This weekend we did something we don’t do nearly often enough – took the kids to the beach. Rockport has a beautiful State Park with volleyball courts, picnic tables and umbrellas, clean shores, and sand under your feet when you’re in the water. Just my kind of place!
We chose a stretch of seaside that wasn’t crowded so we didn’t disturb anyone and could have some space to ourselves. Within a few minutes, we learned that jellyfish tend to have the same idea. For some reason, the danger of this did not dawn on me.
In the water, we got to see them floating. I was intrigued by the fact that they didn’t have tentacles. They couldn’t sting without tentacles, right? I used my long Styrofoam noodle floatie to catch one, just to look. I got another one flipped over so we could see the lacy feeding structures on the bottom. A couple hours later Wikipedia and some little kids told me those were harmless moon jellies. They’re beautiful, graceful little creatures that luminesce under a black light – like sweet little ocean fairies!
But then I met their evil sadistic cousins, the sea nettle. Those horrible creatures take advantage of the fact that humans can’t even see them under a foot of hazy Gulf water. We had caught one of those with the noodle, too; I was amazed that the tentacles were over two feet long even though the hood was barely the size of a baseball. Seems like overkill, doesn’t it? I guess we should have apologized for disturbing that one because he came back and brought friends.
The Hubs and the Kid were pulling Bitty on an inner tube several yards in front of the Butterfly and me as we waded through hip-deep water from one shallow sand bar to the next. We observed the occasional moon jelly, but the abominable nettles were nowhere to be found.
We were halfway between the third and fourth sand bars when I remarked that in another fifty yards, we might actually be in water deep enough to swim in. That’s about the time I felt seaweed brush across the top of my right foot. But wait! There ISN’T any seaweed out here. Oh, no! That was a jellyfish! In the split second it took me to have that little conversation with myself, the sting began. CRAP! It WAS a jellyfish!! I took a step backwards to get away from it, and another one snagged my other foot.
I. FLIPPING. PANICKED. One little sting, I could handle. No problem. But in a microscopic instant I was certain I had waded into a whole swarm of them and there was no way out! The violent man-eaters had me surrounded. I was going to be on the evening news, and the pictures would show my contorted, distorted body wrapped in jellyfish tentacles like a fly in a spider web. Panic reached a whole new level when the Butterfly at my side yelled, “Ow!” We were both going to die right there in the water!! HEELLLLP!!!
With my vain attempt to leave the Butterfly to die while I jump straight up out of the water and run along the top of it back to the shore thwarted by physics, I stumble-waded at least a mile back to the sand bar, wailing and dragging her behind me. Maybe it was only a couple yards, but whatever. The Hubs was somewhere in the distance behind me asking if I was ok. DID I LOOK OKAY??? Didn’t he see I had just escaped DEATH?!
He stole the inner tube from Bitty to get to me faster, probably more concerned that with all my caterwauling, I’d drown myself long before the jellyfish sting did any damage. She scaled the Kid like a telephone pole, and they all headed my direction. I vaguely remember someone looking at my foot to make sure I hadn’t been attacked by a shark or lost any of my digits in the vicious attack and asking me stupid questions like whether it hurt.
Then it happened again. The awful sea dragon stung me again, this time on my thigh. That’s it. I was done. I was heading back to dry land, or at least water shallow enough to see through. Everyone else could stay right there and become serpent guts for all I cared. I was outta there!!
Of course I calmed down when I made it to the shore without actually dying or losing any limbs. I was dizzy from the hyperventilation and there was no way I was going to put my belly in the watery pit of Hell and SWIM to shore, so my legs were quivering from wading at breakneck speed through the water.
A few minutes later, as we headed to a safer area, I consulted the internet about the abominable little fear-mongers. It turns out that besides the mild sting on my feet and leg, they’re fairly harmless, too. We probably had indeed walked into a smack (not a swarm), but it wasn’t a bloom (many, many smacks together) so I was never in any serious danger. We would have been safer in a more populated area; we and the jellyfish had chosen that secluded place for the same reason – to get away from other people.
We spent the rest of our trip in a place designated the “saltwater swimming pool” with the same murky water and smooth bottom, but the little kids there assured us that all the sea nettles were “over there,” away from all the people. They were picking up the moon jellies and petting them like frogs, so we took their word for it, waded in, and relaxed safely – smack dab in the middle of the crowd.