The Shell Seekers

I like shells. I have a bowl of shells on a table in my office, and whenever I take a beach vacation, I try to bring home a shell or three from my trip to add to the collection. Looking at the bowl reminds me of happy hours walking on beaches.

The beach on Sanibel Island facing the Gulf of Mexico is a haven for shell seekers. You see dozens as you walk past. They’re always moving slowly, staring intently at the sand, bending and stooping to get a closer look at the shells deposited by the surf, always searching for that one, perfect shell that other shell seekers may not have noticed.

For the shell seekers, the pickings are good on this beach. As the photo below reflects, the volume of shells is extraordinary; in some places it’s like somebody dumped a truckload of shells, and you’d need a shovel to sift through them all. But the shell seekers don’t mind volume. In fact, they welcome it. They’re on a kind of mission, and they’ve got nothing but time.

Uncommon Grace

This lovely snowy egret, white feathers ablaze in the bright sunshine, walks the beach with a stately, deliberate grace and a commanding gaze — its attention all the while directed at the surf, and detecting fish that might be caught unawares.

It’s a beautiful bird. The fact that it’s a ruthless hunter, too, just makes it all the more interesting.

The Pelican, Briefly

On our trip to the beach yesterday we sat next to a tree where a pelican nested briefly. He used his long bill to engage in some personal grooming and then peered out over the bay, surveying his domain. A few seconds and several flaps of his wings later and the pelican was off, skimming a few inches above the water and on the lookout for prey.

The O.B.P.

The Obligatory Beach Photograph (O.B.P. for short) first became part of Americana in the mid-50s.

With the Baby Boom underway, the American economy growing rapidly during the Eisenhower years, and airlines and superhighways making travel easier than ever before, American families were vacationing in record numbers. Often the vacations were beach vacations, and the father of the family, equipped with his Kodak, took the first crude examples of the O.B.P. When the brood returned home, the neighbors were invited over for a slide show after dinner and drinks, and the O.B.P. was displayed to bored viewers to prove that the beach vacation had in fact occurred.

The O.B.P. quickly became ubiquitous. Camera-wielding travelers tried every conceivable angle, technique, and gimmick, even as camera technology advanced, but the O.B.P. endured without material change. It always featured sun, water, palm trees, and sand, without any significant distinguishing characteristics. After all, tropical beaches look pretty much the same, wherever they are found, whether you see them pictured in a slide show, in home movies, or in family photo albums — but by then, the overwhelming expectation that the O.B.P. would be taken left travelers unable to resist.

With the advent of the internet, blogs, and social media, the audience that was required to endure exposure to the O.B.P. widened, and the first creative variation on the O.B.P. in decades was discovered, when photographers decided to position a beer bottle or rum drink in the frame, or took the OB.P. from a chaise lounge so that their crossed feet would be visible at the bottom of the frame. Usually the post included the expression “aah!”

The O.B.P. is here to stay. Long live the O.B.P.!

Beachwalking

I’m a big fan of walking in all of its many forms, but I think I may like beachwalking best of all.

Beachwalking has all of the positive attributes of walking generally — fresh air, exercise, feeling your body get into an almost mechanical rhythm while your mind has the freedom to roam wherever it wants to go. But beachwalking has a number of plus factors, too. It’s pleasantly hot, for one thing. There are soothing surf sounds and seagull cries in the background, rather than traffic noises. You’re barefoot, and you feel warm sand between your toes. And if you’re on the right kind of beach, you can walk for miles, uninterrupted by crossing streets or cars or traffic lights or other reminders of civilization. It’s an opportunity to work yourself into an almost trance-like, zen state.

Yesterday I walked for miles on a basically empty beach, plodding along until I came up to a stone jetty and had to turn around and trod back again. I thought about nothing but sand and sea and the distant goal. It was a wonderful journey.

The Perils Of Plastic

We’re staying at a terrific little beachside resort on Ambergris Caye in Belize.  It offers snug, thatch-roofed cottages, excellent food, a beautiful beach, and an infinity pool, among many other amenities.  Every day, resort workers rake the sand, cart away excess sea grass that has washed ashore, and leave the beach in the pristine, white sand state that resort-goers demand.

Just down the Caye, however, is an unattended section of beach, and here we get a glimpse of the impact of our plastic, disposable, consumer culture.  Belize lies at the western end on the Caribbean, where the prevailing winds blow.  On this section of beach every imaginable bit of disposable debris — a huge range of differently sized bottles, jugs, tubs, bits of strofoam, storage containers, and even soccer balls — have collected on the sand, mingled with the sea grass.  It’s disgusting, and unsightly, but mostly it’s sad.  Whether through thoughtlessness or inadvertence, the human plastic culture has left its ugly mark on an otherwise pretty beach on a fine, sunny morning.  If one small section of beach is bears this gross collection of crap, we can’t really begin to imagine the impact of the junk on the sea as a whole.