The air is fresh, salt spray on my skin, waves lapping on the shore and sea gulls calling in the distance. And I am hunting for beach treasures. Pure bliss. My heart and soul are free in this moment - beachcombing is the best therapy.
Even if I find shells I've seen a million times; mussels, clams, periwinkles.... each one is a special treasure.
As small black beach spiders scurry to avoid me - truly the only spiders that are more afraid of me than I am of them, I continue to search for beach gems. There might be a bright white, perfectly shaped conch shell, or a perfectly intact, bright green sea urchin; a soft pink scallop shell or a round creamy sand dollar. There may even be a piece of bright blue sea glass, at which point my heart leaps. Even though I have been finding such gems since I learned to walk, my excitement does not diminish. With each changing tide there is a new treasure to discover.
The most treasured of the treasured for me are sand dollars. The beaches I combed for the first 18 years of my life were rocky coastlines, where sand dollars were rare. Finding one that wasn't broken in several small pieces was all but impossible. I found my first intact sand dollar on Carter's Beach on the South Shore and I still remember the thrill.
What is the pull that these little shells have over us? A pull that never leaves even decades after searching and finding the same shells over and over. Perhaps a sense of home for many, or a sense of a yearning to be by the sea for others - but for all of us, a tie to a special part of nature that is found in these delicate treasures.
When I was growing up spring was often the time of year when my parents and I would trek out to the nearby island, crossing the peninsula at low tide, to dig clams. It was always a little chilly, but the snow would be gone and the remnants of the winter storms would be washed up on the beach - lots of new shells to discover and many pieces of unique driftwood to admire.
In my previous post Salt Water in my Blood my Aunt posted a comment, reminding me of the jewelry boxes and other crafts my grandfather would make from seashells. He and my Aunt would go out in search of treasures - their own personal "craft shop" in rural Guysborough County. Free goods to satisfy a need to create.
As I was drafting this blog post with all the excitement of a kid at Christmas, remembering the joy of searching for shells, I began to consider the impact of beachcombing on the environment. I will admit, I have a few shells in my living space - I kept the first sand dollar I found and I have some beautiful white shells displayed in my bathroom, as a reminder of home. But I consider more and more how important it is for me to abide by a "take only pictures" policy. Aside from being sure to take only empty shells, or leaving larger ones for hermit crabs, does our taking shells from the beach have an impact on the environment? If the answer is yes I can't with a good conscience continue to remove them, or promote removing them through this post. So, I contacted the nice folks at the Ecology Action Centre. Ashley Sprague helped set my mind at ease - she says that she only removes items that are not naturally found on the beach, such as beach glass, old pottery pieces or sometimes driftwood. "I really feel it is best to leave all the shells and sand in place." She goes on to say, "As you know, they are reused by hermit crabs and they also eventually break down and become an important source of beach sand over time."
I tend to agree and will now make an effort to live by a "take only pictures" rule when I encounter natural treasures. My excitement of beachcombing will still be as intense of course - searching for, and finding all those beautiful treasures is still pure bliss.