Despite My Good Intentions, I’ve Returned From the Beach With More Seashells

I'm reaching critical mass with my shell collecting and am not sure of my next steps.

Despite My Good Intentions, I’ve Returned From the Beach With More Seashells

I spent this past week in my favorite state in this wretched country: Florida. It’s an embarrassing truth to admit for a long list of reasons, most of which would get my writing banned in said state if I were to speak truthfully about them. But high on the list of reasons to love Florida are its beautiful beaches, which provide me with ample opportunity to live out my true calling in this life: collecting sea shells. 

Over the last few days, I didn’t gaze out at the soothing Gulf Coast horizon or identify the red-beaked white birds pecking into the sand. Nor did I spend nearly enough time stretched out beneath the glorious not-too-hot March sun or bobbing around in the water. Instead, I worsened a lumbar sprain by traversing the shoreline bent in half, eyes trained on the ground, looking at seashells. And seashells I saw! Cockle shells that fan out like a pretty dish, speckled brown, white, and purple. Eroded conchs and fragmented whelk shells. Splintered calico scallops and shimmering, iridescent jingle shells. And I didn’t just see them. No! Based on a rubric imperceptible to both onlookers and my own beached-out brain, I pocketed a select few shells to bring home. This is where my problem begins. 

I bring home the shells I find. Too many of them. This time they’re from the Gulf Coast of Florida, but often the shells are from beaches in Queens or Delaware. I bring the shells back to my Brooklyn apartment and then I have absolutely no clue what to do with them. Last summer, I had one extraordinarily lucky day finding beach glass on the shores of Fort Tilden and brought home about 20 foggy blue, green, and white soft shards. They are still in the front pocket of my bike pannier. The shells from this week are in a plastic baggy on my desk. Other collections remain scattered in the bottom of totes or summer purses, only to be found the next year when I start using them again. The most proactive I’ve been with any of my shells is when I placed a few on a shelf in my room, which I had collected on the day I got engaged at the beach. Except, the shelf is placed so high on the wall, you can barely see the tiny shells from any respectable vantage point. 

I am approaching maximum capacity for shells. I haven’t reached hoarding levels by any means but with no follow-up or display plan for these shells, a problem looms! Yet, I can’t stop. I can’t stop searching for them on the beach—seeking out the perfect swirl of colors, imagining their journey from deep sea snail home to abandoned on the shore. I can’t stop running my fingers along the smoothed edges, hypnotized by their mathematical magnificence. I can’t stop bringing them home as if I didn’t live in a small apartment that does not have room for glass curio cabinets to display my nautical findings. 

I’m not someone who wants to wear shells in their hair or as jewelry. Despite Brooklyn being an island, I don’t feel the need to decorate my apartment like such—gluing the shells to mirrors or doorknobs. Truthfully, I don’t pick up these shells with any plan for their use in mind. They’re just so beautiful and small and weird, I want to keep them close to me. Collecting them satisfies some Neanderthal gatherer instinct within me. Must collect smooth bone rock, a primal part of my body commands. But it is the twenty-first century and I don’t have a cave or den to store these shells—just tote bags.

The best idea I’ve come up with is gathering all of my shells into one area. Perhaps it might force me to reckon with this growing problem. Or, at the very least, I’ll free up my tote bags. Maybe seeing them in one spot will inspire me to create a calcium carbonate wonder. Or just having them in one big vase might be decor enough. I welcome any shell suggestions—either on what to do with them or how to curb my addiction or, of course, permission to continue living my one precious life enjoying the spectacles of the sea.

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