I am closing out a rejuvenating three-day weekend — organized by me, for me – to celebrate the transition from my old job to my new one. I slipped down to tranquil Carmel on California’s central coast. Carmel is only a three-hour drive from San Francisco, if traffic isn’t terrible (which it wasn’t), but it feels a world away.
My first order of business on Friday was to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I’d only been there once, years ago, shortly after I moved to the Bay Area. The Jellies Experience is still a major highlight, as is the Ocean’s Edge Wing, featuring live California giant kelp. There are lines of benches in front of the enormous 333,000-gallon tank, where visitors can sit back and be hypnotized by the kelp and fish gently swaying back-and-forth. It reminded me of a laundromat, where I can plop down in front of the machines and zone out for an hour as my clothes spin round-and-round — except I’ve never seen a washing machine that is 28 feet high.
I love the feeling of leaving a place of interest, having learned a few things. Here’s what I picked up at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in no particular order:
- An octopus can distinguish between its human handlers using its tentacles. Don’t ask me how the handlers know this, since I suspect the octopus keeps pretty mum about it.
- Mature sand dollars position themselves on their sides, perpendicular to the sea floor, and burrow into the sand to stay upright against the ocean current. This isn’t effective for younger sand dollars, though, because they are too lightweight – so they ingest grains of sand to make themselves heavier. I had never thought of sand dollars as particularly intelligent creatures, but that seems pretty clever to me.
- Otters are the cutest mammals ever. (Sorry panda people, but that’s a fact.) When an otter pup is orphaned, and taken in by the Aquarium, each caregiver must wear something akin to a welding helmet, so that the otter doesn’t come to recognize and bond with him/her. That’s all fine and good, but how could a human not fall head-over-heels for those baby otters? Can anything be done to make the otters less adorable and enchanting? (Answer: No.)
The stated mission of the Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the oceans, and that theme runs through every exhibit. Everywhere you look, there are samples of plastic refuse that has been mistaken for food by fish and birds. Patrons are gently encouraged to use less plastic — do you really need to drink soda through a disposable plastic straw? – and recycle those items we can’t forgo.
I guess these admonitions made an impression on me, as has my friend Katie Morford’s cookbook, “Best Lunch Box Ever”, which features recipes for creative, delicious, healthy packed lunches that I can’t wait to try out. How lucky I was then, to discover a store called Eco Carmel where I went a little crazy on Saturday. I bought a new thermal lunch bag, reusable containers made of 100% BPA free, recycled plastic and stainless steel, and reusable bags for sandwiches and snacks. (Carmel Middle School alone uses 90,000 plastic baggies per year.)
Now, if I can just haul myself out of bed tomorrow morning, in time to pack my lunch…
I didn’t bring my fancy digital SLR with me to Carmel. It’s heavy – plus I preferred to just be in the moment, and not get caught up in capturing perfect photos. Also, a few weeks ago I took a two-day smart phone photography class, and wanted to flex my newfound iPhone photo-taking skills, and test out a few new apps.
All in all, I think I did pretty well. I didn’t even have to push any little kids out of the way to capture these shots at the Aquarium.