I wasn’t sure what to expect. Staying up till midnight with a house full of kids just to get a chance to see a few horseshoes crabs humping each other by the light of the full moon didn’t seem worth the effort.
But It was Memorial Day weekend, perfect viewing time as per the Science Section of the New York Times, and I was the sole adult in a house overflowing with pre-adolescent children, two of my own and the other two their friends.
The popcorn had been flying for hours now, the laugh track on ‘Full House’ blasting , every towel in the house was wet and salty and , our dog Lucy, cowering under my bed, was refusing to come out . Even with the door closed, she couldn’t take it anymore either. A midnight nature walk it would have to be, in search of the horney horseshoe crabs.
I’m impressed with myself still this many years later that I managed to wrench those overtired four kids away from the tv set and refridgerator to join me in the darkness by the edge of the bay on the east side of Gerard Drive. I’m even prouder that, after a very noisy night at home, I was able to quiet them with the warning that if they made a peep at the water’s edge they would scare away the amorous horseshoe crabs and we would have come out for nothing.
The ten minute drive down Oldstone Highway was uneventful but, as we made our way down Fireplace Road toward Gerard Drive, I felt obligated to prepare them for what they were about to see in language my children’s friends high brow parents would approve of.
” This spawning ritual we are about to witness, ” I began, “has been going on for million of years at this very spot, way before the Hamptons were the Hamptons, in fact even before there were homosapians roaming this world”
“Before there were homos?! “,my 13 year old son yelled out from the back seat”
” Jaaaaake,” I moaned thru the laughter. “Seriously, horseshoe crabs have been around since before the dinosaurs”
” You mean before ‘Lunches’?,” Jake’s younger sister Annie chimed in, trying to steal the stage.
” what does spawning mean ?” My daughter’s friend Brianna politely asked when the laughing died down
“SEX !!” Shouted 10 year old Annie in her ear
“FUCKING!!!!”,shouted 13 year old Jake even louder
“You mean we’re going to watch the horseshoe crabs DOING IT ?!”, Jake’s friend Billy cried out?
“YES !!!!!”They all said in unison doing that fist victory thing as if they had all just witnessed a touch-down.
Precocious children that they were, I knew I didnt have to explain what those terms actually meant but even I didnt know what to expect from the horseshoe crabs, or what their particular private parts might look like.
When we got to The Point, it was pitch black except for the moon reflecting on the water and not another car was in sight. We checked our flashlights and I made sure my little house guests’ pants were tucked tightly underneath their socks lest they bring home ticks back to New York and to their parents dismay.
The kids tumbled giggling out of the car and down the path toward the water. Truth be told, I was feeling a little frightened. Years before as a young 20-something coming back to my house sitting job on this same road after a late night at work in Amagansett Square, I had been followed on my bike all the way down this very same road at about the same time and about as dark as it was now. Yet, here I was again, all alone late at night, responsible for two other mothers’ , children , walking thru bug infested dune grass at midnight without another adult or occupied house even within shouting distance.
” Shushhh !” I snapped rather loudly. ” I hear something”
Now the kids were scared too. ‘What is that?!” Annie said frozen in place
” Maybe we shouldn’t go there,” said Brianna”
“No!,”said Billy, “I want to see the crabs doing it!”
It was an erie sound, like two people dueling or hitting each other with hard plastic mallets. It only got louder the closer we got to the water. This would have been a good time to have a husband in tow.
I shined my flashlight up and down the beach but didn’t see anyone, and, on first glance, there weren’t any horse shoe crabs either.
‘They must be here’, I thought- ‘it said so in the New York Times’
Only once we all shined our flashlights on the water did we realize where that odd noise had come from. There, in a solid row, all the way up and down the shore line were horseshoe crabs, some piled two or three high, getting knocked against each other with the gentle current as others swimming to shore cascaded noisily over them- it was like layers of dirty glacial ice piling up as brown submarines made their way thru the murky water only to get added to the writhing click- clacking pile. There were big ones with littler ones stacked on top of them , some digging under the sand as if to escape while others lay buried under a volcano of froth. The big ones were the females, I was later told , and the froth their eggs depositing in the soft sand ready to be fertilized.
I tried counting them but stopped at 175. Shining our flashlights over the water there were horseshoe crabs converging as far as the eye could see. It looked as though we were being invaded by alien miniature war tanks. The pace was steady, it didn’t let up and the din of colliding shells only got louder and louder as the night wore on.
Who’s to say how long we even stood there transfixed, staring at the sea water every inch occupied and rippling in action. Crab after crab after crab moving in for the hunt, riding atop a mountain of other crabs all vying for the same female. It seemed like it would never stop and the sheer numbers of them were overwhelming. Were there Smart Phones back then, you know I would have recorded this primal orgy. As it was, I shot a few photos on my Instamatic camera that would hardly captured the phenomena.
Driving the 10 minutes back to the house, all four kids fell asleep and snored in different tempos while I smiled in awe of the miracle of it all. How will I be able to describe this I thought, who would believe me? Is it possible I imagined this? Hundreds of horseshoe crabs or was it thousands coming back each year on the full moon in May to this very same place and many others to do what they’ve always done for millions of years, before there were people, before there were dinosaurs, before there was even a lobster roll to order at Lunches. Even the New York Times couldn’t capture the amazingness of it all, how would I?