April 4, 2017

How the “Rules of Beachcombing” Can Carry Over into Everyday Life
(Even If You Never Follow Them)


So the other day I was trying out a new form of beachcombing that I had recently discovered, and which ties in perfectly with my inherent desire to be lazy whenever possible.

This method entails sitting yards - if not inches - away from the breaking waves in the minutes leading up to a low or high tide, and basically letting the shells come to you.

I can report with newfound expertise that this method isn’t very successful, (and it makes you look really weird to passing beach-goers who have to literally walk around you. Also, it’s ridiculously cold this time of year.) However, it does require almost no effort at all, which is essentially what I was aiming for.

Anyways, as I was sitting in the cold March ocean wash, while my posterior gradually filled with ice cold sand and other sediments, it suddenly dawned on me that the way I go about beachcombing – or at least the way I should go about beachcombing – is a direct reflection of how I instill rules for everyday life.

Now granted, sitting on the beach while doing nothing gives you a lot of time to think about stupid things, (and no, I hadn’t been drinking at the time.)

But nevertheless, during this derailed train of thought, I somehow stumbled upon a full roster of life lessons that can be derived from your beachcombing behavior.

Whether you’re the early bird who gets up at 5:00 a.m. fully ready and raring to go, or a lazy slob like yours truly who thinks that sitting on the beach may very well lead to great things, there’s actually a lot to be learned from your beachcombing style.

Don’t believe me? Then consider these life lessons that I’ve unintentionally learned from decades of shell hunting on the beach. (Even if I never follow them.)

It’s OK to be competitive, but don’t be a jerk.

Consider a time that you have been shell hunting with a visiting friend who just happened to find a gorgeous Scotch Bonnet seconds before you spotted it.

Or maybe remember an instance when you were fishing with a buddy, (who had never been fishing before, no less), who reeled in a citation sheepshead, drum, or even a sea mullet, when you hadn’t had a nibble all day.

Now when this event occurred, did you feel genuinely proud of your friend? And were you honestly happy – without envy – that they were able to have that wonderful experience? (Even though it meant you had to sacrifice getting a great catch yourself?)

Yeah, I never have that response either.

But if you’re a good beachcomber, fisherman, or all-around friend, chances are that you didn’t let your feelings of jealousy show, and you were able to at least appreciate on some level that your buddy just scored the catch of a lifetime.

Truth be told, I am most definitely not this person, ever, and am competitive to a fault with really stupid things.

This is why nobody will play Monopoly or Scrabble with me anymore - (I make up words with abandon in Scrabble, and won’t trade Monopoly properties if I’m clearly winning) - and it’s why I avoid beachcombing with most friends. After all, I want them to remain my friends in the years to come.

But there are actual instances when, if I put my mind to it, I can still be competitive while attempting to be a good person.

For example, my 11-year-old nephew and I were on a recent outing to Canadian Hole, and when he picked up an absolutely perfect channeled whelk, I gritted my teeth and avoided saying “dammit” or any of my many favorite swear words that would inevitably get back to his parents.

Instead, I told him he just acquired a really great shell, and should keep it if he was so inclined. (And if he wasn’t, I would surely scoop it out of the water in his wake.)

Being competitive is fine. But not being a jerk about winning or losing is a learned art form that will benefit you down the road. I.e., you will still be allowed to hang out with your nephew, even if you swear sometimes – ok, many times - in the years to come.

Assume nobody is as good as you are (even if that’s not at all true.)

As a beachcomber, sometimes you stumble upon a big shell pile that has already been rooted through within an inch of its life. There are footprints all over the place, and it’s clear that it’s been driven over, stomped on, and examined for days after it washed up on shore.

But you look through it anyways, because you have this inkling that maybe – just maybe – someone missed something.

This is how you find those cool little shells that are hard to find, like augers, or oyster driller, or limpets, (Google it), and it’s how you get a big ‘ol boost of confidence and an affirmation that you are, indeed, the Greatest Beachcomber Who Ever Lived when you find something amazing.

Or not.

But the key is to think that you’re going to stumble upon something wonderful. Having confidence in your own abilities on and off the sand goes a long way. And even if you’re fantastically wrong, at least you’ll have a great time in the process, and your ego will more or less leave the scene intact.

Sometimes you’re going to get bit.

So on a surprisingly hot day last fall, I was at one of my favorite shelling beaches in Hatteras, and I had determined after “thoughtful and detailed research,” (aka, standing on the shoreline with a beer), that I had the best chance of getting good shells by wading out a bit and scouring the ocean floor.

So I wandered into the water until I was about 3 feet deep, and started feeling the sand with my feet in search of something interesting and shell-like.

Eventually my toes caught something that felt pretty big, so I reached down into the water to grab hold of the object and pluck it up. Well, imagine my surprise when the object in question grabbed back, and suddenly I had a blue crab latched onto my index finger.

Now have you ever seen those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons where a crab, or turtle, or other bite-y animal latches on to a person’s finger, and they shake it like mad while hollering and carrying on in a completely ridiculous yet hilarious manner?

Cause that’s exactly what happened. But with a much larger audience.

And I do believe my fellow beach-goers were fully entertained as I jumped up and down for what seemed like an hour, (but which was most likely ten seconds), while shouting “CRAB! IT’S A CRAB! THERE’S A CRAB IN THE OCEAN! WHY IS A CRAB IN THE OCEAN??”

I know my hubby was amused when I came running to show him my hard-won crab scar, which upon further inspection didn’t even break the skin, and which essentially required a magnifying glass to find.

So in the end, I made a total fool of myself while having a traumatizing crab encounter that hurt like the devil, even if there was no evidence of such an encounter.

But did I let this ruin my shelling expeditions for the day?

You bet I did. And I complained about it for the rest of the afternoon, much to my hubby’s delight.

However, I did go back to my favorite Hatteras beach a few days later, (even if I warily eyed the shoreline for masochistic crabs before entering the water), and eventually continued my shelling exploits in the area.

The lesson here is that no matter what your ambitions are, you’re going to get hurt at some point. But if you let a crab or another imposing obstacle stop you, you’ll never get ahead.

So face up to the fact that you’re going to get bit, and just go back out again anyways. Apparently, there are always crabs in the ocean, (who knew?), but an occasional encounter with a natural adversary should never derail you from your ultimate goal.

If you worry about looking like an idiot, you’re never going to get anything good.

Clearly, I’ve overcome a lot of ridiculous obstacles in my obsessive hunt for seashells.

I’ve been chased by pelicans. I’ve scoured a shell pile next to a guy wearing an eyepatch for a bathing suit, and I’ve stripped down to my granny panties in January in front of a convoy of fishermen.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I have also put all of these stories and more on the interweb - which means they are documented forever - because even though I wear glasses, I am much stupider than I initially appear.  

But the silver lining is that I always have an arsenal of stories for dinner parties if the conversation ever turns to the question of “What’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done?”

And also, I‘ve gotten a lot of badass shells over the years.

I won’t share all the gems in my collection, but suffice it to say, there are a couple suckers which are greatly treasured, and which are proudly displayed on various surfaces throughout the home - and in front of my graduation pics and wedding photos, no less. (Yeah, my priorities are perhaps askew, but that’s a topic for another article.)

So I’ll continue to look like a moron, and get bit by crabs on occasion, and see if I can get my “shelling by osmosis” theory, (i.e., shelling by sitting around and doing nothing), off the ground.

Because that joy you feel when you find that lone helmet conch or perfect whelk is unparalleled, and is seemingly worth the hours, days, and years of aggravation that lead up to the moment.

In fact, I’d say that the biggest lesson to be obtained from shelling is that no matter what you find, there’s always something better out there.

Having something to look forward to is arguably the best part of life, and beachcombing is a literal example of how optimism simply makes you happier.

So consider yourself warned, all you crabs, pelicans, and other beachcombers – I’m still hunting. (Even if I’m doing so from a sitting position.)

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