Canada Nature & Wildlife Parenting Philosophy The Big Trip

Barnacle or Hermit Crab – Exploring Vancouver Island

Looking out over Strait of Juan de Fuca from Victoria, British Columbia
Written by Stuart Wickes

Barnacle or Hermit Crab?


From:      Stuart
Subject:  Barnacle or hermit crab
Place:      Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, Canada


What kind of family are we?

“What kind of a family do you think we are Matthew? Barnacle or hermit crab?”

He took a sip of his hot chocolate and thought for a second.

“Hermit crab,” he replied grinning at me and wiping his chocolate moustache.

“Because we keep on moving around all the time.”

“What about you Cameron? What do you think?”

“Hermit crab,” he squeaked, agreeing with his brother for a change and knocking his chocolate milk over in the excitement of answering.

“And what do you think about becoming more like a barnacle?” I asked.

“Good,” said Mattthew, “because we can stick to a rock and stay there.”

“And we can eat with our feet,” added Cameron.

“Well for now just eat your lunch with your fork please Cammy.”

Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island

Pacific Rim National Park, Vancouver Island

Welcome to the intertidal zone

It had been a fun morning; adoring anemones, chasing crabs, caressing clams, sorting seashells, sniffing seaweed. Not just idle beach play but a hands on nature walk in Canada’s Pacific Rim National Park. The Parks Services in America and Canada take their educational responsibilities seriously, offering walks and talks to help visitors young and old learn about and appreciate the treasures within the parks. And after an hour with a Ranger on Wickaninnish Beach on the wild west coast of Vancouver Island, we all began to see something more in a beach than a kids’ playground.

“Be careful as you climb up here,” said the Ranger as she led us up and onto a rocky outcrop, “all sea life here is protected by law so please don’t damage any.”

Shells cracked as Matthew and Cameron clambered clumsily over the rocks. “Welcome to the intertidal zone – a place which is neither land nor sea, washed by the tide four times a day and home to plants and animals that are specially adapted to this ever changing environment.”

Looking for barnacles in all the wrong places on Wickaninnish Beach

Cameron looking for barnacles in all the wrong places

Flashes of home in our intertidal zone

As we walked the beach, I began to get flashes of home, of wandering with the boys on Morecambe beach, and wading through the muddy shore at Arnside. All our hearts and minds have turned much more to home as the end of our “Big Trip” approaches. Not that we’re missing it, but as home gets closer the subject of what it will be like to return to ‘normal life’ just keeps cropping up.

So we’re in a kind of intertidal zone of our own, neither fully in the flow of our travels nor yet back at home but certainly homeward bound. The high tide of our journey is long past, our money has nearly all ebbed away, our clothes are all washed out and the tide is on the turn.

Wickaninnish Beach, Vancouver Island

Wickaninnish Beach, Vancouver Island

Meet the hermit crab

“The hermit crab is an interesting little crab,” said the Ranger picking a tiny shell out of a rock pool and holding it up for all of us to see.

“See those little crab claws, that’s the hermit crab inside the shell. It kinda looks like she’s outgrown this one and needs a new home.”

She passed the scared little crab around.

“These little crustaceans don’t have a strong crust of their own, so they look after themselves by borrowing discarded shells and use them for protection while they scuttle around gathering food. When they outgrow the shell, they simply find themselves a new home.”

Looking for hermit crabs and barnacles

Looking for hermit crabs and barnacles

Hermit life

We met with a family on Vancouver Island recently who lived their lives like hermit crabs. Their house was no shell but still served in their minds as less of a permanent home and more of a short term family residence. They saw it as a place to live and learn for a while before moving on and finding another or heading off to travel for a while. They had little interest in steady jobs, good careers, or conventional schooling for their kids, being more of a mind to find alternative ways to make enough money to live life to the full, to move from place to place as their fancy took them, teach their children about the world through homeschooling and travel, and live a life of semi-retirement before the dawn of middle age.

We seemed to have a lot in common, especially after living like hermit crabs ourselves for the past nine months; scuttling around the world, scavenging for food on a daily basis, finding shelter where-ever we can. For us home has been where the family is, whether in a tent, cabin, falé, motel or hotel, on a bike, boat, plane, train or car, and we’ve grown quite accustomed to living like that. Staying in one place for more than a few days has come to be something quite unusual and a little unsettling. No wonder we wonder how it will feel when we finally get back to the village and house we call home.

Mother and son exploring the beaches of Vancouver Island

Mother and son contemplate life as a hermit crab

Meet the barnacle

“Now the barnacle is something else,” said the Ranger.

“These little critters float around in the sea when they’re very young, looking for a good place to settle down. And for these little fellas settling down means gluing their heads to something that looks like a good feeding ground. These guys don’t like to search for their eats, they prefer to live in places where their food will come to them. They glue their heads to a rock, a whale or passing ship and spend their life there, grabbing two meals a day from the passing sea. It’s an upside down life, holding on with their heads and gathering food with their feet, trading mobility for the security of a good food supply.”

I looked at the thousands of tightly packed barnacles encrusting the rocks around me, washed and fed twice daily by the changing tide. I imagined them standing on their heads, feet working overtime to gather food during the ebb and flow of the tide and headed over to join Matthew who was busy bashing a nearby rock with a stone.

“Look Dad,” he said as I approached, “if you bash barnacles really, really hard, they come unstuck.”

He showed me a little barnacle he’d managed to unglue from the rock. So much for security I thought as I scolded him quietly and led him away from the crime scene before the Ranger noticed and summoned Parks Law Enforcement.

Father and son looking out to sea from Vancouver Island

Home is nothing like this

So, are you hermit crab or barnacle?

So, what kind of family are you? Have you experience of transitioning from extended travel to a life of routine? How did you get on? I’d love to hear your comments.

About the author

Stuart Wickes

Stuart's the adventure addict half of the team, always trying to persuade the family to get out, do more, go further. As co-founder and co-director he handles the business, creative, design, technical and publishing aspects of the project. He is our chief photographer and videographer. With training as a professional learning and development consultant. an engineer and musician, his contribution is eclectic and unpredictable!

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