When I wrote Crab Moon, I hadn’t seen a live horseshoe crab in ages. I wrote the picture book – about a boy who watches horseshoe crabs spawning on the beach in the night, and in the morning helps one that has been stranded go back to the sea – based on the experience of my aunt.
I’m lucky to have an aunt who not only spends a lot of time at the beach, but also pays attention to the natural world and, best of all, eloquently describes what she sees. I was living in Vermont, hundreds of miles from the nearest salt water, when her evocative emails about her adventures rescuing horseshoe crabs the morning after their annual love fest struck me as the perfect story for a picture book. The summer after the book came out, I had a chance to visit my aunt at the beach, and to experience for the first time what I had written about, based on her descriptions.
I started writing High Tide of the Horseshoe Crab (its original title) in 1997 or 1998. I’m not sure of the exact date. I do know, because it’s written right there inside the cover, that it came out in 2000. It feels as if a lifetime has passed in the 14 or 15 years since, so much has happened in that time.
My mother died. I published two more children’s books, easy readers about a pet cockroach. I wrote several more children’s books, “quiet” books that are all are currently sitting in a drawer in my home office. 9/11 happened. I started writing a story about some of the objects I brought home when we sold our childhood home. My brother and sister-in-law adopted a baby who is now about to become a bar mitzvah. My story turned into a big, ambitious novel. My children graduated from high school and college, and one of them got married. I finished the novel, and began the process of seeking a publisher. Oh, and we moved to Rhode Island.
Today I live in the sort of place I never imagined I would be able to live. We can see the sun rise over Narragansett Bay from our bedroom. We can smell the salt breeze and the fishy stink that sometimes comes with low tide. And we can walk just one block and come to a sheltered cove where we can watch nesting swans, migrating ducks, wading herons and egrets, and, once or twice a year, horseshoe crabs spawning on the beach.
It’s not a huge orgy, like what happens at my aunt’s place, and in my book. If we’re lucky, we might see a few dozen pairs creeping through the sea grass or burrowed into the wet sand. You have to look carefully to see them. They tend to be submerged in the dark water. But that just adds to the thrill.
It’s a thrill to actually live in a place where the horseshoe crabs come. It’s a thrill to feel a special, secret connection to the creatures. And it’s a thrill to know that while I have been busy doing other things, the horseshoe crabs have been keeping their annual appointment, just as they have been doing for hundreds of millions of years.