I only had this last morning to look for shells, as we were leaving in the afternoon. So I grabbed my bucket and shovel and dashed out at first light, leaving my sweet little family still sleeping. This time I decided to wander as far as I could down one side of the beach to where there was an alcove. Careful to heed the warning signs about swimming there, I was walking knee-deep in water when the smooth sand suddenly shifted and gave way to hard rock, cutting deep into my feet. But then the tide receded and I noticed what looked to be the perfectly spiraled top of a conch shell peeking up out of the midst of the white rocks. I had never seen a conch shell in the water before so I was not entirely sure. It was as if the ocean had lifted her mysterious veil for a moment, allowing me a glance at some of her secrets. As I knelt to investigate, a harsh wave of salty sea knocked me over. Emerging sputtering and fumbling around through stinging eyes, I realized with complete shock that the “rocks” were actually deeply embedded conchs!!! But the sea was not going to simply relinquish her treasures that easily. Learning her dance, I worked for hours in time with the rhythmic waves, digging when I could with part of a sharp piece of shell. Laboriously I freed big, fully intact conchs from their hiding place beneath the sand and sea. My husband had awakened at some point and came to inform me we would be leaving for the airport in just two hours. “OK,” I said, not even looking up. I paused in my quest long enough to go up to the closest beach bar and ask for a “grand bolsa,” hoping they’d gotten my meaning. Grinning broadly, a man produced an enormous clear, strong bag that would be perfect for hauling back my treasures. By now I had drawn a small crowd and everyone was digging around in my spot! Inwardly grinding my teeth and sighing, I tried to remind myself I held no claim over the ocean. And the sea was gracious enough to reveal her some of her gifts to me after a week of searching. I figured I was destined to find the ones I did and to just be thankful. Knowing I had to go anyway, I had been guarding my big trash sack full of conchs like a wolf hovering over a pile of bones. Hating to leave, I went to lift them but they would not budge — AT ALL. I saw a strong looking man passing several feet above me and hollered, “Señor? Señor? Por favor?” praying he would stop. He saw what I was trying to do and very gallantly went to lift my bag. Like a woman whose dress had just been stepped on from behind, he started to walk and was literally halted midstep. I saw his eyes widen and feared he might relinquish his silent agreement to help. Instead he tucked his head down and resolutely dragged the huge sack up the cliff. Once we were on top of level beach again I gave him my best smile mixed with a hopeful, pleading look and pointed at the slightly far off distance to our hotel. The wonderful Mexican man lugged the incredibly heavy bag all the way back to where the beach boys all stood together staring. Trailing along beside him, I just kept saying, “GRACIOUS!” over and over, hoping he knew how grateful I was. As fate would have it, Burk appeared (no doubt to remind me of the time) and the exhausted man slung the sack at my husband’s feet, giving him a look I interpreted to mean, “good luck.” Looking down at the giant bag in horror, my beloved proclaimed, “Baby Doll you can’t bring all this back and we have to go.” Realizing I probably looked crazed, I informed him I was NOT leaving without them. I had seaweed in my hair and smelled sort of fishy. The hubs tactfully suggested perhaps I should shower before we left. I sensed he was about to chime the time to me again so I sweetly asked him to just please carefully bring my seashells into our room and I would start the shower. Then I pulled one out of Mama’s playbook: I sent my husband on an “errand” to get him out. One by one I removed my precious treasure and, with a hint of melancholy, rinsed all the sand away that had bound them to the sea. This is a picture of most of them drying on the shower bench. Scaring the wits out of me, the hubs reappeared and hollered the time at me through the bathroom door like a deranged cuckoo clock. Half-heartedly picking the more obvious strands of seaweed out of my straggly, ocean scented hair, I threw my clothes in with my husband’s. That freed my luggage for packing my priceless pieces from the sea. The Canadian author and speaker Tom Wujec said:
“The word ‘question’ originates from the Latin root, quaestio, which means ‘to seek.’ Inside the word ‘question’ is the word ‘quest,’ suggesting that within every question is an adventure, a pursuit which can lead us to hidden treasure.”
This trip began with a question when I sought to see if they had any shells on the beach. Despite assurances to the contrary, I pursued my quest and was lucky enough to have an adventure that would uncover the best hidden treasure of seashells I had ever encountered. I had hit the mother lode.