The morning after Tropical Storm Andrea blew through, we rushed out to see what the Gulf of Mexico had deposited on the beach where we are vacationing. An ecological disturbance like that provides a rare, fleeting opportunity to find a bounty of sea life and new shells washed ashore. We got out early because we knew the beach would be crawling with other explorers picking over the seashells, just like we planned to do.
Yesterday, and most days here at Anna Maria, the beach is a smooth expanse of white sand dotted with coquina shells, calico scallops, jingles, and venus clams. But this morning when we stepped onto the wet sand, purple plastic beach bucket in hand, the shells on the beach were so abundant, they hurt our feet to walk on them. They glistened, wet with sea water, like pale pink pearls and polished ivory. Barnacle-encrusted pen shells – intact bivalve husks eight inches long and shaped like mussels, brown on the outside, but deep pearly purple on the inside where the mollusk once lived – were as plentiful as calico scallops usually are. Racks of turtle grass clumped in piles where the Gulf pushed them ashore. We saw a family, each child with a starfish in one hand and a stick in the other. They squatted on their haunches and used the sticks to pull piles of turtle grass apart, searching for tiny treasures in the rich mats. We followed their lead and grabbed pen shells to pick through the grass. We found sea urchins, sea whips (soft corals in purple and red), Sargassum weed, seas sponges, sea pork, tiny crabs, and egg casings of whelks and conchs. And scallop,s and cockles, and hermit crabs, and some kind of lavender-gray blob that looked like a snail who had lost her shell.
Every two steps on our walk one of us would exclaim, “Look at that shell!” or “What is that thing?” Our daughter counted 41 sea urchins on our quarter mile walk, and she was too overwhelmed by the abundance of sea shells to pick many out for collection. Vibrant orange shards of calico crab shell, spotted like leopard skin, jumped out in the sea of soft pink, and so she collected several crab carapaces. The beach crawled with curious collectors and kids with fists full of shells.
I’m not sure what the beach will look like tomorrow. The waves have gone down. Whereas the landscape yesterday was painted in gray and whiteand jade green, with hardly a shell to be found because waves washed all the way up to the dunes, the scene today is one of a sunny, subtropical, Florida Gulf beach. The sky is cornflower blue, the clouds are cotton white. The Gulf is a milky jade, the land is palm green, and the beach stretches in white, tan, sea grass, and a thousand shades of shell pink. Tomorrow, the scene may be completely different. The Gulf may recapture all its treasures with the next high tide, or shore birds may devour the urchins and sea stars and crabs, or perhaps there will be a fresh crop of sea life tossed ashore. Whatever tomorrow brings, we will be there with our buckets to explore it, in all its fleeting glory.
This is my entry for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting. I apologize if the photo quality is lower than usual. I forgot my real camera, so these photos were taken with my phone. My laptop screen is also not great, so I couldn’t see the color very well when I edited. Hopefully I don’t get home and see that these are terrible.