On the road with the centered asterisk

"Asteroidea" from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904/Wikimedia Commons

By Laura Grimes

When I complained to Mr. Scatter that I had only snippets, no whole stories, he said, “Do centered asterisks.”

“Wha?” I creased my brow.

“Do centered asterisks.”

Like that’s supposed to help me. I’m not sure what the heck he’s talking about.

Oh, wait, there’s one!


Oh, heck. Now it’s gone.

The Scatter Family is on the road. At the moment, we’re at the coast. Longtime Scatter readers know that when we’re at the coast, tradition calls for really roughing it — which means we buy a tub of cookie dough and then race to see if we can bake all the cookies before it’s time to leave. So far, our winning streak is perfect.

Some months back, we plowed through a tub of dough, blogged all about cookies and plungers, and got back home to headlines that the cookie dough had been recalled because of an e. coli outbreak. Coincidence?

Let’s hope our winning streak for dodging bacterial diseases also stays perfect. Fingers crossed, please.

It’s our landlord duty to eat this dough, though. We need the tub. We need another plunger caddy. It just kills me to have a naked plunger.


Another one! Sneaky little buggers.

Besides eating cookies, however, our forays on the coast have another, very serious purpose: science excursions. We have done extensive research and have several important facts to report.

1. The Hatfield Marine Science Center is between octopi. The big, square tank displayed prominently near the entrance is empty. Deriq, the last giant Pacific octopus that lived there, died July 25. Read about it here.

This worthwhile educational center is often overshadowed by the big Oregon Coast Aquarium just around the corner. The two share a lot of similar displays — the tanks of fish and anenomes — but this one is more intimate, has more hands-on activities, and usually is overlooked by the crowds of people.

Deriq, the giant Pacific octopus at the Hatfield Marine Science CenterWe discovered long ago what a kick it is to see the octopus getting fed. We know the whole routine and the spiel that the keepers deliver. A few months back, the Large Large Smelly Boy was at the center and I wasn’t. He texted me that the octopus was about to get fed. (I am still envious just remembering it.) I texted back: “Milkshake or smoothie?”



The keepers explain that when an octopus bites a crab, it first paralyzes it and then injects an enzyme that turns the crab meat to the consistency of a milkshake or smoothie. I always prefer the smoothie analogy. It takes a couple of hours for the crab meat to break down and then the octopus sucks it out.

Some years back, the center had a surprisingly sociable octopus — I think its name was Ava. When she nabbed the crab, she would happily parade it around the tank to show all the visitors.

2. Starfish are really called sea stars, a fact I can never get used to. We were reminded of this at the center. The next day we were at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and checking out their new Swampland exhibit.

Wild Republic stuffed seahorse

“Oh, look, seahorses!” Mr. Scatter exclaimed. “Only we aren’t suppose to call them that anymore, are we? What are we suppose to call them now?”

I knew he was confusing seahorses with sea stars, but I kindly refrained from pointing this out. Instead, I pointed to the placard.

“Let’s see. We can call them ‘seahorses’ or we can call them ‘Hippocampus erectus.’

3. Teenagers prefer to go on scientific excursions by themselves. The Large Large Smelly Boy toured the aquarium with us for a short while and then said, “I’m going elsewhere. I have my phone.”

A few minutes later my phone rang. “The turkey vultures are flying around.”

A few minutes later my phone rang again. “There’s a diver inside the Passages of the Deep.”

“If you want to share the trip with us you should just walk around with us.”

“But then I would have to be seen with you.”

When he returned he reported the entire sum of his findings:

“What’s a bad thing to say to a piranha? Pull my finger.”


Aaah! Another one!

But, wait. I have a centered asterisk of my own up my sleeve. Behold:

Red-knobbed starfish Protoreaster linckii, a sea star from the  Indian Ocean/Wikimedia Commons