Monday, January 16, 2012


There's no scoffing among the initiated. This was my thought the other day as the intended morning walk on Sanibel Island faltered after only a few sandy strides.

Sizing up the busy beach it looked a feasible plan. Simply walk wherever the seashell hunters aren't congregated. Wide as the beach is, it should be easy enough to do.

Failure of plan was as unexpected as it was immediate. A seashell carried to shore came to rest on the wet sands near me. It demanded a look.

This is habit forming I thought as I bent down over the shell. Here I am already mimicking the Sanibel Stoop.

My hand went out toward the cute little colored scallop. The instinctive reaching gesture may have been a copycat gesture. It doesn't take long to follow suit on shell loving Sanibel. More probable there was a deeper response governing me.

Our family took several beach vacations when the kids were young. Some of the best vacations were on beaches like this. In fact some were on these very beaches - the lovely Gulf shores of Ft. Myers Beach and Sanibel and Captiva islands.

We tracked white powdery sand into the car, poured it out of beach buckets brought half full to the parking lot and shook it out of wet swim suits and damp beach towels.

The collections of sea shells picked up on the sea side of the sand dunes inevitably came home in the car trunk as vacation souvenirs.

The seashells weren't thrown out once home. Or only once when the lot of them developed an unholy smell along the way.

Some of the shells were turned into landscape edging. They were put in discreet out-of-sight places in the yard. Seashell decor has a tendency to fight with Midwest taste.

The more striking ones were added to the shells shown off in a woven basket in the bathroom. These shells provided the bathroom motif at our place for many years.

When we moved a few years ago the collection was close to being tossed, "We're starting over" was the reasoning. "Same with some of our stuff. It's time to move on."

Seashells picked up on family vacations do not release quickly we found out. The shells were gently transferred into a double-sacked paper bag and made the move with us.

They were set up in the new bathroom. They're a continuing reminder of family time spent in water and sun.

Beach trips faded as quickly as a September suntan once the kids got older. There were other places to see and other things to do. But there are places you don't forget.

Southwest Florida with its Gulf shoreline and warm winters present now with a different kind of appeal. Shelling, however, wasn't on our long list of things to do.

Shell discovery firmly in hand on that day of the beach walk I resumed my pace. Another interesting shell lay to the side. I scooped this up too. Soon I had several.

They were stacked in my hand, one neatly within the other. This way I could keep picking up without running out of holding capacity. It got trickier when the other hand was put to use as well.

My walk, hardly six steps into it, thoroughly broke down. Concentration was only for the new treasures the washes of the tides were bringing ashore.
The incoming water, eddying, surging and sucking, several times swirled over my sandals as I scoured the margins of the beach. This happened despite judging myself well clear of the incoming floods of water.

A couple times I had to fish my sandals out of the surf with my toes (both hands tied up with shells). The power of the sea was evidenced. It had enough strength to pull the sandals off my feet in mere inches of turbulent water.

Each new spill of water onto the sand had excitement with it. The seashells, rolled by the action of the waves onto the sand, glistened with wetness.

We hastened over. We pounced to the prize. The shells, perhaps never before seen by other eye, were ours to claim as first finders.

Visits to the Captiva Island and Ft. Myers Beach libraries gave chances to identify the shells which my husband and I found separately and together. (The Bailey-Mathews Shell Museum on Sanibel Island is another place to get informed but wasn't visited
on this recent trip).

With the help of the library displays our seashells sorted themselves into names which thereupon facilitated our efforts to further differentiate between the various types.

Spreading our finds on a towel we could view them on a somewhat scientific level. They had become more than curiosities and beach time diversion.

We identify Florida fighting conchs, junonias, lightning whelks, tulip shells, coquinas, calico scallops and a dainty specimen charmingly called kitten's paw among our array.

The tulip shell and and conch specimens displayed in the libraries are my favorites. Our casual beach hunts
have yielded more modest finds.

It makes small difference. As you stoop and ponder each shell you come upon each seashell is a discovery which somehow makes each shell special.

"My, you've got some pretty shells" a shore fisherman remarked as I ducked, with his permission, under his cast line.
(It was either doing that or wading into the water or making a big sandy detour around him.)

I said something agreeable back, two people enjoying the fine day and beautiful setting. The comment about the shells stayed with me, however.

Pretty, as in shells, is in the eye of the holder even more than the beholder. Carrying my shells like precious cargo I felt like a mother with many children. You can find some quality in each that sets it apart. While each is perhaps ordinary as viewed by the world, each is unique because it's yours.

Al and I went along gathering a few more shells. We took in the sea breezes. We absorbed the freedom inherent in the complete ability to bar any thought other than the sensation of capitulation to uncontested outright enjoyment.

The great litter of shells scrunched under our feet as we sank into the shells with each forward step.

This, we knew, with a tact that doesn't require stating the obvious, is the relaxation we came for.

Ro Giencke - January 16, 2012

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