Tidal Flats

Low tide at our neighborhood dock.

Living along a sheltered tidal bay provides opportunities to view multiple worlds.  The interface between earth and water in such a place is quite different, daily, than is the case with rivers, streams, or ponds.  Those may overflow once in a while, but here we have tides that require docks to be raised many feet, often ridiculously above sea level, other times all but submerged.  And, along the shoreline of Long Island, are “flats” composed of mud and sand.

Mudflats and sandbars may be wide or slim, full of grass (in summer) or filled with brown stubble, smooth or punctuated with rocks.  Fiddler crabs scurry about in warmer months, horseshow crabs dig hollows to lay eggs, clams squirt jets of water as one walks about, preferably barefoot.  Usually there are bird tracks, often overlaid with those of dogs and children.  Bits of flotsam and jetsam (look up the difference!) mark the high tide lines.  Where currents are right, moon and whelk shells pile up among those of oysters and clams, occasional dogfish eggs.  And, certainly, seaweed. 

Ducks and swans and geese and egrets and (in season) terns and cormorants float or stalk or dive as minnows breed in shallow water, and clams or periwinkles are exposed when water recedes.  Low tide provides spectacles of flocks either sitting around or playing nearly incomprehensible avian games.  Gulls float above it all, an occasional osprey cruises overhead carrying a fish back to its nest.  Varied hawks may wander over the bay far from their usual haunts in warm meadow updrafts, ignored by those below.

Green shoots relentlessly slice through old growth and seaweed.

Right now, early spring, the flats awaken.  Green shoots spike through broken brown stalks.  Huge mud rafts reestablish root connections with foundational sand.  Sadly, I note they are diminished each year as water levels rise.  The floating detritus of decayed reeds form thick piles dictated by hidden currents _ exposed above the tideline they swarm with newly hatched insects.

The vast scene illustrates a symphony of transition.  Before the ice ages, none of this existed.  After the great melt, it will all be gone once again.  The ecology has undergone massive changes as people ruined a natural paradise seeking to make it more to their liking.  No more lobsters, hardly any oysters, seals and dolphins departed, birds scarce.  It remains incredibly beautiful, in spite of human forms forced on it by those wishing to live along the shore.

A miniature example of braided river deltas everywhere formed by underground stream.

At low tide, rivulets wind their way into the distant waves as they form miniature braided Mississippis.  Swans stretch necks to lie flat for sips of fresh water.  In places, ancient ditches dug to drain salt flats still channel inflow and out.  My memories recall playing with our children as we built dams and sent flotsam “boats” on a perilous journey out to sea. 

People go to ocean beaches to scan empty vistas, to watch huge breakers, to swim in surf.  This bay is far more casual, with low wavelets (except in storms) and often more rocks than soft sand.  Mosquitoes can be frequent, an occasional greenhead fly painful.  There are recreational boats of all types _sail, yacht, jet ski interspersed with active commercial clam rakes.  Lately paddle boards have become a vehicle of choice.  I find more to see on a bay than on the vast, intimidating, ocean.

Water scenes calm the soul.  Imagining the infinite and eternal comes naturally.  As it was, so shall it ever be, and I am just a (pick your choice) pebble, wave, bird, or passer-by.  Anthropomorphism reigns _ mighty waves, ceaseless surf, relentless tide and all other elements seem to have purpose and will.  I am humbled by the vast cacophony of sound and sight and smell, and feel.  Carefree as the sun visibly crawls its arc.  

I’m not a photographer, so this fuzzy moon is all I could get.

Tidal lands never ignore the moon.  They are never exactly in synch _ tides are insanely complex to predict _ but they are partners.  Seasonal moon variations affect height in spring and fall, phases are always an indicator of when there may be floods.  Sea life, of course, is fully attuned to these rhythms which determine many mating cycles.

Spring on Huntington tidal flats is a wonderful time.  Life is springing up anew, although often in subtle ways.  Migrant birds return as overwintered residents frisk about.  People often remain indoors because of chill winds, so a sense of solitude can still emanate from empty expanses.  Not least, the bustle and worries of a difficult social world can be _ for a little while _ left behind and ignored.

One thought on “Tidal Flats

  1. After attacking your previous blog, I thought I’d give you a second chance. This is less “rant” and more observation which you are so good at. When you get down off your high horse and examine what is really going on in your/our small world you see so much more than most people and are very good at describing what you see. So thanks for the spring walk through the mudflats and maybe I’ll bump into you soon on one of your outings. Still love your photographs.


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