Much has been written about the prison and sex offender center on McNeil Island but owing to its restricted status, most of its beautiful natural resources remain mysteries, to the public.
Besides being home to protected wild life such as harbor seals and American Bald Eagles, McNeil also is a marine sanctuary, whose shores nurture clams and geoducks (gooey ducks). Beyond these delectables, McNeil is endowed with a very special item found only off its northwest shore, and in New Zealand. Residents or visitors of Fox Island may guess that I’m writing about Clay Babies; the very unusual clay designs that form as tidal seawater washes over the clay deposits between Fox and McNeil.Clay babies are concretions, which are defined as, “a rounded mass of mineral matter found in sedimentary rock or in mater with extremely small grains, such as clay. Clay is “fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet and hardens when heated, consisting primarily of hydrated silicates of aluminum.”
While the scientific explanation may be a little dry, clay babies are cool! The seawater smooths the clay into shapes reminiscent of little dolls or babies… Tribe legends tell of a maiden who falls in love with the son of the King of the Sea and goes to live with him underwater, only visiting her family once a year. Over time she becomes covered with seaweed and her family asks her not to return. In her loneliness she creates little clay figures to soothe her sadness. An alternate version of the Clay Baby tale maintains they are the souls of unwanted or imperfect infants, which are made whole by the seas’ caress. While offering differing views, both stories contain a bittersweet element foreshadowing the mysteries of the sea and our fascination with them.
McNeil Island is the perfect place for such a melancholy mystery, as it has a magnetic lure all its own. Certainly I truly enjoyed scavenging for Clay Babies on its shores, just past the pioneer built store at Still Harbor. Hopefully in the future the public will be able to visit McNeil, and experience the unique charms of its historic buildings, pristine environment and its many modern improvements. To that end, input regarding McNeil’s future is open until the middle of October (http://www.ofm.wa.gov/mcneil/default.asp ), so please email your ideas to the Office of Financial Management at: email@example.com. Maybe the Clay babies can be a metaphor for saving the soul of McNeil instead of it wasting away.