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A Swim in the Broth

“Consider the ordinary barnacle, the rock barnacle. Inside every one of those millions of hard white cones on the rocks—the kind that bruises your heel as you bruise its head—is of course a creature as alive as you or I. Its business in life is this: when a wave washes over it, it sticks out twelve feathery feeding appendages and filters the plankton for food. As it grows, it sheds its skin like a lobster, enlarges its shell, and reproduces itself without end. The larvae “hatch into the sea in milky clouds.” The barnacles encrusting a single half mile of shore can leak into the water a million million larvae. How many is that to a human mouthful? In sea water they grow, molt, change shape wildly, and eventually, after several months, settle on the rocks, turn into adults, and build shells. Inside the shells they have to shed their skins… My point about rock barnacles is those million million larvae “in milky clouds” and those shed flecks of skin. Sea water seems suddenly to be but a broth of barnacle bits.”Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I confess to briefly recalling this tidbit from Dillard while reacquainting myself with Buzzards Bay, but mostly I considered the front paws of my canine swimming partner enthusiastically paddling in my direction, and equally pressing, the rumble of morning thunder close enough to keep the swim brief. We don’t think about barnacle bits when we swim in salt water any more than we think about the vapor particles we breathe in in a crowded room (at least until the pandemic). These are simply part of the deal. We embrace the universe as it snuggles in close or we curl up in terror under the covers.

The point is, we’re meant to be out there living in the world. So dip a toe in the broth, or better yet, plunge right in. For we are very much a part of the stew of life and ought to celebrate our brief moment together. But appreciate that outdoor shower afterwards just a little more.

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