Did I mention?........ KING O' THE WEB!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Gumboot Chiton - Creepy Reminiscence

30 years ago I hitched out west. You could do that then - without getting killed by a maniac before leaving the county. I went to California and while there I camped at Andrew Molera State Park, which was a walk-in park on the Pacific in Big Sur: astounding beauty - eucalyptus trees scenting the breeze - ocean waves crashing on the beach in the distance while I slept.
I was walking the beach and being a young rascal, jumped the fence that blocked off a - get this - farm that ran down to the beach. I figured "hey the cattle aren't using it, why shouldn't I?"

The beach looked like this:

....only facing the other way.
When I got there I saw hundred of creatures scattered on the beach off into the distance.

They were each about 9" to 11" long, 6" to 8" wide. Oval, dome-shaped, like the top of a white person's head - but shaved. They were hard like a shoe or cantaloupe. They had tiny maroon spots in clusters that were not really that prominent -you had to look hard to see them -the bodies looked caucasian-flesh colored. Some light ambient ridging that went across the 6" to 8" axis on a few isolated specimens, but really just undifferentiated, hard, flesh colored domes - no holes, no eyes - nuthin'.. When turned over, they had a plate that covered the entire underside, in the same caucasian flesh color with a fringe of 1/2" long or less (mostly less) of opaque skin colored tentacles. There were hundreds of them - all not moving, not responding, some turning gray from what appeared to be death.

I wrote to an invertebrate biologist once and he said it was probably a jellyfish. I though, "hmmmmm an opaque, hard, large jellyfish with an underplate and tiny useless tentacles .... nah"

I figured this was the stuff of dreams. I've never seen one in a book, on TV or on the web. I've told dozens of people and turned to experts - nothing. When I got there it looked like hundreds of bald men buried up to their crowns.

I've had dreams often where I'm at the water side and some invertebrate encroaches upon my space. Having been at times in my life infested with house centipedes, yellow jackets, & bats - well, you can see where a guy might get a little creeped out.

So I wrote to Jim Woodring, and either he or his wife knew instantly. I almost wasn't surprised. But I remember a piece he did where he went fishing and sank his inflatable raft in a school of Rays and had to stab one to death - very visceral. Not to mention he cooks up some splendid animals that I would not want to encounter.

And they wrote back and said it was a gumboot chiton

This had plagued me for 30 years. Now I know. Thanks, Woodrings, thanks.