On a little beach in South Yarmouth, Massachusetts, I was once known as ‘Crab Boy, King of the Crabbers.’
Some of my happiest memories are of my family’s summer vacations to the Red Jacket Inn on Cape Cod. The first summer I spent at the Cape, I was a baby. My family tells me I was fascinated with sand. I couldn’t resist scooping up a clump and putting it in my mouth; it didn’t taste good, but that didn’t stop me. I loved the beach, and I loved the sand. The following summer, I discovered there was more to do at the beach than eating sand. I could dig in it and tunnel deep down. I could spread my wings and try to fly with the seagulls.
Then one day, something amazing caught my eye. I looked out at the water toward the jetty, a forbidden place for me.
To my astonishment, I saw older kids pull a creature out of the rocks and put it into a bucket. There were creatures in the rocks? I couldn’t contain my excitement, and I rushed over to them. They let me look in their bucket and there was an animal with two claws, a crab. I dreamt of the day when I would be old enough to go down to the water on my own and catch crabs.
Finally that day came, and I didn’t waste any time. I ran to the rocks, my new domain. Some experienced older kids taught me to use mussels, one of the crab’s favorite foods, as bait. One boy shouted, ‘Watch out for the crab’s pinchers!’ Equipped with my large bucket and shovel, I was ready. I was fascinated by the sea and its abundance of creatures. After preparing my bait, I stuck my hand and a mussel into a crevice in the rocks. I was nervous. I didn’t know if I would catch a crab or if the crab would catch me. To my delight, I felt something grab the mussel. My first crab! I put it in my bucket and found myself instantly fond of these strange creatures. Like me, crabs could easily be tempted by food. As the day went on, I discovered I was a natural crabber. Eventually, I stopped using mussels for bait. I would just stick my hands into the rocks and pull out crab after crab. I was the best crabber on the beach and kids came from all around to see the boy who caught the most crabs. They called me ‘Crab Boy’ and asked me to share my crabbing wisdom with them.
Now I was the teacher, but the master still had to learn the ultimate crabbing tool, the secret of the chicken leg on a string! I watched a man drop his drumstick into the crevices; when he pulled it out, several crabs were attached. He gave me a chicken leg and my crabbing efficiency increased tenfold. I looked with pride at my bucket of crabs; they were my treasures from the bottom of the ocean.
As each day came to an end, unlike the other ‘kid-crabbers’ who brought their buckets to their rooms, unwilling to part with their prized catch, I wanted my new friends to live full lives. I went down to the ocean, and one by one, I said goodbye and released them back into the ocean in the hopes of seeing them again the next day or the next time I returned to the Cape.
My family no longer vacations on the Cape, and I have not crabbed since my last visit, but I consider my adventures on that little jetty among the most important moments in my life. This was my period of discovery during which I opened my eyes to the natural world. Getting my first glimpse into a world that existed beneath the surface sparked my fascination for science and the environment. If these amazing creatures existed so close within my grasp, close enough to find, but far enough to have to search for, what else was out there to discover, to learn about, and to hold in the palm of my hand? Like the crab to the chicken leg, I was caught; my quest for knowledge had begun.
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