Friday, January 13, 2012

Mining For Shells

As soon as the construction crew opened up the beach, the throngs of people were soon on it. Temperatures in the upper 70's certainly played a part. The main draw to the beach seems to be looking for sea shells. With the new sand mined from the ocean floor ten miles from shore spread on top of the old sand, there were plenty of shells to be had. They littered the surface of the sand and were much larger and better preserved specimens than the ones I normally find along the shore. But with hordes of people, they quickly disappeared.

Then my parents while out walking on the beach made a discovery. If you kicked at any foreign glint that you see in the sand, 9 times out of 10 when you kicked it you turned out to be an entire shell just 99% buried in the sand. They soon had a couple dozen large bivalve shells that the put out on the deck railing to dry. Soon this discovery seemed to pass through the throngs and you saw everyone walking along turning over sand with their toes. The members of our group soon had a fair collection of shells in 'mint' condition, more than I've ever seen in my lifetime.

I decided to join in on the fun and kicked two shells out of the sand before I made my discovery. On the third shell I turned over with my foot, I felt the resistance of another shell beneath the one I had just freed from the sand. I kicked the second shell out of the sand only to feel a third. Two hours later, I finally quit digging in that spot after wearing my finger tips bloody on one hand from digging in the sand and had a huge bag of the nicest shells I have ever seen. The entire time I was digging, I saw people eyeing my progress and growing pile of shells on the sand and by the time I left, people were showing up on the beach with shovels and buckets digging here and there. In fact, even before I had cleared the dune in front of our bungalow, one of these couples with buckets and shovels would be in the middle of my hole digging where I had left off and would continue to dig there for the next five hours.

The next morning, my daughter who had helped me the day before wanted to go out digging for more shelves so after securing larger bags and wooden utensils from the kitchen drawers to save our hands from further damages, we started digging for shells here and there on the beach. Despite looking in several different places, I never found shells in any density like I had in my shell mine from the day before. So we walked over the the now vacated mine that was now a hole eight feet diameter and 18 inches deep, and started poking around the edges. Soon I was onto the shells and with the help of my daughter and grandpa, we mined shells for another couple hours and had several more large bags full of them. It took me several hours to clean them all and lay them out to dry on the deck of our bungalow.

This time, people all over the place were digging here and there and about a half hour after I started digging, the couple I saw in my mine from the day before showed up again with their bucket and shovels. They walked up to it, eyed our progress and large pile of shells, and asked if we were finding lots of shells. It was obvious we were so I couldn't help but respond that we were finding a few when it was obvious we had a lot more than that. The dug nearby, closer than is really probably considered polite, and then went on down the beach after not finding a lode as rich as mine.

A little bit later a Chinese lady and her daughter came up, hopped into the hole with me and started rummaging through my shells and tailings pile. She said something in her language, showed me a small shell that I had discarded in the tailings pile and walked off. A half hour later she brought back her husband, rummaged through my pile of shells again for awhile, gave me a thumbs up and walked off. I knew, from  having been to the far East that the culture 'distance' barriers between people are much smaller than what we here in the United States expect but my grandfather was getting a little ruffled in the feathers by the time she left. If she had tried to abscond with one of our shells, I'm sure my grandfather, newly replaced hip and all, would have been out of our mine in a flash and may or may not have been beating her on the head with a large shell.

When we had our bags loaded to capacity, we carried them back to the bungalow and spent hours cleaning, drying and bagging them. You can some of my share of the take below and a representative picture of the types of shells we were finding above.  As you can see, we were finding Alphabet Cones, Ear Moon, Slipper Shell, Nutmeg, Florida Cone, Spiny Jewel Box, Lettered Olive, Banded Tulip, Fighting Conch, True Tulip, Sozon's Cone, American Auger, Calico Scallops, Pecten Raveneli, Broad-Ribbed Cadita, Van Hyning's Cockle and Whelk shells. According to a lady who stopped to talk and was presumably local, she said after a beach rebuilding project is when the locals come out to shell hunt, especially after a heavy rain that exposes them. She also said that of the shells I found, the Whelk and Tulips were the rarest and the ones worth money.

I'm not sure yet what we are going to do with all our shells yet. I sent my daughter to school with a small representative sample of them and have spent some time searching websites to identify them. I expect we will buy a large glass container to put them in somewhere as a reminder of my shell mine I dug in December of '11 and maybe put a handful on the crapper tank lid. It seems like that is the most common thing to do with them, perhaps to give people pleasant memories while taking care of an unpleasant business.


R. Sherman said...

Sounds like a lot of fun, especially for your daughter.

What were the temps, BTW?


Michelle Goodrum said...

I had a similar experience on the florida beaches in december of 2006 or 7. Thanks for the fun memories.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - It was upper 60's for highs most of the week with the last couple days in the upper 70's. Beautiful. Last year during the same time period, the highs were only in the mid 50's the entire time and we had a low of 28 one night.

Michelle - It certainly be an experience I won't forget soon.

Vince said...

Oh, how lovely. We only get shells on our beaches after a very bad storm. You might get some artists varnish. It'll help with keeping the lustre.

sage said...

What a collection. Growing up on the sound, just across from an developed barrier island, we learned the best time to hunt for shells was right after a major storm!

Ed said...

Vince & Sage - The local I spoke with also said that after storms was a good time to go shelling but she also said that you were limited to creatures found out in the main ocean and which spent lots of time tumbling up the sand to reach the shore. She said you still missed out on the bay creatures, some represented in this post and the real mint condition shells. Regardless, if I find myself on a beach in the future, I'll probably still walk along the shore looking for shells just for the joy of walking along the shore looking for shells. Beats walking along the road looking at corn.