The memory of finding beach treasures is a powerful presence in my coming of age as a kid. That’s at least in part due to the fact that my dad would always invite my sister and me on a special early morning seashell hunt each summer we spent at the shore. Walking just a few steps ahead of us, he would toss shells from his pockets so they would fall silent into the sand for just a few seconds before our elated discovery. Often they were common clam or scallop shells, but from time to time he’d throw out something more exotic—a nautilus or a sand dollar. It was a magical ritual that I cherish to this day.
But the stench of hermit crabs has proven to be an even more powerful memory— at least in the olfactory sense. Miles and days from the beach, I learned that hermits don’t do so well in a landlocked central Pennsylvania town after having been subjected to a hot car ride in a shoebox. I also learned that beach rocks tend to look beautiful and rich with subtle variations of color when they’re immersed in salt water, then turn sad and gray once they dry. Between the smelly crabs, dull rocks, broken shells, and sunburned skin, I learned early that the treasures of the beach were fleeting. That I couldn’t be greedy in trying to take them home with me.
So this year, as my wise, adult self flew cross-country with my husband and two small children, the plan was to simply snap lots of photos. I’d shoot pictures of hermit crabs doing their thing where they are happiest. Rocks looking brilliant awash in salt water. Shells peeking out of the sand right where they washed up (or landed). I decided to make a photo book to capture all the magical finds from the seashore. To gather all the family photos from the week, I’d create another photo book using the Summer Days theme, but for this more artful collection of beach impressions, I’d use the Neutral Portfolio theme.
So there we were. Beachside…me snapping a million photos on my iPhone, playing around with different lenses and filters on various photography apps. Here’s a sampling of what I shot:
Sand castles in the process of being built by the small hands of my and my sister’s children. A baby squid that washed up on shore, which as a child I would have probably been adamant about keeping somehow. A horseshoe crab that was actually in motion. I had seen many in my life, but never had I seen this living fossil motoring around in the shallows—thriving away after 450 million of years of existence. A series of shots that captured a hermit crab safe within his shell, then tentatively feeling his way out of his mobile home and skittering off. A group of seals bobbing around in the water just off shore. An aggressive seagull trying to steal our lunch. A picturesque (yet soon-to-be-stinky) mollusk-covered buoy that washed up on shore.
And, finally, my most amazing shot of all… On our last day on the Cape I stood knee deep in the ocean, holding my melting-down three-year old in one arm and my iPhone in the other as I tried to join the rest of my family on a rogue sandbar that had materialized just off shore. As I climbed up on the sand, I saw the most amazing thing: sand crabs embracing! I automatically assumed it was a mother carrying her baby, just as I was carrying mine. But I quickly realized that this was crab sex! I pulled out my iPhone to snap a shot…and then before I could even process what had happened, I was gazing upon my phone nestled in the sand beneath two feet of crystal clear and, it turns out, powerfully corrosive salt water. It looked so beautiful in the glinting sun…just waiting for an elated soul to come along and discover it. I coveted this striking treasure in its foreign environment. And it did momentarily occur to me to snap a photo of my exotic find.
Wise, I was not. But I did learn yet another lesson about the evanescence of beach treasures…and what happens when you get greedy. Perhaps next year I’ll get it right and bring a photographic device that’s suited for beach shots. In the meantime, I share with you an impression of what my book would have been like. Enjoy!