I have a basket of beach findings curated over many years, far and wide, I love to look over. Every treasure tells a story. Of its history and journey. And what it means to the person who uncovers it. For me beach combing, one of life’s simplest and free pleasures, shows me the uniqueness of pebbles and shells. That, like people, not one is the same. Suddenly seeing pebbles in one place the myriad hues of grey stand out. Who knew so many colours could exist outside of those fancy paint swatch cards? The smoothness. The roughness. How for some the granite really glints in the sun like precious gems. The joy of finding that stone that is kind of heart shaped and if, like your own heart, you choose to keep it or give it away. I gave my last one away, but will now be carefully guarding the latest replacement. That perfectly smooth oval pebble that has the potential of becoming a pretty painted paperweight or doorstop. A satisfying flat slate that makes the perfect skimming stone and with it the challenge to break your personal best record. For me a ‘9’ on Brean Downs beach in 2016.
Then there are the shells. Again so many types. Even in England alone. The excitement at finding a mussel shell whose two halves remain connected and the fragility of this mirroring the preciousness of our own personal connections. That pretty petrol iridescence of the inside of this common mussel shell. How that acts as a reminder to me not to judge someone by their ordinary looking outer shell and how great beauty lies inside of us all. The crab shell that has had its lifeblood pecked clean from the soaring seagulls overhead and a rogue random lonely claw poking menacingly atop the sand like some bizarre sandcastle flag. The great scallop shell that to this very day still holds all my earrings on my dressing table that I found as a small girl on a family holiday in Devon. The conch from more exotic climes that I can so clearly hear the swooshing of the sea in at my ear. A memory of my first holiday abroad, which, if I close my eyes I am transported back to that baking hot summer and broken attempts at speaking the language.
But the finest treasure of all for me is the prized sea glass. Smooth and translucent and worn by the sea’s constant caresses. I take this from the basket and rub it in my palm to calm me when I feel anxious, like a meditative crystal, or a Catholic praying on the rosary.
Another precious, less pretty, treasure was acquired from Portobello Beach in the summer of 2018 and brings me hope and positivity. It is a cockle shell with three barnacles clinging on for dear life - and now in death - demonstrating their sheer resilience. I look at this now in a time of great personal difficulties and draw strength from it, knowing that I too can cling on and come out the other side.
This tradition of beach combing, like all good traditions, has continued, and now my son aged eight accompanies me as we scour the shorelines in search of our booty to add to this basket like land locked pirates.
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