Captiva Island, on Florida’s gulf coast, is known as a great place for shelling. I imagined big intact shells of all shapes and sizes and easy picking after the tide rolled out. Maybe that happens in certain places or seasons, or maybe knowledgeable locals scoop up the big ones before tourists roll out of bed. I don’t know. Instead, we found gazillions of small but intact shells in shades of pink, corral, gray and pearly-white spread over miles of sand. En masse, they were stunning.
I was especially fascinated by the miniature creatures washing up on shore with each roll of the surf. At first I thought they were tiny stones in a beautiful array of colors — orangey-corral, peachy-pink, lavender, grey, even yellow. But they were very much alive. As soon as the wave receded they burrowed in like mad, leaving a tell-tale hole on the seamless surface of wet sand. Meanwhile, an unending parade of small birds peck-peck-pecked away at this feast, waves lapping at their spindly legs.
Nonetheless, we continued to look for big flashy seashells. We combed the beach morning and afternoon, hoping for a lucky break. Nada. Mile after mile, only fragments of larger shells and many more millions of small shells. Until one morning, as I walked and prayed. “God, my sister really wants a nice seashell to commemorate this trip. Would you toss one up for her?” A few moments later, I caught sight of a fairly large shell coasting through the surf. I lunged, plunged and snagged it. Perfectly intact.
Well, that was easy, I thought, as I handed it off to my sister. No big deal to the God of the universe. I’ll try again. “One more, Lord?” But then, don’t we always want just one more?
As it turned out, there was one more, also perfectly intact. I found it upside down in the tide-line, tangled up in seashells and seagrass. It was a beautiful burnished copper color but looked like an old man of the sea, covered in crusty barnacles and green moss. Inside was a snail, startling me in his emergence. I couldn’t resist closer observation. I swooshed him in the surf to get a better look. “I don’t think he likes that” she said, as he ventured out of his shell again. I dropped him in surprise whereby she, most compassionate, scooped him up and tossed him back into the sea before I could protest.
Maybe we are the only two people on this planet who will ever lay eyes on this fellow? Indeed, there’s an amazing array of beauty in our universe, most of which most of us will never see and some of which none of us will ever see. The beauty of this place — from the highest heavenliness to the intimacy of a single seashell — speaks to me as a powerful testament to our Creator.
Praise the Lord, O heavens! Praise him from the skies! Praise him, all his angels, all the armies of heaven. Praise him, sun and moon and all you twinkling stars. Praise him, skies above. Praise him, vapors high above the clouds. … Let everything he has made give praise to him. And praise him down here on earth, you creatures of the ocean depths. ... For he alone is worthy. His glory is far greater than all of earth and heaven. Hallelujah! Yes, praise the Lord! (Psalm 148)
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. (Psalm 19:1-4)
~ René Morley