab, we are constant observers. On Thursday, we spent the afternoon observing fouling communities on some local docks. The docks were deceivingly clean and sterile from the perspective of someone who does not look under things. But Jim soon had us lying on our stomachs looking at the underside of the dock.
I’ll be honest: I was expecting some green slime, a few dark barnacles, maybe a fish or two. I had no idea that under that regular dock in the estuary were bright orange sponges, patterned seasquirts, shrimp, little yellow anemones, baby barnacles, big barnacles, and bryozoans, all swaying together in the water.
Move down six inches on your belly, as the men who work on the dock glance at you out of their peripheral vision, and the whole underwater world changes. There are all the same players, but now the anemone gang is rising up and the orange sponge is on vacation and the neighbors are noticing that the barnacle family is getting quite large. If you watch for long enough, you can start to get an idea of the routine of the place. The barnacle sweeps its cirri in time with the seasquirt’s wave, and the shrimp look on from the water, waiting for a tasty meal.
Maybe the dock guys think we’re a little strange, but I’m willing to risk my reputation in order to spend a little quality time dangling my head over the side of the dock, looking.