Do What You Can

There are few things I love more than walking on a beach.  I prefer to walk right on the edge of the water, where I can listen to the waves roll in, search for sea shells, and keep an eye out for passing dolphins.  Sometimes I have to step out of the way of flocks of birds or other people, but usually I just stroll along in peaceful oblivion.  For me, there is no better way to reduce stress and calm my soul than to take a long walk on a beach.   Most of the time, that is.

img_2276Because the problem with beaches is that they are controlled by nature, and not designed specifically for my peace and enjoyment.  Which explains why on my recent Florida vacation, I headed eagerly to the beach for an afternoon walk only to be greeted by the sight of hundreds of shells that had been washed ashore by the previous night’s storms. And most of them were still alive (sea shells are actually the exterior skeleton of soft-bodied animals called mollusks), stranded on the hot beach several yards away from the ocean water they needed to continue living.

Most of other people at the beach were ignoring the plight of the beached mollusks but I felt compelled to try to help. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I often rescue worms stranded on the sidewalk after heavy rains, too.)  I began by picking up as many live shells as I could hold and then wading knee-deep into the ocean before gently placing them on the ocean floor.  Several trips later, I realized  that I had barely made a dent in the number of shells  in the pile nearest me, and that there were many more shells stranded all up and down the shore as far as I could see.  I felt both helpless and frustrated, but I still wasn’t ready to give up.

So I began to walk slowly down the beach, scanning the shells as I went and picking up only those that were moving.  (I figured the ones that were actively trying to get back in the water had the best chances of living.)  I’m sure I returned at least one hundred “fighting conch” shells to the ocean, and maybe more.  I had no idea if putting them back in the water actually saved them, and I know I walked right past several hundred more shells that were still stranded on the beach, with the mollusks in them slowly dying.

img_2267I really wished I had been able to save them all, but I also knew there was no way that I possibly could, even if I stayed on the beach till dark and someone lent me a wheelbarrow to tote all the shells.  But somewhere during my walk I stopped feeling frustrated with my inability to save them all, and actually began to feel just a smidgen of satisfaction that I was, perhaps, at least saving some of them.  That day, my walk on the beach wasn’t peaceful or relaxing, but it did have a purpose.

That day helped me to remember that even though I can’t fix everything, I can always fix something.  And that all I have to do is try.

Gotta Have That

IMG_0815One of my family’s favorite vacation destinations is Sanibel Island, a beautiful spot on the gulf coast of Florida that is well-known for its beaches teeming with sea shells.  I still remember our first visit to the island, when my husband and I could barely believe the number of shells we saw on the beach and were literally scooping them up by the handful.  In later years, we became more particular about our “shelling,” ignoring the piles of plain white clam shells and scallops as we searched for the more colorful and harder to find alphabet cones, nutmegs, tulips, fighting conchs, etc.  Even so, we have brought home countless bags of shells as souvenirs of our beach vacations.  And we have reached the point where we absolutely do not need any more shells, no matter how pretty they are.

IMG_0813We have shells displayed all over our house, in jars, vases and even in a lamp.  We have given shells, and crafts made from shells, to almost everyone we know, and yet we still have several bagfuls of them sitting in a storage bin in our basement.  This means that for the last several vacations to Florida, we made the promise to ourselves that we absolutely will NOT collect shells this time.  We will “just look” at the shells as we walk the beach, but not actually pick them up.  That vow usually lasts for no more than the first twenty minutes after our feet hit the sand.  And although we have gotten better at returning many of the shells we find to the beach at the end of our vacation, we always, always, have a bag of shells that we wind up bringing home with us.

Why do we keep collecting shells that we don’t even want anymore?  I’m not exactly sure, but I’m beginning to suspect that it has something to do with the thrill of finding a “treasure,” not unlike finding a valuable antique at a garage sale.  Once my husband and I became more experienced shellers and learned how to find the rarer types of shells, each one we found became, I think, a small victory.  We would congratulate each other on finding a king’s crown or an oversized angel wing, and then eagerly go back to the search for an even nicer shell.  And of course the “good” shells we were finding had to be kept and admired, or so we believed as we were combing the beach in search of the next “shelling score.”  It wasn’t until later, after we were back home, that we would look at all our shells and wonder what in the world had come over us.

IMG_0803I believe that the desire to acquire things runs deeper in most of us than we want to believe, and possibly dates back from the days when humans were primarily hunters and gatherers. I may not have the stomach for hunting, but I’m realizing that I do have a rather strong gathering instinct, particularly when I’m naively convinced that what I’m searching for is both rare and valuable.  I may hate clutter, and I may not be comfortable owning lots of stuff, but I can get swept up in the “gotta have that” craze just the same as everybody else.  And if I’m ever silly enough to doubt that, all I have to do is go down in my basement and check out the bin holding all those bags of shells.  Which is stored right next to the bins holding the couple of hundred Beanie Babies we’ve had since the kids were little…..