The evening air had that distinctive feel of frost, and as the night hours crept by, the clear sky drew the earth’s heat into the starry heavens.
Smoke from wood stoves floated gracefully upwards, and the sea sparkled magically in the light of the waxing moon. In the morning, sure enough, the bottom of the garden was covered with crisp white ice crystals, while pansies and impatiens on higher ground merely shrugged and stretched happily in the warming sunlight.
It was a day of seasonal activities: turning over the garden, stacking firewood, picking plums, stewing applesauce. When the hands of the tide clock indicated low tide, we were more than willing to take a break and go down to the Cove.
It’s always a treat to walk on the ocean floor at low tide. Sometimes the sand is perfectly smooth, other times the receding waves form exotic patterns. This day the sand was kind of unremarkable—until my companion saw a tiny fish head sticking out of the sand. Naturally she bent down and plucked it out, as you would, and we watched intently as the long (10 cm) finless eel-like creature squirmed around on her hand… before going totally limp. Oh dear. We placed it gently in the water where it floated belly-up as if dead. I poked it and turned it over, even pumped with a finger on where I thought its heart might be… and was relieved when it gave a little wiggle. It didn’t swim like finned fish that dart and turn and disappear, it merely undulated, sometimes moving almost vertically, and we decided it must be a baby eel.
Later we learned that it was a sandeel, which is not an eel at all but a type of fish that burrows into the sand to escape predators. Are there lots of them in the Cove? Possibly, though we’d never seen one before.
As we wandered along the shore we spotted a dark-furred animal that looked like a mink scampering up the capes: he didn’t give a fig about us and he didn’t stay to chat. What was he doing down at the shore?
We clambered up the cape on rickety stairs and noticed clusters of strange finger-like fungi growing in the trench under a cottage’s dripping roof. The hollow reddish spikes (12 cm tall) looked like life forms from the distant past, and our mushroom book confirmed that “purple club coral” is indeed of ancient origin. Of no apparent use to mankind, this fungus nevertheless rises out of the earth on cool autumn days to assert its presence—as it has for millions of years.
Thinking about all that we had seen, we crossed the road—just as a red fox came scampering out of the ditch. It must have swum across the stream for it was the wettest skinniest creature imaginable. We looked at each other in disbelief. What next? Had the moon cast a spell over the Cove, or it something to do with the first frost? We’ll never know.