Hold Fast

A(nother) Lesson from Nature

Sometimes things don’t go as planned. OK. Often things don’t go as planned.

The tides have their pull, the moon has its cycles, the future is a flippin’ mystery. We all know that change is inevitable, so what is there to really hold onto?

It’s easy to feel adrift, or on the other hand, stuck in the muck. I don’t know about you, but in tough times, I’m often on one end of the pendulum: either untethered and aimless or rigid and frozen.

If you’re at all acquainted with Red Umbrella Designs, you know that nature is my greatest source of inspiration and wisdom. Nature has it figured out. Always. (Except when we humans interfere…)

So – feelin’ the need to be anchored and flexible? Here’s what bull kelp has to teach us:


The part of bull kelp that keeps it anchored is called the holdfast. It’s a series of root-like fingers that wraps itself around a rock, or something on the ocean bottom to keep the bull kelp anchored, yet free to wave and bend in the ocean flow.

In bull kelp, the holdfast grows anew each year, which means it’s not as large or tenacious as the holdfast of other kelps. After a summer of rapid growth and in stormy winter weather, occasionally entire plants will be pulled loose, and can be seen floating adrift far out at sea. (Sound familiar?)

Hold fast to something that anchors you.


Some quick kelp anatomy: the holdfast anchored to the bottom connects to the stipe, or hollow stem of the bull kelp, which is topped by a gas-filled bulb that floats. Leaf-like blades branch from the bulb, and these feed the plant, photosynthesizing and absorbing nutrients.

What’s so amazing is that the plant is perfectly structured to adapt to tidal ebb and flow, shifting currents, and stormy weather. The stalks can stretch up to a third of their length without breaking!

Go with the flow.


Bull kelp stalks can measure 30-60 feet or more in length, which is amazing for sure, but what’s mind boggling is that they grow to this size in one season! Different sources say bull kelp growth can reach 5 to 10 inches per day.

Make hay while the sun shines. Or… make kelp while the waves roll.

Don’t be afraid to grow.


Kelp forests are shelter for fish, invertebrates, sea stars, crabs, and otters (who sometimes wrap the blades around themselves while napping so that they don’t float away!) 

Kelp is useful to humans as well. Used as a thickener in everything from ice cream to toothpaste, but also super nutritious, kelp is chock full of protein, potassium, calcium, sodium, and iron.

Be part of an ecosystem: get what you need and give back.


In various Pacific Northwest myths and stories, kelp plays a prominent role in in the relationship between land and sea. With its reach from seabed to surface, it also provides a physical link between the seen and unseen, human and supernatural. First nations and Indigenous peoples have always relied on kelp materially and symbolically.

There’s always a middle ground.


Need some ocean inspiration in your life?

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