Monday, 3 October 2011

Mussel gathering ~ and the joys of the local beach

A certain rock at the nearby beach has unexpectedly yielded up an astonishing number of extra-large  mussels.  Rewi is an enthusiastic gatherer of such things, whereas I am an on-looker, being too tender-hearted to wrench the little creatures from their natural homes.  Each of us makes our personal choices in such matters.  

So, off we went to the beach: he armed with a handy onion bag and sea-worthy shoes, and me with my camera. 

There's always a lot to take my attention through the lens of my camera, while Rewi casts about along the rock faces amidst the surf and kelp.  

Near to where I stood at the water's edge hundreds of little mussels awaited the returning high tide:

These ones reminded me of my crystal gem clusters, all attached to their rock home in a seemingly random pattern - which somehow isn't so random:

The nearby rock face presented a complex range of colours and patterns:

I had quite a long time to potter about while Rewi attended to his harvesting, but eventually we set off back along the beach.  Old bits of shell were caught in pockets of rocks:

...As were huge ropes of old kelp:

When we got home Rewi set about the task of preparing his meal with enthusiasm.  Mussels don't come fresher than this!  Look at the lovely growth on the shells:

After the mussels were shelled we had a whole bucket of shells to dispose of.  The correct thing to do is to return them to the sea, where the little creatures and the waves re-cycle them, so we set off to the beach a second time:

Included with the discarded shells was a tiny crab.  He had been inside one of the mussels!  He had lost a couple of legs but seemed okay!  At least back on the beach he had a chance...

I was fascinated by the range of growth of weed and other sea creatures which had made their homes on the shells, and spent a long time photographing them on the rocks.  This time it was Rewi who waited!

I found a shallow rock pool and put some of them in it to see the weed re-vivify in the water:

Of course there were lots of tiny creatures in the water, and a wide range of fabulous colours:

I spent a lot of time peering at these before deciding it was time to tip them out into the tide.  Having one last look through the contents of the bucket I found this bearded old grandfather of a mussel that Rewi had overlooked.  I placed him in the rock pool.  The water clouded with all the particles carried in his beard!

I walked a few steps further and tipped the remaining shells down to the level of the tide:

And watched the water come in:

The water sucked back out again:

I love the gentle rhythm of waves washing in and out.  I stood and watched it for some time...

Rewi had waited for ages.  I really had to get back.  I clambered back across the rocks.  We stood on the beach and chatted a while before setting off home:

The sun was high overhead and the bright sunshine threw everything into high contrast:

As we climbed back up to the road I gazed with satisfaction at these reeds from which I have taken two tiny knobs of root to grow in wet spots in my garden:

It had been lovely on the beach but I was pleased to get in out of the glare.  Cleaning up after lunch I found a tiny mussel amongst the beach things.  It was smaller than my little fingernail and still shut tight.  Oh dear: better take him back to the beach!  See what a softy I am - which is why I'm a vegetarian!  Just as well the beach is close by.  I was back in time for a second cup of tea.  

We were both satisfied that we had done our bit to put back what we could of what had been taken.  We were participating in the rhythm of the sea.  Taking, then putting back.  Rewi will not take more from that rock, leaving plenty so that the colony can continue to thrive, and I am happy to take only photos - and a few little rootlets for the garden! 
Later note: when mussels have been collected we now always bring back a bucket of sea water for the hitch-hiking crabs and other little creatures that are to be put back.

Still later note:
Those who are squeamish can look away now!  For those who are wondering what is inside mussel shells that so many people are eager to eat I have add two images - this is the reality.  And in case you are wondering, the mussels die when their shells are forced open.  It's common practice to steam them open which kills and then cooks them, but that also kills the life forms that live on the shells as well as the few crabs that are found inside them, all of which we put back into the nearby sea within a day.

This is what a whole bowlful of raw mussel meat looks like:

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

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