“Hey, you want to see some jellyfish?”
It is like offering to point out to us a bad tattoo or a twelve-story condominium, such was the proliferation of jellyfish at Orange Beach on this particular day.
“We’re good, buddy,” we say.
“You sure? We got a bunch,” he says. He is the color of a peeled apple, this boy, but with the sort of dense, stippled freckles that join together and form a mock-suntan.
“Well, alright,” we say.
We follow the boy. He leads us to a plastic kiddy pool which has been stationed next to a chaise. There is a freckle-blotched woman sunning in the chaise. Presumably his mother. She says hello. We return the greeting.
“See?” says the boy. He points downward.
The kiddy pool, four feet in diameter, is filled to capacity with a terrifying menagerie of jellyfish. Some pump and pulse with regularity. Some weakly convulse. Others, the sure-enough dead ones, float and sway with the movement of the water – their previously dome-shaped bodies flat. Flush with the surface of the water.
“What do you call a group of jellyfish?” Alexa asks.
“Don’t know,” I say.
“A jam!” she says.
“Unless they’re protected by law, in which case it would be a preserve,” I say.
This is what nerdy women do on the beach. They engage in word play.
I produce a phone and ask if I might take a photo. The boy agrees. His mother smiles. She is sure he is a budding scientist, not a sociopath. We are not so sure.
The children join us. They gaze into the pool. Instantly convicted to join the cause, my daughter Carrie fetches our net, tromps into the ocean, scoops up a jellyfish, and dumps it into the watery mass grave. And I am fairly sure that she is a budding scientist. I hope she is.
The following morning, Alexa, the guys and I are out on the balcony. We are drinking coffee and admiring the ocean.
“Look,” Scott says. “A dolphin.”
“I saw it too,” Todd says. “Look past that blue umbrella.”
We watch the surface of the water until, again, it’s dorsal fin momentarily resurfaces.
“What eats jellyfish?” Alexa asks. She is having the same thought as me: I hope that dolphin will eat all of those miserable jellyfish so that we can swim in peace today.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’ll check.”
A quick and disappointing Google search reveals that the main predator of jellyfish are… larger jellyfish.
“I’m not sure that helps our plight,” Alexa says.
I think, then, of that corny starfish story keynote speakers always tell at conferences in an effort to inspire us – the one in which the dancing woman throws dying starfish back into the ocean in an effort to save their lives. It hits me then that I have witnessed it; the real-life version of the starfish story. I have seen it in action. That boy with the freckles, Carrie, and the jellyfish. It is the Starfish story in reverse; less inspiring, but morbidly fascinating.
It made a difference for that one.