Today was the first time I walked my favorite beach path in two months and it was bittersweet because I missed one of my annual rites of saving horseshoes and I wonder what happened without me.
It was always almost equally stressful and satisfying. Between April and July, but especially May and June, horseshoe crabs go mad with lust at the furthest beach I walk to, by the Audobon sanctuary in my town. I am not at all sure what happens there at night, but by morning there are pairs and trios and whole piles of horseshoe crabs still attached to each other by their sex parts, crashed over each other's shells, tails and other parts all akimbo.
This is amusing, but not the problem.
Sex-drenched as they are, they are especially prone to going the wrong direction, dragging themselves toward what they think is a deep and peaceful water valley in which to recover (until night) but instead ending up stranded on land, or tumbled onto their backs by the breakers, or both. If you walk early you will see up to a dozen upside-down, soon-to-be-carcasses, too exhausted by their efforts on all fronts to right themselves to continue, about to die by the sun, the seagulls and curious toddlers with sticks.
So as a mini-mission in life I would go in the mornings and flip as many as I could find.
After a year or two I wondered if I was somehow weakening the species--there were more and more of them!--but maybe they were just actually breeding rather than beaching themselves. Regardless, I asked inside the Audubon center if it was the right thing to do and found out there's a program, called Just Flip 'Em (accurately enough) to encourage people to save the ancient species. They are, apparently, largely helpless and hapless during mating and spawning. And there are dozens of beachwalkers to try at various points in the day to help them out.
I wondered if I was overstating my individual importance, and indeed I am sure I was, but on days I didn't come there would be more dead crabs on the beach the next day, as it's a pretty deserted beach at dawn and the seagulls start early. Whether it's high or low tide the stranded crabs were there, like puppies left in a road. And here's where the stress came in--I worried about getting there on time, and what would happen if I walked another route, or took a day or two off. The fun wore off, and it became work.
Mark and my discussions, when he reluctantly came with me for the hour there and back for my determined task, were around the question: if you obsess over something good and worthy, is it any more useful than over something banal and inane? And then the core problem: you can't save every one who's suffering and at risk. Then its corollary: what is the use in trying?
And here we go with the foster care (or adoption, or caring for the homeless, or the mentally ill). What if you knew there were kids out there that were vulnerable, scared, suffering, trying to survive, and possibly failing? And you just needed to help them right themselves, and move off back into their possibly turbulent but familiar waters of their lives?
Even if you could save just one, wouldn't it be worth it?
So now we're back to horseshoes. Even if I could save just some of them, each was thankful in their own, brainless way, able to go on and procreate and crawl another day. And, possibly, flip themselves the next night, and await me the next morning.
I wish, the next time someone asked me why I ever got involved in any of those other things, I could say it's as natural as flipping a horseshoe because when they are right in front of you, what other choice is there?