Look Closer

The strip of mud and shingle between the shore and the concrete sea wall is almost as grey as the rough sea beyond and the bleak skies above. A drab day with deadening light. Somebody has stolen the Isle of Wight, shrouded it in fine mist and spray and a light rain that quickly soaks through the most effective of coats.

Look closer. Look out from the shelter of the café, through rain-streaked windows and back towards the beach. On the rain-washed mudflats oystercatchers are at work, questing deep into slick mud with their straight, deadly bills. Small parties of them fly past, crying in alarm, just below the black-headed gulls that tack expertly against a stiff wind, their silvery wings braced against the weather.

Look closer still, on the stones between the oystercatchers’ feet, in the pool just appearing as the tide falls. On every available anchorage strips and curtains and fronds of seaweed are holding fast, a diverse saltwater garden. Between the stones and weed lie myriad mollusc shells: some occupied, some empty. A few bear the borehole scars of past maritime battles or the cases of tube-bearing worms.

Look closer again; lift the largest rock in the pool. On its underside a cluster of sea spiders is taking shelter. Disturbed, they slink away with a slow, lurching gait on ponderously questing legs. The rock surface they crawl over teems with life of all forms: barnacles, sponges, sea-snails, minute young crabs and a bristly mail-shell – yet another form of mollusc – resplendent and glistening under the surface tension of a thin layer of water. A single stretch of coast with many scales to explore and many stories to uncover.

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