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.
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.
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.
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.
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
nevertheless, during this derailed train of thought, I somehow stumbled
upon a full roster of life lessons that can be derived from your
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.
believe me? Then consider these life lessons that I’ve unintentionally
learned from decades of shell hunting on the beach. (Even if I never
It’s OK to be competitive, but don’t be a jerk.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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??”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
something to look forward to is arguably the best part of life, and
beachcombing is a literal example of how optimism simply makes you
consider yourself warned, all you crabs, pelicans, and other
beachcombers – I’m still hunting. (Even if I’m doing so from a sitting