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The necessity for solitude

Some people are energized by constant activity, feeding on and drawing strength from the buzz of never-ending stimulation. Although I sometimes wish I were, I am not one of them. I am, according to any personality test I've ever taken, the quintessential introvert. I am much more comfortable in small groups than large crowds, prefer not to be the center of attention, and (most importantly, I think) need to spend time alone to recharge my emotional and psychological batteries.

This is especially true when I've been doing a lot of teaching. I love teaching and gladly give every bit of my energy and passion to my students, but it takes a lot out of me. All of the time spent being "on" in a classroom needs to be balanced with time away from people. Sometimes this takes the form of holing up in the lab and preparing for the next day's class, but when I'm lucky it means me going off into the outdoors by myself.

Alone time with Nature is balm to my soul. So far this year I've made 25 trips to the intertidal, most of them by myself. The spring and summer low tides which occur in the early mornings, are the ones I love the most. There's something magical about being in the field as the sun appears over the horizon, when the ocean is calm and the winds haven't picked up yet. One of the things I like most about the early morning low tides is that most people are still in bed and I get the intertidal to myself, where I can poke around at my own pace and allow my attention to wander to whatever catches my eye.

The other morning I was up the coast a bit and this is what caught my eye:

Hemigrapsus nudus, missing a left cheliped, at Pistachio Beach. 4 July 2015. © Allison J. Gong
Hemigrapsus nudus, missing a left cheliped, at Pistachio Beach. 4 July 2015.
© Allison J. Gong

I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen one of these crabs, but the name popped right into my head. Over the years I've learned to trust my gut instinct when an animal's name just shows up like that, especially with the marine invertebrates. So when I got back to the lab I looked it up and, yep, that was it. But in the meantime I was woolgathering, following mental threads of images of these crabs from books, as the more I thought about it the more convinced I was that I never had actually seen one in the field. I still think that this individual may be the first one I've ever seen alive in its natural habitat.

All in all it was a glorious morning, warm even. I had to shed a couple of layers when the sun came out. See how flat the water is?

Rocky intertidal habitat at Pistachio Beach, 4 July 2015. © Allison J. Gong
Rocky intertidal habitat at Pistachio Beach, 4 July 2015.
© Allison J. Gong

All of this isn't to say that I don't like sharing the intertidal with friends. I do enjoy taking people with me, and there are a few people whose company I would welcome any time. They know who they are, I think. But for the most part I don't mind going out by myself (except for the one time there was a guy, obviously digging illegally for clams, who gave me a longer-than-necessary look as I walked past him on the beach) and actually enjoy it. So don't feel too sorry for me when I can't find someone to go with me, and realize that if I invite you to join me then it's because I really want to spend time with you.

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