By Elizabeth Bishop Later | We pile in the car, our beach gear in hand: a cooler of drinks, sandwiches, and snacks as well as the foundational sunscreen, beach towels, and radio. We’re on our way to Hunting Island and the kids are more than excited at the prospect of a swimming-laughing-boogie-boarding day at the beach.
Of course, I’m expected to have various and sundry other items that may be required for the random need – Tylenol for a sun glare headache, vinegar for the rare jelly-fish sting, hand-wipes since beach sand is fun but not in your sandwich. And tucked away in a side pocket of the duffle bag is a stack of empty whipped cream containers.
In case you weren’t aware, whipped cream containers are an essential beach-going item because at some point everyone’s going to tire of being in the water. Eyes will start stinging from the salt, folks are going to get water-logged, and they’ll exit the surf and start wandering up and down the beach looking for shells. Just as the book you brought starts to get good, everyone’s going to come to you with fistfuls of shells and ask for something to put them in.
Whipped cream containers. Essential beach item. You can thank me later.
In reality, this is the fun part of the beach experience for me. Oh, the water is fun, fun, fun but what could be more exciting than strolling along looking to see what the sea is offering up today? There’s no telling what treasure you’ll find. It’s serendipity at its best and I defy anyone to go to the beach and not stoop over just once to pick up something alluring in the sand.
The best time for hunting shells is on an outgoing tide, when shells are left on the beach by the receding water. Hunting Island shells are generally bivalve shells such as Angel Wings, Clam shells, and Atlantic Cockle shells. And there are thousands and thousands of intriguingly tiny Pear Whelks, Ram’s Horns, Conchs, and Florida Augers – miniature shells who have their own stories to tell as they’ve been transported from place to place with the ocean’s currents. If you look closely you’ll usually see a small hole in the shell that’s created by a snail that uses its tongue to file a hole in the shell and feed on the soft creature inside. Of course, this kills the animal inside the shell and the shell eventually washes ashore.
That may have been more than you wanted to know.
At any rate, it’s definite that you’ll find lots of these kinds of shells. The only difficult part will be choosing which ones to pick up and take home with you. But you might find a sand dollar and anyone who finds a whole sand dollar on the beach goes home feeling like it’s been a good day. (Editorial comment: Do the right thing with live ones and throw them back into the ocean). Sea sponges and shark teeth always wash ashore and you’re certain to find a jellyfish or two, although I can’t recommend trying to take one home with you.
If the beach-combing gods are smiling down on you, you’ll find some sea glass. Since most of us are drinking out of plastic containers these days and recycling has become more popular, sea glass is somewhat elusive but it’s still around for someone willing to spend time looking for it. As Anne Morrow Lindbergh said, “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient…Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith.”
Sea glass starts out as trash, usually bottles thrown into the ocean, and the sea tumbles it and tumbles it, breaking it up and wearing the shards smooth. The result: a gem from the sea. The more round and frosted a piece of sea glass is, the higher its value. And if you happen to find a piece of orange or pink glass, then the beach-combing gods were really smiling on you since sea glass in these colors is extremely rare.
There’s something beautifully restorative about strolling aimlessly down the beach, looking for a treasure to take home with you. In many ways, it feels like visiting a guest who graciously sends you home with a little goodie. And years later, when your grown children find the box of collected shells they’ll remember what it was like to play at the beach all day.
They’ll hear the waves and the seagulls, feel the sunshine and the salty breeze, reminisce over romping around in the surf, and think to themselves, “Now, that is a beautiful memory”.
Editor’s note: Written as ‘Treasures from the Ocean’ by Elizabeth Bishop Later for A Place Called Home: A memoir of Beaufort and St. Helena Island, South Carolina. You can read more from the book and writings of Sonny Bishop and Elizabeth Bishop Later at http://ouryardfarmhome.com and see the original piece here. We appreciate Elizabeth and Sonny’s sharing of their Beaufort memories, local lore and history, and some musings with us all.