If you have never heard about The Starfish Story, also called The Star Thrower, I am going to include an adaptation for you to read, and then I would like to tell you a little story of my own.

A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t even begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved. – adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley
I took my daughters to the beach yesterday. It was the day after Hurricane Irene made landfall in New England. We all had a bit of cabin fever, were without modern conveniences like internet and cable, and it was such a gorgeous day — perfect for some seaside exploration. I had a feeling it would be a “teachable moment” kind of day, but I truly had no idea to what extent that would ring true.
The first stop on our seaside tour was the place I went with my mother the day after Hurricane Bob blew through 20 years ago. The devastation was awe-inspiring in 1991, and I wanted to show my kids the power of Mother Nature, and demonstrate to them what happens to seaside communities after a storm. We stopped at Horseneck Beach, which was officially closed, but we popped on to the beach through a residential area so they could see the power of the ocean firsthand. The surf was high, the dunes had obviously taken a big hit – it was obvious that Irene had taken a chunk out of the coastline, and there was quite a bit of storm debris on the beach — lobster traps, driftwood, buoys, and the like.
Beach after hurricane Irene
lobster trap
Girls at the beachAnd, if you notice, at my girls’ feet in the above photo, there were hundreds of live clams washed up on shore; most closed and living, some opened by seagulls and devoured, and some slightly opened, their slimy insides seemingly searching for water. A reminder that humans aren’t the only ones displaced, inconvenienced, or maimed by Mother Nature’s fury.

clam shells
Clam shell
We then meandered over to the town beach in Westport to see the road that was completely destroyed and the place where homes were washed up to 1/4 mile away after Hurricane Bob. This year, the road was totally blocked off and guarded by an armed Man in Blue and we couldn’t walk down and see the heart of the devastation, but we could tell that the road was washed away in the middle and littered with rocks. My girls were amazed that water could do that much damage. I remember seeing homes literally split in multiple pieces, scattered all over the road after Bob. I vividly remember one home  completely submerged in the marsh about 1/4 mile away from where it originally rested, mobile homes destroyed. It appears that people were much more prepared for this storm: the newer homes built on stilts, and mobile home owners heeding all evacuation notices. Most of the damage appeared to be to the road, the beach, and town infrastructure — and not to people’s homes. Regardless, Irene made her presence known.
Road closed in Horseneck Beach after Irene
Hurricane Irene storm damage Westport
Next stop: Rhode Island. To our little getaway that I was convinced would have calmer surf and an abundant supply of post-storm treasure, unearthed by Irene. The beach was open, and the damage was more evident. The landscape had completely changed — overnight. Road washed out, cemented picnic tables knocked over, dunes completely gone, rocks and boulders littering what was once the road, beach grass flattened and dying. We slowly made our way down the street and pulled off to the side of the road to secure our spot. As I was unpacking the car, my daughters set off to explore the altered landscape and dip their toes in the water. A few seconds later, I heard frantic tones and saw lots of pointing. I yelled over to them and asked them what was wrong. “Starfish!” they cried! “Look at all the starfish!” I didn’t even have time to close the trunk. My girls were frantically scooping up armloads of starfish and running them about 100 feet down to the ocean. I kind of stopped in my tracks, awe-struck at what I was seeing. There were hundreds of them — all marooned with no hope of reaching water again on their own. In the 10 years I have been visiting this beach, I have only seen ONE starfish — I had no idea that these waters were that populated! And, just like my daughters, I had an overwhelming desire to save as many as I possibly could. The sun was hot, the tide was going out, and there was no doubt that if we did not try to get these starfish back in the water, they would all die.Starfish at the beach

Saving starfish

Starfish home

So, we got handfuls of starfish. We got shovels full of starfish. We got arm’s lengths of starfish. And we brought them all back down to the water and waded in as deep as we could to bring them back home.

We did this for hours. My girls did not swim. They did not play. They did not even want to break for lunch. They had never ever heard of that Starfish Story before, but here they were, making a difference to tens, dozens, hundreds of starfish on the beach they have grown up on. Willingly. And with a steadfast determination. I found myself getting choked up intermittently. Choked up over the devastation and the massive loss of marine life after the storm. And choked up with pride over how beautiful my daughters are on the inside, and how they do so much good without me even having to open my mouth. It is just instinctual for them to save and to make the world a better place. I would very much like to take credit for that, but I don’t think I can. They are so much better than I ever dreamed of being at that age.

Purple starfish


Starfish on arms

We did a good thing yesterday. And, I know we didn’t save all of the starfish that we put back in the water — and there is no way we got to all of the ones that were stranded on the beach. But, out of the hundreds that we brought back to the water, I think we rescued about 90% of them. Only a few floated to the top and got brought back in with the tide. And, regardless of what the onlookers were thinking as they watched us from their chairs, we DID make a difference yesterday. I commend my children for their spirits and their inherent good nature.

We got an ice cream and talked about the day’s events on the way home. Brenna and Shaylagh felt really proud of what they did. As well they should have. I know I will treasure that day forever — it was one of the more special moments I have shared with my girls at a place we all love and hold dear.**As an aside…we can all make a difference. We hold in our hands the power to change a life, a mind, or a circumstance today – and that, my friends, is a powerful insight and motivator.