05 April 2014

cowrie of mourning

i found a black cowrie! unbelievable. i didn't even know it was possible until i read jane darke's book 'held by the sea'. jane is an amazing artist and film maker. her book is an incredibly moving account of her struggle to come to terms with the death of her beloved husband. nick darke was the fabulous cornish poet, playwright, lobster fisherman, wrecker and beachcomber. 

"we were then the only ones who went to the beach below, except for foxes. we never met anyone else there through the winter.

there's another way down, equally difficult, a slippery, narrow path runs diagonally down a long stretch of cliff at pentire steps, the east end of bedruthan. the sand shifts in and out. sometimes the drop at the bottom is a few feet, sometimes twenty five. the sea can move thousands of tons of sand in, or out, in a night. it's a good place for wood to collect. i have a 'necklace' shell from here, the only one i've ever found and a black cowrie, also very rare."

i haven't been able to find anything about black cowries anywhere. i went to a brilliant talk and slideshow (SO much better than a powerpoint presentation!) at the poly - 'oceanic visitors: from whales to sea beans' by marine biologist dr paul gainey. i loved it. he showed us pictures of the most amazing  things washed up on our beaches - and knew the latin names for everything!

there were BIG fishy things that come from far away places and are measured in feet! some of which have squinty, grumpy, crunched up faces, rows of sharp, crooked teeth covered in bacteria and come with their own parasite fish suckered on.... thankfully they don't show up very often (the chinese crab that measured 3ft from front claw to front claw for example!) and there were tiny tiny beautiful things too that somehow manage to make it to our shores from halfway round the world and be found.

recently i've been snorkelling with the hope of seeing a seahorse! i've asked lots of people about them, where to look for them, been warned they are so endangered that it's illegal to tell anyone if you do see one, been told i will never see one...... i was so excited to hear paul's stories about seahorses. one day he found a long-nosed seahorse from a boat near st mawes (maybe i've broken the law?!!!) he didn't have the right camera and wanted to photograph it so he scooped it up and took it home. it lived in an aquarium in his living room for a week where he fed it brine shrimps. pointing to the artificial strands of weed in the picture he said with a smile 'i even gave it some plastic eel grass - see, i'm not a mean man you know!'

paul was also a good friend of nick darke and showed slides of nick's fishing buoy collection. he is fascinated by the fishing gear, lobster tags and sea beans that reach north cornwall via the north atlantic drift. nick and jane made a fantastic documentary called 'the wrecking season' where they trace a lot of these finds back to their owners in places like novia scotia and maine. 

so at the end of the talk i went to ask paul about my black cowrie. he said he hadn't seen one before and that it was probably some kind of melanoma that had turned it black. so the mystery continues......

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