I sometimes get talked into doing stuff that would not otherwise occur to me, like kissing a sea cucumber . . .
When we visited Seattle last week, my daughter and I explored Puget Sound with Chris and her daughter. Even the rain did not keep us from standing out on the deck of the car ferry as we cruised across the Sound to Bainbridge Island.
The downtown is pure Little Norway, and the shops are delightful: Boehms hand-made chocolates (some of which left with us in little bags), Sluys Bakery with gingerbread houses for sale in the window, and the many vintage clothing, antique and thrift stores!
For lunch, we took window seats at The Loft, right on the waterfront. I risked offending my companions by ordering the garlic-y chicken tortilla soup: delicious, spicy, and perfect for the weather.
Then we visited the SEA (Science Education Aquarium) Discovery Center right across the street – a chance to be inside when the rain intensified. An outreach of Western Washington University, the center offers a hands-on experience for creatures you might encounter in Puget Sound tidal pools. The touch tank sits right inside the entrance. We immediately oohed and ahhed over the creatures including sea stars, and I jokingly said, “There’s Patrick!” (of SpongeBob SquarePants fame). “No, I’m Patrick,” said a friendly voice behind us.
Patrick is the Aquarium Director. He welcomed us to wash our hands and then stick them in the tank. Everyone else wanted to do it, but I wasn’t so keen on the idea. “No? Well look around and come back. Maybe you will change your mind,” he offered. We explored, then watched an excellent film Secrets in the Sound by diver, Florian Graner in their theater.
Finally, we stopped in the restroom and my companions duly washed their hands without soap as Patrick has instructed them. I did too, more to warm my hands in the hot water. We returned to the tide pool.
“Ready?” asked Patrick. “Let’s start with the Painted Sea Anemone.” He looked right at me. I’m a good student, always trying to please the professor, so I put my hand in to feel the waving tentacles. It felt strange, and I backed off.
“You don’t need to pull away. Just put your fingers close. Don’t put them in the middle. That’s the sea anemone’s mouth and anus.”
“Okay,” I said warily, and offered my fingers to the swaying tentacles. They felt a bit like Velcro, sticking to my fingers. “Cool!” I meant it literally too – the water in the tank was about 50 ̊ F. No one else wanted to try it.
“Now how about the Red Sea Urchin?” I instantly told him about my friend Dianne who had stepped on urchins at Anaeho-‘omalu Bay this summer, and was picking spines from her foot for a week. “No worries,” he said. “Those are poisonous urchins. These are not.” With that assurance, I did as he instructed, placed my finger between the spines so that the urchin could “hug” it. Indeed, the spines closed in on my finger – felt weird. Chris touched it too, but the girls declined.
Then on to the Giant Pink Sea Star. They used to be called starfish, but they aren’t fish. I was surprised at how hard each arm was, yet the sea star moved them readily. Patrick explained that they had plates that move relative to each other, which allowed the arms to move. But moving arms is not how the sea star travels. Patrick turned the sea star over to show me the tube feet that extend from the arms. There are hundreds of them! Now that was cool!
We went to another part of the touch tank and Patrick picked up a different sea star, called the Leather Star. As he rubbed a spot between its arms, he explained that this sea star emits an odor to ward off predators. “Here smell it. What does it smell like?” I took a good sniff but could not smell a thing. “Do you do any cooking?”
“Yes, all the time,” sniffing hard this time. Still nothing.
“Anyone else want to try?” he asked, looking at the others. Both girls took a sniff and made unpleasant noises, wafting fresh air into their noses. “It’s a garlic smell!”
“Oh, well that explains it. I had a very garlic-y soup for lunch,” I said, surreptitiously smelling my breath.
Finally we moved to the California Sea Cucumber and Patrick picked it up and held it out for me to examine – a large purplish fleshy blob.
I have never liked snakes or even worms. My sister used to chase me around the yard with worms, me screaming all the way. So this fat sea cucumber held no appeal for me. “Go ahead and touch it.”
“No, I don’t want to,” I grimaced.
“Why not? It won’t hurt you.” I thought about it, wavered, and then decided this was the time to face my irrational fear. So I reached out one finger to touch it, and then several fingers to stroke it in a kind of horrid fascination. It was unexpectedly firm. Patrick pointed out the five longitudinal sections that showed it was related to sea stars.
Then he said, “Now you have to kiss it.” Slowly, he pulled the blob to his lips, kissed it, and proffered it to me. With a very strange attraction, I pursed my lips and sort of hypnotically bent over . . . and kissed the damn thing. What the . . . !
Aaack! I whipped away quickly. “I can’t believe I did that,” I sputtered, wiping my lips.
He laughed. “I can’t believe you did that either.” My daughter was staring at me with wide eyes. All I can say is that Patrick was so engaging that he mesmerized me with his teaching. I definitely got a good dose of biology that day.
Then we returned to the restroom to wash our hands again, though my companions had mostly wimped out. We left and headed back down the main street to find coffee and a snack before leaving town. Personally, I could not eat a thing.
I highly recommend an excursion to Poulsbo if you visit Seattle, and definitely explore the SEA Discovery Center if you find yourself there. Just watch out for Patrick . . .
If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.