It's also like being back in middle school.
I live in a small adult (age, not maturity level) community. One of the best things about living here, aside from being literally a stone's throw from my parents, is neighbors look out for each other. When the snowbirds head north, people keep eyes on their homes. If someone is sick or disabled or otherwise in need, community members help out. It's like living in the midst of family.
It's also like being back in middle school.
Several years ago, life's pace had eroded my disposition into a state of perpetual anxiety. G suggested I take a few hours each week to walk the beach with him.The beach, 20 minutes away, is part of the National Park system, and consists only of dunes and ocean. Strolling barefoot side-by-side on that first day, cool sand squishing between our toes while the ocean played its music, was powerful medicine. I brought home a few shells for visual reminders. G picked up some to put in outdoor planters.
Collecting shells quickly became an integral part of each beach walk. We planned our arrivals for close to low tide and identified the areas consistently offering the most treasure. We filled Crown Royal sacks with abandoned homes of clams, mussels, conch, and creatures we couldn't identify while carefully avoiding beached jellyfish. We stocked the car with buckets to dump the booty into and jugs of water to wash the sand off our feet. At home the shells were soaked in buckets before I culled a few for my indoor collections. The remaining rinsed shells went into a heap until enough had accumulated to fill in a bed around trees and potted plants.
I'm fascinated by the shells with battle scars and missing parts, sculptures of nature full of texture hinting at encounters with predators and storms. Often, a particular type of shell will dominate the beach, as if a city of those creatures' homes was swept up and spewed out, minus its residents. Whatever kind is most prevalent on any given day changes with the tides, seasons, weather. Some days offer an abundance of ocean treasures, and sometimes we do a lot of walking for very little. In the gathering and sorting, I'm learning (or re-learning) some lessons.
1) I can't have everything. Sometimes that beach has so many enticing sea gems, I could fill a truck! Except we don't have a truck. Or the time. Or the energy to lug them. I have to be content with what we can carry, and trust there will be more in the future.
2) Purpose matters. Early on we figured out the delicate scallop shells are not practical for outside landscaping. They can easily be blown around or broken. I might select a few pretty lightweight shells for my indoor collection, but we mostly garner those that are rugged enough to stay where we put them.
3) Lack of knowledge can be harmful. During one walk the beach was filled with sand dollars. I was entranced; usually if I found one, it was broken. I scooped up only as many as my hands could hold; I didn't want to put them into a bag where they might break. Once home, I laid them out carefully on a towel to dry. Within days, their color changed from sandy to chalky, and holes formed in the middle of each. A few minutes of internet research confirmed my horrible suspicion: I'd taken live sand dollars. And killed them. The remains of those sea martyrs are where I see them daily, silent reminders that ignorance has consequences.
4) Pleasure doesn't come from what I have, but from what I do with what I have. Last spring, as we walked the beach with visiting family from Maine, a conch shell rolled in with the surf and landed at our feet. It was larger than my hand, smooth and shiny like those in seaside tourist shops. I couldn't get over its near-flawlessness, or the fact that I had seen the water give it to us. I prominently displayed it in our living room. But I knew, even before we'd left the beach that day, that I wasn't going to keep it. When we prepared for our summer road trip to New England, I stroked the silky surface of the shell a few more times, took pictures that fall short of capturing its beauty, then carefully packed it for transport to its new home in the north. It was such fun to give it as a gift to someone who had witnessed its release from the sea, and would value it for that experience as much as its perfection.
G and I continue to harvest shells from our local beach. We also have several small indoor collections of sea souveniers gathered during recent travels. Regardless of where each shell comes from, or where at our home each now resides, each made the journey from seaside to home in our hands, bags, buckets, and vehicle. Together they're forming a sea quilt of moments worth remembering.
Anyone wondering where I've been since early August? Well, various potholes and detours on my planned blogging route combined with confusion regarding my intended destination. The result? A blank space where my writing used to be.
As the year accelerates toward its big holiday finale, it's time to