An Esotouric Road Trip: A Tide Pool Murder Mystery

In June, the Esotouric gang set off to enjoy three days of unhurried exploration along California’s central coast, in search of architectural oddities, elegant decay and berry pie. This is the second of three blog posts in which we’ll share some of the gems we found in our travels. Check out our report from the almost-ghost-town of Guadalupe here.

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Although we are great fans of urban spaces, and can nearly always be found in close proximity to something set in mortar by long-dead bricklayers, we like nature, too. And no trip up the coast would be complete without a visit to a wide, white beach at low tide, to peep into the fascinating ecosystem of its tide pools.

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We love the gently flowing seagrass, the prehistoric trilobites and the jittery, skittery hermit crabs in their varied, borrowed finery.

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But sometimes it seems as if no matter how hard we try — which admittedly is not very hard — we just can’t leave true crime and mayhem behind.

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So perhaps it’s no surprise that while Richard was down at the end of the beach, gazing out to sea past the vast blubbery bulk of a family of seals sunning their flanks on a rocky point, Kim spotted something unusual in one of the shallow pools.

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Was that… could that be… a skull?

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It was in fact a skull, a handsome, narrow, and brilliantly white one, with a pair of sharp horns jutting out from the top. Not very large, but not small either–about the size of a human hand, neatly severed at the neck.

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Now we know that it’s not nice to take things out of tide pools, but that rule properly refers to living animals and shells and the big rocks themselves. Surely aquatic jetsam, like a fleshless skull that had somehow found its way to be wedged between two rocks, doesn’t count? And so she crept closer, and bent to pick up the prize, intending to examine it more closely and carry it down the beach to show to Richard.

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But the skull was firmly stuck where it lay. Not just stuck–held fast. This skull wasn’t going anywhere, at least not in one piece. After making a closer inspection, Kim determined that the front portion of the skull was firmly stuck inside the center of a large sea anemone, and that the anemone was still actively eating away at a viscous gray sludge that was what was left of the late visitor’s face.

Suddenly a horrifying scenario unfolded in Kim’s mind, because that’s just how Kim’s mind works, as you know, if you’ve ridden the crime bus.

It was a few days earlier. The tide was high. The sun dappled the submerged sand and rocks by the shoreline. Life was good in the shallows. This unidentified sea creature had been happily swimming around among the rocks, nibbling tasty things, minding its own unidentified beeswax, when its face was suddenly seized and held fast by the powerful muscles of the sea anemone!

The creature thrashed wildly, but there was no escaping this fatal kiss.

And while the anemone relentlessly nibbled on those tasty parts of the face it could reach with its tentacles, other animals darted in to take bites out of the defenseless body. Unable to free itself, the creature struggled and finally died in its trap. The doomed head stayed lodged in the anemone, as the rest was reduced to skeleton, and then washed away.

And this drama and horror would have been simply untold fodder for the sands along the shore, had two ghoulish Angelenos not stopped in just the right place, at just the right hour, to witness the bleached white evidence briefly left behind.

Richard was suitably horrified when shown the mystery skull, and refused to come in closer to see the face-sludge which acted as glue keeping it in its trap. As for the seals, they simply basked and barked. Then the tide turned, and we continued on our way.

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