Carol of the Shells

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” –E. M. Forster

I collect seashells. More accurately stated, I am constitutionally incapable of walking near any ocean body without searching for seashells. So when Steve and I spent a week at Holden Beach, North Carolina back in July, I was combing the shoreline, back bent, eyes peeled, within hours of our arrival.

We did go night-shelling--Steve's a patient man!

We did go night-shelling once–Steve’s a patient man!

I didn’t find a lot that first day: a few baby’s ears and some slipper shells, which appeal to the little girl in me who can’t help but think of doll shoes. Steve–-who isn’t a sheller but does love a good beachwalk, and so indulges me–-found a beautiful olive. I swooped down excitedly more than once, thinking I’d found a moon snail, only to be disappointed when I’d pick the prospect up. A lovely whorled front would have the back cracked off, or, if the back was whole, the front had large holes in its fragile top curve. Barnacles marred one, having made their home on its swirl.

When I first started shelling, I would often pick up blemished shells. I would settle for the conch with a hole in the back, or a slipper shell with a chipped, jagged edge. The pickings were often slim, and I didn’t have the patience, or maybe the fortitude, to leave the broken shells on the beach. Sometimes the brilliant coloring or the graceful whorl exposed in a fractured shell looked too beautiful, even in its brokenness, to leave behind. Besides, if you turned them just the right way, looked at them from just the right angle, you couldn’t see their flaws. Still, they never seemed quite so impressive once at home as they had at the beach. When I grew tired of the fragments cluttering my collection, I decided I needed to raise my standards. I vowed then to collect only perfect specimens: bright color, shiny finish, completely whole with no marks or blemishes. But therewith came the problem of the perfect: such shells were elusive. There were few, if any, to find. Continue reading