The hot breeze dries the sweat from my face as I stare out over the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Mexico. I wiggle while the white sand burns the soles of my feet; I continue to stand still in spite of it. A squadron of brown pelicans flies overhead. I count eight, my favorite number. The first one – the wingman – dives into the water. Two more follow.
When they pop up and bob on the surface, blissfully unaware of what is about to happen to their world, I clear my throat in an attempt to disrupt the tightness in my chest. I squint into the sun to watch two more dive and the others up seat a pair of cormorants on the pilings. That’s not fair; they were there first. I smile at my maternal instincts that emerge in the strangest places.
I finally drop my pails, beach bag and cooler and fiddle with my lawn chair. I shed my purple flowered sarong, not taking my eyes away from the water and begin slathering sunscreen on my already deep bronzed skin.
Finally, I am ready. I grasp the pail that has a mayonnaise container inside of it for shark’s teeth and set out to look for treasure. It looks more like Sanibel Island with the many large mounds of shells. Englewood has beautiful shells, but there are so many more than usual.
I came here last night and collected several 5-gallon bucket loads of shells. I carried them until I could not take it anymore. I am trying to save what I fear may be a lost resource. I have never seen such beautiful shells anywhere as the Southwest Florida Gulf Coast. The shells are various pastel shades mixed with darker purples, browns, reds. Mixed in with these dramatic creamy beauties are mother of pearl and abalone. I quickly became addicted to their beauty. Every shell that I pick up has its own artistic possibility. Sometimes it is impossible to gather them all, they seem to be crying, “Pick me, pick me.”
I started making jewelry and other shell-inspired stuff last year. There is healing and inspirational energy captured within each individual Gulf shell. One of my secrets is easy, simple and should apply always to any natural endeavor. I say a little prayer. I thank the Gulf. I thank Neptune. I thank the creatures who inhabited the shells that catch my eye in the glittering white sand and clear waters. I am grateful and honor their exquisite beauty.
I sit on the water’s edge on top of a pile of shells and run my hands through, sifting and thinking. Every third wave washes over my feet and legs, bringing more gifts. I look out in hopes of seeing a pair of dolphins or a large fish jump and twist before flopping back into the trough of life that whooshes busily before the sandbar.
I drop a pink scallop shell into the pail, examine a shiny black shark’s tooth and lick the salt from my lips. This cannot be over yet. This cannot be the end of life as we know it in the Gulf Stream Waters. My heart rushes; I dig my fingers and toes into the sand. The tide is coming in and the waves are getting closer and continue to throw gifts at my feet. I will collect them until the end. I will honor the life of each shell as a gift of splendor bestowed at a time when the Gulf gave all it could offer, until it simply was not enough.