sea urchin shell

Plagued by insomnia, I pad downstairs & grab a book at random in the dark. I soon find myself reading about Arctic terns, which fly 22,000 miles each year, circling from one end of the earth to the other so they can spend their lives in continual daylight — an endless frigid summer. They are, the book says, delicate-looking black & white birds with bright red feet & beaks, and very high-strung: they assault anyone or anything that approaches the little hollows in the permafrost where they make their nests. The male & female take turns incubating the eggs, & when the off-duty bird returns, it brings its mate the gift of a small fish.


I’ve been thinking about those porcupines of the ocean, the sea urchins. Their transparent, shell-less eggs have been featured in textbooks of developmental biology for over a hundred years, & Aristotle himself first drew attention to the simplicity of their digestive systems with their five hollow teeth and five-chambered stomachs.

Purple sea urchins, I learned recently, use their spines to excavate hollows in solid rock, & so anchor themselves against the surf. The spines attach to ball-and-socket joints, & can be used also for defense or locomotion. The purple sea urchin genome was sequenced just last November, & 70 percent of its genes were discovered to have a human counterpart.

Among my collection of miscellaneous natural objects is a sea urchin’s flying saucer-shaped shell, or test, which I found washed up on a beach when I was a kid. Thirty years later, it still smells faintly of the ocean.


Can there be anything lonelier than a fourth-quarter moon, which loses its shine so long before it sets? There it is in mid-morning, like a half-eaten midnight snack of milk & cookies. Imagine trying to describe moonlight to someone who has never experienced anything but day.

Written in response to a ReadWritePoem challenge. (UPDATE) Links to other responses are here.

5 Replies to “Test”

  1. I could not imagine anyone not experiencing night and moonlight as well as day/light – unless that person was blind. But a bird never experiencing night – wow! Hope you sleep better tonight.

  2. Here’s something I find extraordinary. I said as much to y sister and she didn’t get it, but perhaps your readers will:

    We humans are more closely related to sea urchins than to bees or snails.

    I find that remarkable because although we are unimaginably distant from insects and molluscs, at least we share a symmetrical body-plan with a head at one end and an anus at the other; sea urchins and their relatives seem so much more alien. But I guess that’s why you don’t trust intuition.

  3. I have one of those tests I found on a beach somewhere up here in the Northeast, though I can’t remember where now. Your photograph reminds me of the pattern on the end of the log in your last post. But the urchin is much more jewel-like, wonderful texture.

    I like these poetry challenge responses – they seem like good prompts, too. I should give it a try – but then I have little time to spend…

    Sorry about the insomnia. I can empathize. Maybe the new futon will help? (prolly not, but you can think about how comfy it is while you’re lying awake…)

  4. CadyMay – Thanks for the haiku! (I need to get back to leaving those aroudn, too – maybe this weekend.)

    marja-leena – Yes, it would be hard for a person to imitate the Arctic tern – though not impossible!

    Harry – The Science magazine article about the genome sequencing made that very point.

    Ah, to be able to turn oneself completely inside-out like the sea urchin’s relative, the sea cucumber! I think our ancestors took an evolutionary wrong turn to miss out on that feat.

    leslee – Good point about the similarity with the log-end photo – I didn’t think of that.

    You should try the poetry prompts. There are some top-notch writers in that emerging community. Three of the people behind the site have been published or have work forthcoming in qarrtsiluni.

    The new futon will be the kind you have to pull out to use, lounger style, for space reasons; I won’t fit on it sideways. So I’ll probably end up saving it for guests.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.