What’s the most vulgar thing going on here? Hint: it’s not the man’s urination catching the first light of the day.

Down the shore we protect places where wild animals are encouraged to live by widely placing signposts around the areas we wish to protect. Sometimes these signposts are tied together with thin bits of string; so thin, people then tie lots of little orange flags to the string just so you can see it. In the wildlife industry they call this “symbolic fencing.”

Even the name implies it is not really meant to be respected. It’s just a symbol or representation of a fence. Not a real fence. If they really wanted to enforce this law and keep people out, they’d build a wall, right?

And so you have lots of people who think it is a barrier that is only mildly important and doesn’t really apply to them or their current circumstance, and others who don’t even realize it is a barrier at all.

But to the animals, that line is very real. When we watch them closely over time, we can observe them learning the basic difference between the right and the wrong side of the line. We’ll leave it to the scientists and philosophers to debate the actual mental mechanics of how the animals interpret and understand this, but when a fresh crop of beach owls arrives each winter, you can clearly see them learning that the public beach is risky and the refuge is safe. It takes a while, but they figure it out. Maybe they actually understand the dividing line… or maybe they just simply recognize the places where they successfully took a nap in the past vs. those where they almost got run over. Whatever. It is clear from their behavior that they do figure this out.

This is the main reason why it so especially nasty to violate that line, however vague and imaginary it may appear. Spook an owl on the public beach this time of year and they’ll just head to their refuge. But spook them inside their protected refuge and you destroy their entire world view and tear a giant hole in the fabric of their perception of reality.

We can totally relate to this. We know that heading out to the beach is dangerous. Especially when there are loads of black flies. (Analogy Hint: we are the flies to the owls. They find us about as annoying.)

And so while we might risk heading out to the beach for a bit, despite the biting flies, we know that we can always retreat to the safety of our homes if it all gets to be too much, running up the dune, swatting and screaming, until we are safely inside of our own little protected area of the shore.

But now imagine we had no doors or windows on our homes. Instead, we had only a tiny, fly-sized sign reading “Area Closed: Fly Entry Prohibited.” Our comfort, our health, and our sanity would be totally dependent on the respect and integrity of the flies.

Feel free to swap “sharks” for “flies” in the analogy if it makes it more visceral.

There must be some kind of big birding thing going on (Christmas Bird Count?)  because there are scores of folks with binocs and scopes and notebooks scouring the Island, including those places where they clearly should not be going. Consider those barriers from the perspective of the animals they are meant to protect. These animals are not that bright and it took them a long time to make sense of the symbolic fencing. We need to prove we are at least as intelligent as they are.

And when you really gotta go, I recommend the sea. It is the ultimate toilet.