Our last summer weekend together as a family took us to the ocean. We arrived at low tide at Odiorne Point State Park in Rye. I seldom visit the seacoast to relax or sunbathe or enjoy bustling boardwalks. I visit it to hunt. And I visit it because no where else reminds me how very small I am in the world, and how important very small things are.
Our day begins at the picnic area of the park, crossing beautifully groomed grounds (often spying a rabbit or groundhog) and bike paths to reach picnic tables set to appreciate the vast Atlantic.
The park is handicap accessible and a favorite group outing location. There is no real swimming beach, but the property is outfitted with a large bathhouse and playground for younger children.
Having arrived later in the afternoon, and eager to begin ‘hunting’, we decided to not visit the Seacoast Science Center. This center is worth spending hours in, with historic memorabilia, a well-stocked gift/book shop, educational classrooms where many schools enjoy field trips, and the best feature….an aquarium room filled with exhibits of local animals and fish. There is also a fantastic touch-pool with star fish and hermit crabs!
Our Sunday was a wonderful day to visit low tide- warm and overcast. We began our hunt following paths through wildflower fields. My first goal was to visit the ancient Sunken Forest, one of only a few available off our New England coast to easy access. The quote below was written in 1969 by Robert Novotny in “The Geology of the Seacoast Region, New Hampshire” , but describes perfectly the view we saw of this cove at low tide…
At times of very low tide the floor of the cove is exposed. It consists of patches of cobbles, pebbles and sand alternating with shallow tidal pools. Here and there the lower portion of a heavy stump may be seen. These are not conspicuous as they have been ground off level with the cove floor by rock fragments which have been dragged back and forth by wave action. Occasionally a whorl of heavy roots may be seen surrounding a stump. [p. 3]
Walking among and touching these stumps and roots which are thousands of years old yet not petrified at all, simply preserved in the brine of the Atlantic, astounds me. The cedar wood seems so fragile. If it weren’t for the State of NH buying this 330 acre property in 1961 and protecting it, we would not have access to the largest stretch of undeveloped coastline in NH, and it’s extraordinary revelations.
My next goal for this trip was to hunt for wildlife. Periwinkles were easy to find, actually they were difficult to avoid! More fun to find were crabs, which hide under rocks. Interestingly, both of these abundantly found species are not native to New Hampshire. There is a great article describing the effects of non-native and invasive species on our coast written by Wildlife Journal. Although periwinkles and green crabs are prolific, the damage they have done seems in balance to our ecosystem. This is unlike the Asian crab, which is less common but invasive. My oldest daughter, a recent graduate in the field of Biology, shared a few insights on green crabs.
We were also gratified to find juvenile lobsters on our adventure. These were a bit trickier to hold, so we mostly let them be!
After our successful hunting, we roamed the beautiful grounds before heading off south on Rt. 1A for some swimming and sand at nearby Jenness State Beach.
Our tradition has for years been to finish our day at the beach. We love the space provided once the sun-bathers have gone to dinner. I remember once watching one of my toddlers years ago run hundreds and hundreds or yards away from me down the beach, looking back often to make sure I was there, then running further. He was amazed at his freedom, while secure that he was not alone. That wild vastness is why I will never live far from the coast.
The second reason we finish our day at the beach is that our drive west toward home, all warm and sandy and salty and sleepy, provides some of the best sunset views…
It is very important to our family to have this place at Odiorne Point to come back to and discover each summer. It grounds and renews us.
Do you have NH family vacation traditions? Share some in your comments!