Dinosaurs, Crude Oil and Seashell Beach

Every Wednesday, our daughter has an early release day from school.  Since moving to California, I have instituted “Wednesday Adventure Day” to take advantage of this free half day, mid-way through the week.  Our adventures don’t take us as far as I described in yesterday’s post, but we do get out and about and find something new to explore.

Yesterday, we made our way to a little beach area in Foster City, which borders the San Francisco Bay.  The cool thing about this beach?  It’s made entirely of crushed sea shells.

The kids initially came along, moaning and groaning about wanting to stay home, about me not telling them where we were going, about being too cold in the 70 degree weather with a little wind kicking up off the Bay (come on–they’re still Montana kids…too cold?  They’ve been outside in -20 degree weather before!  Give me a break!).  But once we got down onto the beach, their usual New Adventure Glee kicked in.

Seven-year-old Ellie has acquired the addictive habit of searching for sea glass.  Yesterday, we found a monster piece of pale blue, ocean-tumbled glass for her collection.  We discovered that when a handful of shattered shells are scooped up and then blow slowly out of one’s hand by the wind, the tinkling sound is like sea shell wind chimes found at an ocean side community gift shop.

Walking along, searching for shells, glass and whatever else might catch our collective eye, five-year-old Landon spotted a partially dried jelly fish the size of a salad plate.

Amidst the broken shells were also huge masses of dark gray, semi-dried mud…the sludge brought in by the bay and deposited along the shore lines and at the bottom of the fingerling lagoons that weave their way throughout Foster City and nearby Redwood Shores.  Ellie slipped on the mud, revealing a black under-layer.

“Maybe it’s oil from the Gulf of Mexico,” I falsely surmised.

Up to that point, the kids had been calling the mud “dinosaur goop.”  We launched into a discussion about the fact that crude oil is exactly that–thousands of years old decomposed materials of living things, including dinosaurs.  (Actually, the crude was made from plankton that lived during the Jurrassic period…but that was more info than I could work into the discussion).

As things usually do with young children the conversation migrated.

“If oil is made from natural stuff, than why is it such a big deal for it to be leaking into the ocean?” astute Ellie asked.
“You know, I was just thinking the same thing earlier today,” I answered her.

The best explanation I could come up with, after hearing a story on NPR about a similar oil spill in the gulf that occurred in 1971, was this:

“Even though the oil is a natural substance, it doesn’t belong outside the rock underneath the ocean floor.  It would be like taking an entire lake or ocean-worth of water and dumping it on a desert.  Even though the water would be a natural substance, it would cause problems for the desert ecosystem, because the plants and animals that live there wouldn’t be used to having that much water there.”

Maybe a bad comparison, but a comparison all the same.

This whole oil spill thing has gotten me very frustrated.  At what point will human beings learn that we can’t continue to use and abuse the earth without there being a high potential for irreparable results?  And from a mother’s point of view, how much damage can we inflict on this planet until we are leaving behind nothing but a caustic environment for children and grandchildren to live in?

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