BY ED CULLEN
Advocate staff writer
I take beachcombing seriously.
In my courtyard resides the nation’s foremost collection of filet knife handles. The thought of all those rusted, detached blades keeps me shod.
The beach and dunes next to the house we rent between Gulf Shores, Ala., and the Fort Morgan – Dauphin Island ferry are a protected home for shorebirds and sea turtles.
Men and women in officially green, four-wheel vehicles travel the beach day and night. One night, I awakened in the middle of a Steven Spielberg/Stephen King movie to blue lights sweeping the beach house’s big, communal room that is dining room, den and dormitory.
The lights came from the headlamps of the official green machines. The sea turtles are probably used to the nighttime convoy, but it was a full day before I could again lay and bury my eggs in the sand.
The beach patrol strings stout, red twine between poles to warn beachgoers away from the dunes and places on the beach where turtles have laid eggs.
The humans wear tool belts to hold the instruments required for cutting the red twine, driving metal poles, stapling, twisting, cutting whatever it is they attach to the poles and twine.
The humans accidentally drop these tools they use to force obedience on mere beach walkers but not hotels, golf courses and planned communities.
Beware the unplanned community.
People like me who can’t take the sun and have no business in it walk along, beach monks, eyes to the ground, hands folded behind our backs.
There. Right there. The handles of needle-nose pliers jut from the sand. And, here, look, a face mask for diving that requires but a sluicing in the surf to put to order and use.
Here, everywhere, are the neon-colored shovels, rakes, pails of children. The tykes are plopped in the sand and told to get busy digging holes that will surprise early morning and late evening walkers.
Oops. Careful. Don’t fall over the Mayan temple so carefully crafted that you look around for 4-inch Mayans.
Walking Pine Beach Trail, my walking partner and I came upon a mother eagle feeding babies the size of chickens. Father eagle flew low air support over the big, sloppy (but planned) nest.
A little farther on, we happened on a Great Blue Heron the size of a hotel doorman. The heron was fishing and paid us little mind.
Later that day, I walked onto our beach for a last look around before retiring. A small, light ball moved over the sand, kicked by unseen feet before nesting between tufts of sea oats.
An Adirondack-style chair the color of a neon fir was four houses down the beach from where it sat that morning. Whether moved by hands or wind or both, things on the beach are always traveling.
I knew the motion of the night was starting. I wanted to know the night as I’d known the day, but it was the time of sea turtles and the beach patrol who’d keep us safe and wakeful until morning.