(Note that this piece was inspired by the above image, which was yesterday’s Visual Prompt #840 from www.easystreetprompts.com.  Thanks for the inspiration!)

Crabs.  (Not the STD, so get your mind out of the gutter.)  They’ve played a role in my life for almost as long as I can remember.  Of course, the main reason is because Cancer is my birth sign.  My favorite piece of jewelry as a tween was a gold crab pendant – I believe my family secretly thought this was most appropriate, as I was a rather crabby child.

I’ve gone in and out of astrology phases for most of my life.  I’m out of one now, though if there are astrology fans out there, I highly recommend Rob Brezsny’s Free Will Astrology (http://www.freewillastrology.com/horoscopes/).  I don’t know where he gets his stuff, but he’s been amazingly accurate in his more esoteric predictions over the years for me. 

The sign of the Crab is supposedly the least clear-cut of all the signs of the Zodiac in terms of defining characteristics.  In fact, many of the personality traits displayed by Cancerians are somewhat contradictory.  We are solitary, yet sociable; down-to-earth yet psychically intuitive; tough but soft.  The description of Cancer being the sign of a homebody has always amused me, but as I contemplate the concept of home more and more in relation to my own sense of wanderlust, there may perhaps be some truth to it.  We are imaginative, cautious, creative, moody, loyal, untidy, romantic and difficult.  And sometimes clumsy.  See what I mean about varied and/or contradictory?

Moving away from the metaphysical, I have memories of numerous crab-related incidents in my life – I’ll share a few choice accounts:

On our very first trip to Topsail, our neighbors invited E-Bro and myself over for a crab boil one night, and our Father wouldn’t let me go.  He didn’t want me to have the experience of a live crab boiling to death screaming in a big pot of water.  I remember being furious.  Clearly, it still rankles.  Regardless, for many years, crab burgers were our traditional first night supper at Warren’s Soda Shop when we arrived at Topsail.

The first time I had Blue Crab was with E-Bro and wife #2 (I think) in some shack in Maryland.  It was a little old wooden place right on the water, with newspapers on the table and some big grizzled man behind the counter.  I was puzzled by the crabs, and made a real mess, but I loved them.  Absolutely loved them.  Until the middle of that night, when I discovered that they did not love me back.  That lack of love lasted through the next day, which was, most unfortunately, a travel day.  I’m not sure I’ve had blue crabs since, but I still recall the taste and experience with great fondness.

I ventured into new crab territory one night somewhere in Florida at Joe’s Stone Crab.  I had driven to the coast from Orlando, poked around for the day, and thought this sounded like a good spot.  It was.  I ate at the bar, and the stone crab claws were delicious.  Having made friends with the manager, we went off to shoot pool and have cocktails at some alligator-themed bar that could only be reached by boat.  And he was a perfect gentleman.

E-Bro introduced me to soft-shell crabs at the Crab Pot in Surf City. 

His description of them as “a giant bug in a sandwich” was rather off-putting, but that’s what older brothers do, right?  And then they make you eat the thing that sounds so disgusting. (And that’s a whole other post.)  But in this case, it was heavenly and is now on my “last meal” list, an evolving project which can be found here

Further explorations into soft-shell crab preparation followed – Shaw’s Crab House in Chicago does an excellent soft-shell saute.  I, on the other hand, do not.  I know this because I tried to prepare them myself once.  By the time I got through cleaning the buggers, there was almost nothing left, and what was left did not taste very good.  Given my history of culinary faux-pas, I expect this was my fault, but I will allow that they might not have been fresh enough, seeing as how I got them in Colorado, which as we know, is over a thousand miles from the ocean.  Interesting, as I come to think of it, that my last kitchen disaster also involved crab, only in the leg form.  Hmmm.

I have learned a very sweet fact about crabs, one which makes me hesitant to indulge my taste for soft-shells:  Before mating, the male ‘cradles’ a soft-shell female in its legs and carries her for up to several days while searching for a private spot, where he guards her during her final molt, at which time they mate.  After mating, the male resumes cradling the female for several more days until her new shell has hardened.  (Source: www.chesapeakebay.net)  Isnt’ that nice?  He doesn’t just hit and run, or roll over and snore — there’s foreplay AND cuddling.  The female, on the other hand, when in her molting state, will kill and devour any other male crab that comes along.  I know there’s a message here, but I’m not quite sure what it is.

The sand crabs at Topsail provide a constant source of amusement.  Blending in with the sand (hence the name), they are a favorite plaything of children and dogs.  Kelsea and I watched Hanky, an adorable white lab, chase one in and out of its hole for almost an hour.

Kelsea and I also witnessed some kind of bizarre mud crab rave when we were walking on a little pier in Emerald Isle last year.  We tried to capture it on film, but it doesn’t really come across.  Imagine balancing on a rickety wooden structure above one thousand black crabs, listening to their little claws click in anticipation of their attack upon your toes, and you’ll get the picture.

Caribbean crabs are much more laidback, which I guess is to be expected, given the culture.  They chill on the beach with you and watch the sunset.

There are over 6,000 different species of crabs in the world.  The smallest is the pea crab, which can be less than 1.5 mm.

The largest is the Japanese spider crab, which can reach 12 feet from leg tip to leg tip. 

One of the most unusual is the coconut crab (related to the hermit crab).  Found in the tropical islands of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, they are 3-feet long, weigh up to 40 pounds, climb tress, and eat coconuts, which they break open with their incredibly strong claws.  Not what I’d necessarily want to confront on a desert island, but they are considered an endangered delicacy.

Well, I suppose you, like I, have had your fill of crabs now.  I sincerely hope that this serving of facts sits well with you.  Have a lovely day.