Wangechi Mutu, Wangechi Mutu.  The screamer island dreamer,    2014

Wangechi Mutu, Wangechi Mutu. The screamer island dreamer,  2014

Beach folklore

1. Growing up on the coast, all science classes lead to Marine Biology, where you not only get to color, endlessly--oyster reproductive systems, worm intestines -- but where you learn the closest thing to folklore our city had. I was fascinated by nutria, a semiaquatic rodent that was transplanted to North America by 19th century fur ranchers. Not prized for a beautiful pelt, farmers used the rats to clear vegetation-- they are, if nothing else, ravenous, gnawing on trees and water weeds alike. Today they grow in abundance and have destroyed whole ecosystems, chewing through tires and fences. Their teeth grow as long as a human arm, and are rumored to lurk everywhere, just out of sight.

2. My hometown is not beautiful, but occasionally the light turns silver with damp and the wind catches a scent- salt, the gasp of oceanwater. If you are near the board walk, you can see sunlight glinting white off of a mammoth sculpture of a bare-chested, bearded man-- Neptune, harnessing dolphins in the wake of a breaking wave.

3. Every summer, we drive from our marsh beach to a warmer, gentler coast, staying for weeks at a time in pastel-sided houses. My grandfather used to rise each morning and sit out alone to watch dolphins, sunrise catching the commas of their backs: everything golden like a byzantine altarpiece. Once, he bought me a starfish, dried, preserved and sold cheap. I loved it-- the way it smelled, sweet. It had little bristles on the underside of each leg that felt like the fine teeth of a comb; I ran my fingertips through them so often that they would fall off into my palm like eyelashes.

4. Most starfish have eyes, one on the tip of each skinny leg, that stretch and move with the current. If you go deep enough into the sea, some starfish create their own light. Scientists think that deep-sea starfish communicate not through scent, as previously hypothesized, but use their bioluminescence to find each other. In marine bio, we would gather oyster spat for observation, and come up with handfuls of juvenile starfish, legs just stretching into form, and (unseen, of course) eyes just starting to blink in sunlight.