Lady Baby and her dad flew down on a Friday in the middle of May and spent the weekend – a father and daughter trip. We met them in Seattle where Lady Baby outlined the immediate plan: “Ride the ferry, eat dinner, drive to the Buffalo!”
The next day, drizzly and gray, we all wandered up the beach searching for treasures like special rocks, the shells of limpets, oysters and crabs, particular pink seaweed, and kelp “balloons.”
That afternoon Lady Baby and I visited the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Worden. It’s housed in an old building on an equally old wharf, and dedicated to inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea (the name for all the connected waterways in this part of the world). Water from the Bay below constantly circulates in and out of several touch tanks and a tall aquarium containing fish, sea stars, sea anemones, sea worms, chitons, urchins, and more. A magical place.
The Center teaches by touch. We learned to touch only the tops of sea stars to protect their vulnerable feeding tubes – and watched a large sea star efficiently pull a whole closed oyster toward its mouth on its underside (the stomach comes out of the mouth to accomplish this!). When touched, little feather dusters that sea worms stick out to catch their food instantly retract. While we watched a crab clean the scraps from a shell, a docent explained about crabs molting when they outgrow their own shells: “Imagine you have a zipper up your backbone and could unzip and step your skeleton out!”
We were often in synch with a little girl and her dad, visitors from Seattle, and soon the girls were sharing a sturdy footstool and concentrating together on the tanks – rapt. And as the visitors thinned out, Zofia, a young Citizen Scientist Educator, revealed the trapdoor/porthole in the old floor so they could toss an empty oyster shell back into the sea.
She asked if the girls wanted to see where “tons of crabs hang out,” and took them below the Center where the flukes of a gray whale float in netting attached to a dock. (After a whale washed up on a Seattle beach, the rest of the whale was buried at sea till the bones are clean and the skeleton can be rebuilt.) Wriggling crabs covered the netting, and fat bubbles from the whale bobbed to the surface.
Invited to look through a microscope (a first for both girls), they took turns gazing at teeny critters in seawater. Lady Baby said in that excited voice of discovery: “They are so small and then so big!” As we left, the girls dashed down to the beach together.
Armed with our new knowledge and intending just another rambling walk, we returned to the beach on Sunday morning. When she spotted a good treasure, Lady Baby stopped, patted her tummy, and called: “Guys, guys, come here!”
After her dad provided an energy bar and water snack, we found ourselves well into our daily walk along the beach, through a campground, and heading up a hill to the bunkers.
That hill always punishes. This time Poppa Jim suggested singing – singing? I thought – but it worked. Variations on “Wheels on the Bus” got us nearly to the top, and then a tossed piece of sticky weed took over – its Velcro adherence to our clothes causing much giggling and repeating.
A strong four-year old can outwalk us, the enemy is boredom, so for the rest of the hike we did the simplest, most failsafe kid-on-a-hike game – hiding! Oh she loved it – so delighted with her hiding skills. We would walk ahead, lamenting that Lady Baby and her dad had disappeared. What could have happened? Maybe she’d be at the sunny meadow because she likes sunny meadows, or maybe she was back at the car. Then she’d run up and “surprise” us, shriek in delight, and repeat.
On Monday she turned the drive down to the ferry into a long conversation. She’s figuring out what is real and what is not, what was in the past and what is made up. She told me people in storybooks were once alive but now dead (sometimes true I said, but I write stories about her and she is certainly alive).
We had a long discussion about her insect dislikes “red ants, mosquitoes, and bumblebees,” and why bumblebees might be removed from the list. And fun when she isolated words from the history podcast playing in the front seat and grinned in glee: monster “Oooh that’s scary,” or hero “Those are good guys.” She told me the guys on the podcast (Assyrians, Greeks) came before the dinosaurs.
The chronology is a little mixed up – but she’ll get it. Probably soon. What a wonderful visit.