The Family Jellyfish
A few months ago for a creative writing assignment, my daughter had to write a sentence that contained at least two adjectives and the word "jellyfish". Pretty heavy stuff for second grade. Undaunted, my daughter scribbled and erased and perfected and then showed it to me to proofread:
Once when we were camping, my crazy family stood on a rocky beach and threw stones at a jellyfish to see how high they would bounce.
We live in a part of the country where dogs often take precedence over children, where the neighborhood gets a chance to vote on trees to be kept when there will be construction nearby, where curbside recycling and composting are mandatory, where admitting that you do things like throw rocks at jellyfish is somewhat akin to admitting you drink human blood or drive an SUV. With co-mingled embarrassment and pride, I double-checked her spelling and handwriting and signed her homework, thus cementing that we are, indeed, that family.
We had risen with the birds that morning. The sun is our only clock when we are camping. Our campsite was buried in ancient evergreen forest on the Olympic Peninsula. The mist still loitered around the highest branches and the sun was still a little sleepy and wan in the sky. I am not a morning person. Not at all. But even this Mama Bear has a hard time growling and snapping when she emerges from her nylon cave to the crackling of a fresh camp fire and a symphony of birds; the smell of coffee in the French press and sizzling camp fire eggs, surrounded by the knock-knock of pots and pans that sound different somehow in the open air and the muffled quiet of the world coming slowly alive in the dawn.
We ate our breakfast and planned our day. A hike to the beach was the consensus, so after we cleaned up our campsite and stowed away anything that might tempt the nosy and tenacious raccoon that lived in the undergrowth around our clearing, we set off on the trail to the beach. I have a friend who is a naturalist. A walk with her, even down a city street, is filled with the names of the birds busily crapping off of telephone wires, the species of the trees whose roots are pushing up the sidewalk, and the plants that grow wild in the median that you can actually forage and eat. This is all very interesting and informative, but when we hike as a family, it goes more like this:
That tree has a face!
Look, it's a Lightsaber plant!
What do you think that bird's name is?
I think his name is Harold.
If there were zombies in this forest, do you think they sleep during the daytime?
Probably not, but I think zombies prefer more populated areas.
Ahh! It's a monkey! Oh wait. That's just a squirrel.
Do you think I could knock a zombie's head off with this stick if one attacked us?
We emerged onto the beach just as the sun began to wake up and burn off the morning mist. The view over the Sound was shimmering into view: distant mountains, fishing boats, barges and gulls, the water rippling softly and tossing around the winking morning light. We had the beach to ourselves. My husband and I strolled along quietly hand in hand and listened as the kids collected shells and rocks, looked for crabs in tide pools and hollered when they saw the jellyfish that had washed up with the last tide.
What is that?!
It's purple, I like it.
It smells like sushi!
No, you touch it!
Always the practical thinker and problem solver, my husband wandered over and said "Ew! Is it dead?" and tossed a rock at it. We all hooted when it bounced and startled him. So there, in the gathering heat of the day, as the world woke up around us, surrounded by the sights and sounds of raw, wild Pacific Northwest nature, our family gathered around the jellyfish and took turns throwing rocks at it.
Special thanks to Kelly, for allowing me to guest post for her while she’s on vacation with her family. They are probably not harming wildlife, but nonetheless, making the kind of crazy memories that last forever and sometimes turn up in writing assignments for school.