Went to the Pompano Beach Pier today. The ocean was calm and greenish-blue. I set up my chair a good distance from everyone and sat in the sun, but only for a few minutes. The sun was fierce. It felt like it was hovering fifty feet over my head, so I dived in the warm bathwater and swam around looking for seashells. My plan was to bring home a few handfuls and make sketches of the best ones, but I could tell right away there wasn’t much out there. The water was too calm. All the good ones had been claimed or got dragged out with the tide. Also, Pompano Beach isn’t the best place for shell-hunting. The best shells are on the west coast of Florida. The shells over here are usually ugly and misshapen, with ribs and leprosy bumps all over and pieces broken off. Or they’re just hunks of bleached coral rock that look like shells from afar. Still, when you find a good one – one that nature has taken a little more time with and maybe put a heart in – there’s something magical about it. It’s like finding an adder stone or the tarnhelm. You hold it in your palm and by observing it feel a strange energy coming through, something connecting you to the vast and mysterious sea – your place of origin – that incorruptible eon of the gods.
I swam close to shore for about a half hour in my search for shells, but only found a handful that were worth keeping and nothing spectacular.
Plato says we choose our lives before we are born, which I thought of as I came out of the water with my disappointing haul. Searching for shells on a beach not known for shells must be what it’s like in that realm of the underworld where the gods have strewn the lives we must choose from. Only an infinitesimally small portion of us gets truly and infinitely lucky with his or her life. As for the rest of us, we must settle for whatever’s lying on the seabed at the time of our search and do with it what we can, until the next time to choose comes along. Hopefully from a richer and not poorer shore.