Friday, February 8, 2013

The Hermit Crab and the Antique Film

“Mom!  A huge one! Moooommmm! The biggest one yet!”

We gathered around with our head lamps and flashlights to see a hermit crab no less than three times the size of all of the others. Each spotlight of light from our head lamps was seething with little hermit crabs and, if you stood still more than a few moments, one would crawl on your feet.

“What is that?!”

Hermit crabs grab other creatures’ shells to live in. As they grow, they discard their cramped quarters for new, larger upgrades. On this night walk, we’d seen hundreds of quarter-size crabs in a rainbow of shells. This giant-among-crabs had found a black, cylindrical film canister. You know, the kind we had dozens of before digital pictures.

Film canisters are an ancient relic of the olden days to my boys, so its presence heightened the mystery of the giant crab. “Maybe they were shooting an old-fashioned film out at sea and accidentally dropped the canister!” the oldest suggested hopefully, enhanced surely with visions of sea dragons and Scooby doo ghosts.

“I feel bad that it’s living in garbage,” my youngest chimed in. “Hey! He’s not a hermit grab, he’s the Garbage Crab!” This comment sparked a lively debate about The Anthropocene, but in more elementary school jargon, colored with a few passionate potty words.

Was this particular piece of garbage on a night time beach a curse of human development, or an inventive adaption of nature to our co-existence? Clearly there were no other such large condos available in this environment. Thus the crab was alive long after he otherwise would have been. The petroleum-based plastic canister will last decades, serving its crabby inhabitant well, as I’m sure it will its next tenant.

As my children debated, I contemplated that truly I am torn. I am a lover of natural, unspoiled environments. But we are here. Lots of us. And this crab had an otherwise-unavailable home. I picked up a couple extra pieces of garbage to ease my discomfort with The Way Things Are.

I can tell you where my kids landed: “It doesn’t matter if we think it’s garbage, it’s not our home. It only matters what the crab thinks, and he likes it.”

And I’ll keep picking up the garbage.

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