July 18, 2006

Beach Walk - Purdy Sand Spit

On a Saturday almost a month ago, my wife and a friend and I went on a beach walk at the Purdy Sand Spit, presented by a collection of local and state water quality agencies. The weather was terrific, the tide was -2.8’ at 11:08, and the beach was teeming. There were a good fifty people of all ages in attendance.

The guide for the walk was the local celebrity Alan Rammer, who is a Conservation Education Program Specialist with the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, and who has spent thirty years or more walking the beaches of Washington and any place else near sea level and talking with people about the life that can be found there. He’s a local celebrity because he was the model for the character of the professor in Jim Lynch’s novel set in south Puget Sound, The Highest Tide. Lynch shadowed Rammer for a year while preparing the book.

So he started with a speech, well practiced and aimed at the kids in the group in expression, but also pointed at the adults, in which he described the beach as the living room of its inhabitants. His specific advice was to put everything back where you find it and make sure that you leave the rocks you overturn or pick up as you found them, right side up. I thought it was a nice touch.

We then headed down to the beach and looked around. Mr. Rammer knew the name and history of everything that anyone brought him, including the squid egg sacks and a deep-water fish that grows up in the shallows (forgot the name). We saw moon snails – they’re big! – and their egg sacks, which look like broken toilet plungers. There were sand crabs and rock crabs and hermit crabs, geoducks and horse clams and mussels, and sand dollars in stacks.

After the walk, we headed over the bridge to the Beach House, where we were treated to a local history exhibit and a nice lunch. Since we ate the lunch, we decided to stay for the talks after lunch. Lolling on the beach on a sunny afternoon in June is pleasant enough, even with a couple of talks about septic systems and water quality. The speakers were a Kitsap County Health District employee, Leslie Banigan, and Teri King, who works for the Washington Sea Grant Program.

It turned out to be quite excellent. I’ve always lived in houses that are connected to sewers, so I thought to learn a little about the effects of septic systems on water quality, but in a somewhat disconnected way. It wasn’t long into the presentations, however, before I realized that I am a septic system owner, at the Whidbey house. Damn. (At this point, I can visualize my mother rolling her eyes at my cluelessness. I’m slow on the uptake, but I remember once I get there.) So, I listened with new interest and learned a lot. I’ll have to find out more about the system we have out there at Whidbey, since it doesn’t get much of a workout and it’s perched right over the beach.

The whole thing, for free, was a great way to spend an early summer, sunny day: a little walk, a little beachcombing, a little lunch, a little sun, and a little learning. The whole thing was put together by Pierce Conservation District and the Puget Sound Action Team.

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