S is for Seashell

Oh, the beloved seashell.

Inside lives a sea critter

for a short time

before leaving it

into the wild sea

to get picked up by another

or moved by the currents

and tossed by the waves

to end up in someones hand

and displayed on a shelf

to evoke a fond memory

of a day

at the beach.

Seashell, by Eileen Saunders (c) 2016

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photo (c) 2016 Eileen Saunders

How many seashells do I have in my collection? Thousands I suppose. I’ve given them to people as gifts, sold groups of them to crafters, made decorative items with them and display them in jars in my house. I found the book Florida’s Living Beaches: A Guide for the Curious Beachcomber by Blair and Dawn Witherington and challenged myself to find one of every shell listed in the book. I lost count but my check marks reveal that I may be missing about 20 from my collection.

I am now downsizing my collection, keeping at least 2 of each kind. My kids call this the Ark Collection. I still have jars on display with a variety of shells that won’t go into the Ark. What is left will go into my Etsy store for crafters to purchase and donated to some schools for science classes.  But I can no longer store in boxes what needs to be enjoyed by others.  I have jars of memories to look at.

P.S. I highly recommend the Witherington’s collection of books on living beaches and seashells.

S is for Sea Shell.

Beachcombing 101: Carrying What you Find

**disclaimer: I am not paid to endorse any of the clothing or supplies in this story.  I am only sharing my thoughts on what I think are great beach combing duds.

Beachcombers come in all sizes, shapes, philosophies, and goals.  Finding the great items along the shore are, to some, an art; to others it is luck. Some people specialize in sea glass, while others only want shells or drift wood or pottery shards.  We all have the same goal of finding something, but what we do with it can vary.  A man in Pensacola, Florida catalogs and stores everything he finds in boxes in his garage.  A lady in Sarasota picks up broken shells of all sizes and makes wonderful pieces of art with them. A family in California sells their findings on the internet for people to use for their crafts.  I display some of what I find in my house and use the rest for crafts and jewelry.

Beachcombers, however, all have one thing in common: two hands.  And when those two hands are full of great finds from the shoreline, it is a bit difficult to move on and continue combing the surroundings.  As tacky as it may seem to some, many beachcombers carry a plastic grocery bag to the beach with them.  These bags are rather large so they can hold a great amount of beach shells, glass and other findings.  They’re also waterproof.  We each have our way of doing things and our favorite containers to carry. Here are some ideas.

THINGS TO CARRY:

My favorite thing to carry and load up with beach finds is an 8”x10” drawstring bag made of quick-drying fabric.  Instructions follow to make your own or you can order one from my Etsy store: Crafty Beachcomber. They’re on back order right now so please email me through my store for a custom order.   (c) eileensaunders

I have asked a few of my friends who are “professional beachcombers”, like me, what they carry when scavenging the beaches. Jody Diehl, who owns Beach Treasures and Treasure Beaches.com, has to travel a distance to the beach so she keeps things simple and lightweight. Jody says she mostly uses “her pockets but usually uses great big to-go cups or large baggies.” Check out her website to read her beachcombing adventures or find her on Facebook at One Shell at a Find.

Maria Conger, who lives on Mobile Bay, doesn’t have far to walk to her Bay beach but frequents the other Alabama Gulf Coast beaches.  When asked how she carries her goodies, she replied, “We have used our sweatshirts for unexpected finds.  Just roll it up with the goodies inside and carry by the sleeves.  Plastic grocery bags, of course, because, they are light weight and plentiful.  We have used plastic cups we found on the beach and my husband even dug a cup or two from a trash can.  We washed them in the gulf of course.  Today we are using plastic bags and small buckets recycled from Easter.  The tricky part is where to put the delicate items like sand dollars.  That is why we bring a plastic bag and a bucket.  It is very hard to carry delicate items for a long time in your hand or pocket.  I can’t count the number of times I have found crushed seashells during clothes washing. One time, while pottery hunting, my husband insisted on using a huge paint bucket.  Of course, it got so heavy we couldn’t carry it all.”

Sea glass collector, Karen, who owns GlassBeachSeaGlass on Etsy, can usually be spotted filling an empty Thanksgiving Coffee bag with sea glass and beach rocks.  She can get about three uses out of it before needing another, which is fine since it’s her favorite coffee brand. Karen says it fits perfectly in her hand and, since she collects smaller items, can fit a lot into it. “What’s hilarious is that the seagulls are always certain that the coffee smell is something they need. So if I dare walk away from that bag they pick it up and try to make off with it. I’ve had that happen twice. My entire day’s collection scattered once again all over the beach. I usually get that bag 3/4 of the way full and then it seems like that’s the time when I want to get back home. Also, I like the smell.”

THINGS TO WEAR

If you aren’t a “bag person” and like to make quick trips to the beach for salt-air therapy, shorts or a skort with cargo pockets are great.  Regular pockets tend to be shallow and the more items you put into them, the greater chance you’ll lose something when you bend over to pick up the next cool find, or when you sit down on your beach chair or car seat.  Cargo pockets are big, have 3 sides and a flap that snaps the pocket shut, holding your beachcombing booty inside.

My favorite clothes for beachcombing are cargo pocket skorts like the Rip Stop Skort from LL Bean.  Lightweight, it is comfortable to wear on a hot day.  There are other cargo pocket skorts around to try.  Be sure to find one with large side pockets. My favorite has always been the cargo skort from Fresh Produce.  They’ve changed their design this year with a smaller side pocket but if you have access to one of their outlet stores you may still find this great item with the larger pockets on the sale rack. The fabric dries quickly, too. But, any cargo skort will do.

My favorite beachcombing outfit

My favorite beachcombing outfit. Note the large cargo pocket.

If shorts are your thing, I want to recommend Calvin Klein Jeans Utility Shorts.  The style for shorts this summer (2014) is too short to include cargo pockets but the folks at Calvin Klein Jeans solved that by making perfect length cargo shorts that also roll up shorter and are secured with a button tab.  They are really comfortable and look great on.  The cargo pocket is deep.  These come in a dark blue, orange and white.

There are plenty of other great beachcombing cargo-pocket bottoms but these are my favorites.

A long walk on the beach may force you to use both clothes with a deep pockets AND the drawstring bag or container of your choice.   Nothing wrong with that; you’ll be able to collect more, and look fashionable doing so.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR A HOMEMADE BEACHCOMBING BAG:

  1. Find a lightweight piece of waterproof or quick drying fabric
  2. Cut it to 26” x 13”
  3. Fold over a quarter inch on each end and sew a seam
  4. Fold the whole fabric piece in half, inside-out, lengthwise and run a stitch on one side from the fold to the end. On the other side, run a stitch from the fold to 2” from the end. It would be great to reinforce the stitches with waterproof seam binding tape over the edges to keep them from fraying and keep the stitches from weakeningCAM00911 (1)
  5. Fold over the top edges and run a stitch one inch from the top leaving the “rope holes” open on the one side.
  6. Feed a cord/rope through one hole and out the other.  Clamp the ends together with a plastic spring-stop toggle-cord lock and tie a knot at the end of the ropes.CAM00912
  7. Turn the fabric outside-out and enjoy.

Find me on facebook: Crafty Beachcomber

 

Coastal Ideas on Pinterest

I live along the  Gulf Coast and love all things coastal.  So I’ve been collecting things on my Pinterest page that are Coastal Inspirations.

Some people pin an enormous amount of items and I wonder if they’re really pinning for themselves or just randomly what they like that day.  I prefer to pin what I like and what represents what I’d realistically like to have, make, do or visit.  So, my pin board is not a large collection; only about 100 pins but it reflects what inspires me.

I also love Starfish so I have a separate board for everything Sea StarHope it inspires you.

Flotsam and Jetsam

I just finished reading “Washed Up: The Curious Journeys of Flotsam and Jetsam” by Skye Moody. 

One of my favorite things to do is walk the beach to find unusual items that have washed up.  I have collected, from along the Gulf Coast, the usual sea beans, shells, drift wood, sponges and other sea critters.  I have a great collection of shark teeth, fish bones and sea glass.  Last year I found a piece of broken china with a crown stamp on the back, and a piece of fired pottery.  And just last week in Palm Beach I collected a toy scuba diver, the handle of a broken oar, a ball of carnauba wax and blisterpod and cocoplum seeds.  What I left behind amounted to some rope, part of a plastic toy car and 5 feet of worn, hollow bamboo.   This book was right up my alley.

In case you’re wondering, flotsam is basically the wreckage and the cargo from the wrecked ship that floats on the surface of the sea.  Jetsam is the stuff thrown overboard to lighted the vessel.  Ocean storms are responsible for a lot of the flotsam and jetsam.  During rough seas, cargo boxes from shipping vessels can fall overboard, break open and then you’ve got items such as Nike shoes, Lego building blocks, furniture floating around the ocean currents.  This stuff can get caught in the current and circle the ocean several times or end up on the nearest coast.   Things that sink and need a scuba diver to retrieve is called lagan.  I suppose wreckage from hurricanes can count as flotsam, unless it sinks.  I’ve never encountered a furious hurricane that allowed me to walk the beach shortly after.  I don’t know how long it takes for house parts and contents to wash up. 

The Washington and Oregon coast is a great place to beachcomb if you’re interested in collecting the unusual and Skye Moody does a great job describing what, how and why lots of things wash up along the northwestern coast.  She also spends a great deal of time describing the history of flotsam with legends and native tales of superstition and gods.  She chronicles shipwrecks and messages in bottles, rubber ducks, flotsam and density, Japanese fishing floats, ambergris and beach whistles.  There is an interesting section on the Great Garbage Patch.

Even if you’re not a beachcomber, this book makes a great read.  You never know what you’ll learn about our oceans, our beaches and why people collect things.

A Walk on the Beach

A couple times I have tried walking from Turtle Beach to Casey Key.  Each time I have good intentions of getting there and getting the exercise I need walking through that soft sand.  Each time I just can’t wait to see what it looks like along the way.  And each time I look forward to saying, “I did it!”

That was the plan today.  Siesta Key beach was flying a double red flag so we decided it wasn’t a good idea to try to swim or float.  So, we packed the four of us in the Windstar with a bag of towels and headed to Turtle Beach.  The parking lot was not even half full of cars.  We got a spot easily.  Just for the sake of it I brought along 2 buckets and, of course, my little bag I carry my keys, drivers license and phone in.  It’s big enough that I can fit a few shells in it if I need to.

We headed south.  The surf was not as angry as it had been all week but you could still tell there had been a storm.  We passed the condos and a few houses.  A shell here, a shell there…they we’re hugh, though.  Some of the largest cockles you may have ever seen, but they were also broken.  We saw a storm damaged home (the pink house, we call it).  Looks like the sea just burst through the dune separating it from the house.  I quickly spotted the mound of shells. 

A shell fanatic’s dream come true.  Mounds and mounds of shells washing up and down with the tide.  More than I had seen in Sanibel.  More than I had seen the other time I tried walking from Turtle Beach to Casey Key.  We couldn’t resist but to stop and start picking.  Good thing I brought the buckets!  Olives, welks, fighting conchs, an apple murex or two.  There were a ton of clams, scallops and of course the largest cockles you’ve ever seen, unbroken.  We filled our buckets, my little bag, pockets and then the boys tucked some in the front of their shirts to carry. 

As you figured we never made it to Casey Key.  We couldn’t go any farther south…the buckets were too heavy, so our only option was to go home.  Casey Key will have to wait for another day…again.

Trip to Sanibel and Tropical Storm Fay

We took a long weekend trip south to Naples, Sanibel, Captiva and San Marcos.  Tropical Storm Fay had left its mark on the area in terms of flooded fields and parking lots but everything else looked ok to us.  We were just happy to be traveling around for a change.  Fay did try to ruin our time causing bands of rain and some thunderstorms but she didn’t win.  We had a great time!

Our first stop, after checking in at the Lemon Tree Inn near the historic downtown section of Naples, was the beach at the end of 5th Street S.  The waves were fierce, ending in a froth along the shoreline.  The wind was actually carrying some of the foam up the beach.  Some foam smashed into my younger son’s leg which totally grossed him out.  Seaweed, foam and some small shells littered the beach.  We decided after 15 minutes to explore elsewhere so we headed to San Marco.  We drove around looking at the town and decided to stop at the public beach.  We paid our $6 entry fee and it starting pouring.  There was another park we could visit on the same $6 so we drove there.  We drove through the rain to the spot with the blue sky above.  No foam, no seaweed this time…just shells.  We collected a full beach bucket before deciding to head back to the car.

Saturday we drove to Sanibel for some shelling at low tide.  Oh, I was in heaven!  This is what I remember post-hurricane beaches to look like.  I figured out that you found more if you dug a little.  There were top snails, ceriths, fighting conch and hawk-wing conch, shark eyes, tritons, nutmegs and tulip snails, spindle shells and welks, murex, lettered olives and Florida cones.  We found mossy arks and turkey wings, mussels galore. Scallops, jingle shells and really large cockle shells.  We filled the bucket several times.  And that was just Sanibel. 

We had lunch on Captiva, a quick swim and then headed back to stop at the shops.  The one shell I’ve been dying to find is the purple snail shell. I heard that is not just hard to find, but most likely to be found along the lower Florida Keys.  I don’t know when we’ll get there so when I found one in a shell shop, I bought it.  Is that cheating?  Well, if it is that’s ok…I’ve got one now.

Our last stop was the Sanibel Lighthouse.  Of course we hit the beach.  It was so full of oysters it stunk, but the wind was so strong it didn’t matter.  We collected some beautiful pen shells, and an unbroken Atlantic figsnail.

Before leaving on Sunday we made one last stop to the end of 5th Street S for a walk to the pier.  I added to my collection a handful of painted egg cockles and the flat valve of a orange round-rib scallop shell. 

Someone I met while shelling on Sanibel told me she hadn’t seen this many shells in a long time.  She lives in Naples and beachcombs often, so I rest my case about great shelling after a tropical storm or hurricane.  I am, in no way, in a hurry for another storm, but I do enjoy the abundance of shells such storms provide.  Thanks Fay.