I’ve just returned from a week on Sanibel Island with my sisters where we walked the long sandy beach each morning with snowy egrets, herons, plovers and terns, eager to see what gifts the sea might bring. On Christmas Day, when the sun rose, we were greeted by a beach festooned with shells—whelks, periwinkles, starfish, sea urchins, crabs—all scattered across the sand awaiting the return of the tide. We watched as egrets and herons paced the shoreline, seagulls dropped shells to crack them open. Then the shellers arrived, tourists like us, in search of empty shells we could take home as souvenirs.
In the midst of all this, we watched a mother from India with her young daughter and son wade thigh-deep into the sea. The daughter picked up a shell, peered inside, shrieked, “it’s alive!” She’d found a shell inhabited by a hermit crab, its legs scrambling in the air. Not wanting to spoil her delight, we refrained from asking her to return the shell and the crab to the sea, but held our breath until she did, then watched as she picked up another, and another, peered inside each one, exclaiming “it’s alive!” with a delighted grin, then releasing it.
Of course I’m reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, which was written nearby on Captiva Island sixty years ago in March. I first read it when I was in high school, but try to re-read it every decade. She focuses on one shell in each chapter, exploring it as a metaphor for the stages in a woman’s life: Moon Shell for solitude, Double-Sunrise Shell for relationships, Oyster for growing old, among others.
As we watched the delight of the young girl on finding live shells—mixed with the delight of the tourists finding dead shells and the seagulls dropping shells to crack them open—I’m reminded of the many forms gifts can take.
Now that the holidays are over, I hope you’ll reflect on an unlikely gift you received, one you didn’t expect, one that delighted you. I hope you might be inspired to read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea if you haven’t already—or re-read it if you have.
I’ll be writing more about that morning and hope you’ll join me. Here’s a poem by Eleanor Lerman that begins with a description of a fisherman’s account of seeing starfish and is a beautiful reminder of gratitude as we enter a new year together: “Starfish”
With gratitude for gifts in whatever form they take,