Cover

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Frontmatter

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Contents

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p. v

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Preface

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pp. vii-xiv

AN INAUSPICIOUS BEGINNING. It had rained all night and was raining still. Despite several tarps and a couple of dozen large garbage liners, all lashed into an irregular sodden hulk on the trailer, many of our things were getting soaked. I had taken special care with my...

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Chapter 1 Living on the Edge

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pp. 1-35

LIVING ON A BARRIER ISLAND is quite different from visiting one. A visit, temporary by definition, is planned for a pleasant time of year; a resident must endure all seasons. Sooner or later, residents have to learn to meet the island on its own terms. Those who resist...

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Chapter 2 Beach

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pp. 36-59

IT SEEMS TRIVIAL to say that the beach is made of sand, but I always do so—holding up a handful and letting it dribble through my fingers. “Where does beach sand come from?” I ask a class. Fingers point to the surf in a bored, any-fool-can-see gesture. “Yes, but how did it get out...

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Chapter 3 Marsh

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pp. 60-99

AFTER A MORNING ON THE BEACH, an afternoon on the bay side of the island brings into sharp contrast these two shoreline environments separated by only a mile of barrier sand. Here on the “back side” things appear more laid back. There is no churning surf,...

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Chapter 4 Unseen Fauna

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pp. 100-124

MOST PEOPLE, including biology instructors and even professional biologists, accept marine plankton on faith. The existence of a myriad of tiny floating organisms is so logically necessary to an understanding of the marine ecosystem that there is little need to perceive them directly...

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Chapter 5 Comparative Anatomy

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pp. 125-133

WHEN I WENT THROUGH the University of Texas over forty years ago (no need to specify “UT, Austin”; there were no satellite campuses) with several hundred other aspiring zoology majors, I took Zoology 414, comparative vertebrate anatomy. It was a mandatory...

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Chapter 6 Cardisoma

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pp. 134-143

RUMMAGING AROUND in the back of a storage shed, I found a skeleton that verified hearsay. Not skull and backbone with dangling arm and leg bones. Rather, it was an exoskeleton, a hollow suit of armor forged of heavy duty chitin, every detail intact, even its eyes staring at...

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Chapter 7 Predation

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pp. 144-165

SPECIFIC INSTANCES of predation are more interesting than any discourse on the topic, so I will let my diary get right to it. September ’93: A surprise in a pit trap this morning. Tried to retrieve a small wood cockroach only to find it “attached” to a mat of dusty debris. Actually it...

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Chapter 8 Death

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pp. 166-175

PREDATORS ARE NOT the only cause of death. There are few places in this barrier island ecosystem where I can see birth and death more poignantly commingled and so often concomitant than in the bird rookeries. From late May into June, they foment on the oyster-shell reefs in Mesquite Bay. On narrow strips...

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Chapter 9 Creatures We Have Known

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pp. 176-216

A FAMILY OF WHOOPING CRANES on the marsh! A pair of adults with their gangly chick of the year. As always, the birds are no closer than spotting-scope distance. They demand their space, so I do not crowd them. After eyeing me awhile, they return to foraging in the shallows, but even at my remove...

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Chapter 10 Land

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pp. 217-233

I CANNOT WANDER this barrier without wondering who has roamed this strip of land before me and why. What aspirations brought people here, and what desperations sent them packing? When? How much planning? How many plans gone awry? How...

Notes

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pp. 235-237

Index

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pp. 239-244