Monday, October 17, 2016

Coast to coast

"I made these wishes with you
Went coast to coast
And we both felt so alive.
We traded safe for something
That just had to be
And we almost lost our minds."
- "Be the young" by Yellowcard

There's a theory in ecology called "parallel communities." It's not very widely accepted just because there are so many exceptions to it, but the theory goes like this: communities in similar habitats are all alike. For example, on rocky shores, you get encrusting sponges and bryozoans. You get filter-feeding mussels, predatory sea stars, and kelp below the low tide line. Maybe in the Pacific you get 5 kinds of sponges, one species of mussel, one species of sea star, etc., but in the Indian Ocean you get a different mussel, a different sea star, and 3 different sponges. Maybe you get red and brown algae instead of proper kelp. The organisms vary, but the roles those organisms play don't change. The community functions the same.

Got to admit, I'm noticing a lot of functional similarities between Coos Bay and Falmouth. Both are located on peninsulas. Both have about 30,000 people and are notoriously dominated by retirees. Each town has a 10 km foot race in the late summer or fall - the Road Race in Falmouth, the Steve Prefontaine Memorial Run in Coos Bay. Both cater to tourists in the summer.

In the Pacific Northwest, the major crustacean delicacy is Dungeness crab, Cancer magister. In New England, it's American lobster, Homarus americanus. Each coast has its own go-to store for outdoor gear - REI in the west, L.L. Bean in the east. Instead of sunsets over the ocean, I'll watch sunrises over the sea. Instead of earthquakes and tsunamis in the Pacific, I'll come to fear hurricanes in the Atlantic.

The communities parallel each other quite well. Of course there are also some true differences, but so far, I've only noticed two. First, Pacific shores are much more rugged than Atlantic shores. In Coos Bay, I was constantly clambering over rocks, easing myself down steep trails to get to the beach. In Falmouth, I can just walk straight there - the beaches are at street level and much more accessible. However, much of the east coast shoreline is privately owned, whereas in the west, coasts are defined as public land. I hope I don't run into trouble accessing the habitats I need.

My move across the country is a big hassle, but it's also a grand adventure. As I settle into Falmouth, I'm sure I'll add to my Venn diagram of observations. I look forward to learning more about the area.

Typical Cape Cod cottages along a beach in Falmouth

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