You may be saying, Beth, you have an obsession with starfish. Yes. I do. Well not really. I just like taking pictures of them, and watching them. Just think about these creatures for a second. Pretend you’ve never heard of them. Starfish are so surreal. They’re astonishing. Could you have imagined them up, had you never seen one? They’re just not logical. You couldn’t infer them from the rest of the animals you see. You couldn’t have predicted them.
I’m reading an incredible book called “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton, and it’s not about starfish, but he does say this, which I think applies (just replace “rhinoceros” with “starfish”): “It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t.”
Their shape is too easy, as if it were designed to be readily identifiable when seen outlined in children’s coloring books. Their color could be used to teach the same children the meaning of “purple” – it’s so well achieved. The amazing number of tiny suction-cup tube feet on their underside seems like overkill – couldn’t a few big suction cups have done it? The tiny white ossicles on their back are perfectly placed, like constellations. Constellations on a star…that’s a paradox. They glisten in the sun, leading me to believe that they’re slimy, but really they’re hard and unbendable.
They lay there, all overlapped. I think some of them are extroverted and don’t mind, but others are probably really uncomfortable touching that many other seastars and can’t wait until they can move again. Because they can’t move when they’re exposed to air – they move by a hydraulic system, using their tube feet, and when they dry out, they don’t have enough water to work the system. They’re so vulnerable in low tides, immobile, stranded, clinging to rocks, waiting to be revived by the ocean. I walk around knowing I could destroy them all if I wanted to. It doesn’t seem right that some of the most beautiful things are also the most fragile and helpless.
It’s weird to think that they’re alive, since I’ve never seen them move. They seem like part of the rock. But if you try to pry one off a rock, you see how much power they have in their suction-tube feet. They really are like aliens. They eat things by inserting their stomachs into them. They can squeeze their stomachs into a 0.1mm opening in a mussel shell. They secrete fluids to digest their food before they swallow it. They have no brain, just a nerve ring. They have a pair of sexual organs in each arm. Wow.
Listen to this… it’s so brilliant… I thought this deep thought one morning at the Rock. Ready? The stars don’t like the moon. Seriously. Think about it. The moon is responsible for the tides. When the moon pulls the tide out, it exposes the starfish, and the seagulls start pecking at them and dragging them around and eating them. Which, I assume, they don’t like. Therefore they don’t like the moon. This is logical. Although the moon also re-covers them with water. So I guess it all evens out.
Okay, I’m done with my starfish rambling. I want to tell you about something equally geeky I have involved myself in. I have joined a club at UBC called “Friends of Wetlands”. Yes. The shorter form is “FOWL”. Mostly what we do is restore the Camosun Bog on Saturday mornings. This is a bog that is close to where I live, on the edge of the huge forest that surrounds UBC. If you don’t know what a bog is, you’re not alone. It’s much like a blog, but without an “l”. Just kidding. A bog is a place with wet, spongy soil, mostly covered with sphagnum moss. It’s very poor in nutrients. That’s why almost all carnivorous plants live in bogs (they get their nutrients from the insects they eat). The problem is that in the 1920s, people tried to drain this bog to build houses nearby. As a result, it got a lot drier, and a lot of invasive species moved in. We mostly weed them out to let the natural bog species thrive, like the sphagnum moss. It’s great. There’s usually people of all ages working in there on Saturday mornings, and we all have a tea break together, and I get to talk about plants and birds with people who like them as much as I do. And I’ve already had a few great conversations with UBC students who are intrigued with my “interdisciplinary biology/theology” master’s degree. The best part: I got a pin that says: “I’m a crazy bogger”. Ecologists are the wittiest people around.