Friday, May 23, 2008

Brooklyn Horseshoe Crabs

This week, horseshoe crabs mated on Brooklyn's shores. I went to see them awhile ago and wrote about it.

When the Sun and the full Moon aligned with our planet on Sunday night, their combined gravities swelled the ocean’s tides and pulled from the Atlantic depths the lumbering denizens of an ancient world. Every year, in a mating ritual that dates back 300 million years, horseshoe crabs make the journey from their winter residences on the continental shelf to a narrow stretch of Gerritsen Beach near Brooklyn’s salty Marine Park, lazily pushing their way past the shoreline’s litter of beer bottles, plastic shopping bags, and floating chunks of Styrofoam, to dig their nests and lay thousands of pearly, green eggs.

This week, the Urban Park Rangers hosted a crowd of nature-seekers that included local residents as well as hipster kids lured by the promise of something wonderful and strange. “The horseshoe has, like, a million eyes,” one young ranger-in-training explained. The crowd grew fidgety as the rangers talked on about photoreceptors. Kids chased each other up and down the beach, waving flashlights. Adults turned restlessly to cell phones, loudly bemoaning, “I’m standing on a beach waiting for some horseshoe crabs to mate.”

photo: Klaus Schoenwiese at urban calendar

We inched closer to the water. The rangers urged us to stand back, “Let’s step out of their bedroom and give them a little privacy.” The horseshoes clamored together at the surf line, the males clasping onto the backs of the bigger females, hoping to be dragged ashore where the females would dig their nests, lay their eggs, then allow the piggy-backing males to drop their sperm onto the clutch.

An older woman told me how she’d lived in the neighborhood her whole life, and “every year, the horseshoe crabs come to lay their eggs. My brother once brought an egg home in a jelly jar, and would you believe? It turned into a horseshoe crab. A little, bitty one.”

The woman's grandson, dressed in a Superman cape, flashed his flashlight over the water and shouted, “I’m attracting them! They like me!” before pouncing onto a slippery log and falling, up to his knees, into the drink. His grandmother fished him out and told him, “Your mother’s going to kill you.” Then his mother walked over. She calmly lit a cigarette, looked at the boy, and said, “I hope you’re happy. Now you can die of pneumonia.”

photo: Klaus Schoenwiese at urban calendar

Out on the water, a party boat cruised by, strung with lights and blaring music. The revelers didn’t take notice of our small crowd on the sand, nor were they aware of the antediluvian drama that unfolded under the agitated waves their boat made. I thought about the living fossils on the sand, surviving through multiple mass extinctions, and about our city and its own chances of survival.

No matter how our epoch ends—whether in fire, ice, or at our own hands--the horseshoe crabs will outlive us all. Brooklyn will one day be empty of hipsters and stroller mommies and condos. The Wonder Wheel will roll into the sea. Park Slope will be underwater. But as long as there are salty seas and a moon above to move them, the beaches will be crowded with the urgent, quiet couplings of the horseshoe crabs. In this, at least, there is some comfort gained.


Anonymous said...

Small correction: I grew up in Marine Park, and my relatives lived in Gerritsen Beach. They are next to each other, but GB is not"in" MP. Gerritsen Beach has its own--volunteer--fire department, for example.
I was fascinated by those crabs as a kids (and still am). Really good story.

Jeremiah Moss said...

thanks for the correction--i'll change it to "near." glad you liked the crabs, they are very cool.

JakeGould said...

Was going to point out the Gerritsen Beach diffeerence as well. Gerritsen Beach is really another world and worth a visit.

Anonymous said...

I was sitting in my grandmother's Gerritsen Beach kitchen with my grandmother, mother, and aunts having a cuppa tea (that's the Irish side of the family; GB is very, very Irish), when we saw a boat pull up to the marine filling station. Then, we watched in horror, almost in slow motion, as a man tossed a cigarette over the side of the boat. Instant fireball. The kitchen shook, and my Uncle John (who suffered from shellshock, which makes his actions even braver) ran out to pull people off the boat and out of the flames.

Anonymous said...

horsehoe crab shells make good weed plates. the only thing is that it takes work killing those bastards without cracking the shell

Anonymous said...

This reminded me of "Suddenly Last Summer" when Sebastian said to Violet: "Mother, I have seen the face of God." Tennessee is smiling on you, Jeremiah!

Anonymous said...

I imagine Anon#1 is meant to be a rather abstract attack on this blog (not that I doubt he does what he says he does).
Still, if a person is upset that we call him and his friends narcissistic sociopaths, I don't see why giving us anecdotal proof of that fact should in some way rebutt our opinions.

Anyway, sorry to take the subject off the crabs. I must go and see them sometime.

Unknown said...

I've been witness to the annual horseshoe crab ritual of Jamaica Bay my whole life. As little boys will do, we'd pick them up and flip them over for inspection. But we never hurt them and always put them back as we found them.

Unknown said...

For anonymous #1 all I can say is, "Geez, what a jerk." Leave him/her alone and he/she will go away to bother someone else. Please, DO NOT FEED THE ANIMALS. It only encourages them.

Anonymous said...

may 23, 2008 @ 5:46

Man, you took the words out of my mouth.

Even before I read your comment, I thought of Sabastian saying,
"Suddenly...last summer."