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Tales from the beach form lasting memories

By Peggy Walker, R.D.

Today’s Special

Sure, you can go to YouTube to watch children crab hunting on the beach, but you really need to be there.

DW and I introduced our grandchildren to the nightly ritual of crab hunting and its finer points at Gulf Shores last week.  And now that we’re all home and four days removed from the beach, the five that can talk will still say that crab hunting was their favorite activity of the week.

And that says a whole lot for we rode the waves, moved a mountain of sand, dug a hole, collected shells and dead fish, snacked all day every day, ordered pizza, had donuts for breakfast, ate ice cream after supper, took Souvenir City by storm, stayed up past bedtime, watched movies, didn’t take naps (except one) and played with cousins for a whole week.

Here’s why.

First: crab hunting doesn’t require anyone to be quiet or anyone to be still.  Second: shoes aren’t required, only a net and a bucket. Third: who doesn’t want to wear a headlamp or tote a flashlight?   And fourth: you get to stay out on the beach after dark.

So just before dark we hit the beach…kids squealing, running, hollering, jumping wide-eyed with anticipation. Uncle Zach took the lead and moved our little band of hunters into the darkness as sand crabs scurried from under cover of seaweed washed ashore by the weekend’s storm surge to the safety of their holes with net-yielding children in hot pursuit.

We joined other teams on the beach, sharing stories and comparing catches. The first bunch we encountered must have started well before sunset for their extra-large kitty litter box was nearly filled with sand crabs.

After more screams our little team was motivated and things got serious.  The older three took right to it shouting constantly, “there’s one”, “I got one”, “where’s the bucket,” and only a few “no fairs” and “he/she has more than me!” Another fine point about crab hunting, it’s not competitive…

Second night: all were experts by then. There’d been lots of trash talk around the beach that day about the crab hunt. Everyone was wiser and braver, even the 3-year-old and the 2-year-old knew their way around a crab hunt.

Now, the big guys were grabbing up the quick scurrying little crabs with their hands, even though the first one Zachary picked up drew blood.  Lesson learned, pick crabs up from behind. (I wasn’t so brave yet.)

Then a couple of 10-year olds showed up with two hard-shell crabs…much bigger than the sand crabs…caught in the water.  Not to be outdone, Zach and James headed to the water with our little ones right behind them. I was constantly counting heads and trying to keep everyone together, but it was much like herding…well crabs.

Zachary caught a crab quickly, then James another.  But the water was dark and the anxiety of this grandmother was high, so I headed our team back to the sand.  The hunt continued on up the beach with grand No. 5 asleep in her mother’s arms.

Crab hunt No. 3. James led the charge. Lots of crab hunters lit up the beach but the more the merrier.  After going out for supper then ice cream we had a later start, which did not go unnoticed by grand No. 2.

So, with less time on the beach we caught fewer crabs, but it didn’t matter, for what a beautiful night.  Shrimp boats glowed in the distance. The sky was bright with stars and the breeze felt cool on our bare legs, we looked for the space station and noted the constellations all the while catching crabs with as much excitement as the first night.  It felt like Halloween!

The fourth and final crab hunt.  The 6-year old whispered in her daddy’s ear at lunch that we should have Oreos at the house for dessert after supper instead of ice cream so not to waste precious crab hunting time.  (We did go for ice cream, but had an earlier supper.)

Pajama-clad grandbaby  No. 6 joined us with his momma for the last hunt.  Nets, bucket and lamps…we were back at it.  I found my courage and picked up three (but who’s counting?) and won the prize for finding the biggest crab of the entire week though I didn’t have enough courage to pick him (her?) up but did snap a few pictures of jumbo before James released him back into the warm sand for another day.

So, what do you do with buckets of sand crabs? This is what caused the most angst among our crab hunters. DW carefully explained catch and release to the hunters but the crew didn’t buy it.  After the first bucket was dumped out and we all did the crab side-step the tears started.

Grands 2, 3, and 4 cried themselves to sleep that night and 1 pouted.  The second bucket emptied without a whimper, but only after threats of no more crab hunting.  With a little prompting from DW, Grand  No. 1 ran after his momma with the third bucketful attempting to dump the crabs on her feet, quite a sight it was.  And bucket No. 4 of unsuspecting crabs landed in the hole the kids had dug on the beach only after they chased me around with the bucket.

You had to have been there.