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Posts Tagged ‘shells’

    Angelica sat upon the large, dark, damp circle not too far from the water’s edge. She had expected to wade into the water to find the glistening treasure box of shells again, but here they all were, gathered strangely and almost dry, as if waiting for her to come and sit quietly, to seek and sort and sift. This time, the sun did not sparkle onto the tiny jewels, bringing out of them the radiant fire of colour and the sparkling illusion of life. The sky was grey, a reflection of her own dimly lit soul, for she had just learned that she was very sick again and fat drops of rain threatened to fall in the place of the self-pitying tears she refused to cry.

    The tiny shells, thousands of them, formed a cushion around and beneath her. She unclasped the silver chain around her neck, with its shiny Friendship Tree medallion, diamond butterfly, sparkly pink rose and the long dragonfly charm set with small square pink stones, all reminding her of the dear friends who had so often been within arm’s reach, those she cherished the most. But today she sat on the beach alone, searching for those shells that were special, pretty and strong enough to be threaded onto her silver chain.

    ‘When I am trying to recover, to beat this illness again,’ she explained to herself, ‘this will be my way of keeping the ocean close to my heart, giving me life and strength.’ She knew that it would be a very long time before she would be well enough to dive again beneath the nearby pier that seemed now to fade into a distant fog before her. ‘No, I will not be here with you,’ she sighed to the ocean, ‘So I must take part of you there with me,’ and she searched and sorted and selected those tiny, treasured trinkets that would carry all the fullness of the ocean inside them around her neck.

    ‘Did you think I wouldn’t come?’ a sweet voice spoke softly behind her. And looking up she saw the beautiful girl in the flowing red dress move like a dream towards her, an unexpected sadness in her eyes. The girl was older than she had ever been before, full of elegance, grace and understanding that had somehow come through transcending all the trials and suffering of the past. ‘How she inspires me,’ Angelica breathed, rather than whispered, and instinctively she held out the silver chain, asking the girl to ‘Choose’. Carefully the girl with rubies for eyes perused the small collection on the chain and selected a pearly shell with a soft pink hue.

    ‘I will take this one to remember you by,’ the beautiful girl smiled, ‘But in its place, you must take these two.’ And she threaded onto the chain a long, dark spiralled shell and one that was tiny and almost perfectly round, like a child’s plastic bead. ‘The first,’ she explained, ‘reminds you that your path will be dark and windy, but that you will never, ever walk it alone. The second – ‘, she paused, as though hesitating to find the words, ‘will remind you that life is simpler than we sometimes think, and that when you see it through the eyes of a child, you realise that there is nothing to be feared.’

    A magic breeze blew gently across the water and up onto the shell-strewn circle, and with it the girl in the red dress carrying the scent of roses vanished and Angelica’s most magical friend, the white haired boy, appeared. ‘Please give me that shell there,’ he pointed to the chain, ‘For it is small but very strong, the same colour as my hair. And in its place, I leave you this – ‘, his eyes threatened to swell with rain, and indeed at that moment, a cold rain began to fall steadily and the boy in the long blue cloak dissolved from sight. Angelica looked down into the palm of her hand where he seemed to have placed an intricately folded note on pale blue paper.

    Her first instinct was to open it, to see what magical words would be written inside, but then she knew without doubt that this paper must never be unfolded. Standing carefully, for it pained her now to lift her body up from the dark, shell-encrusted circle on which she sat, she moved with all the courage she could muster down towards the water’s edge where she sent the tiny paper boat out on its unfathomable journey. She watched as it bobbed, threatening to be overcome by the smallest wave, then surfaced again to travel the length of the misty pier, almost disappearing from view.

    ‘What’s that?’ she heard the smallest voice beside her, then felt a tiny hand reaching up to hold her own. Here was a child she had never seen before. A true child – maybe five years old, with long dark hair and kind, mischievous eyes – not just a child in spirit. ‘I’m Autumn,’ the child explained, and as she spoke, her words smelled like the sweetest rain and falling leaves. ‘You are very sick and I have come to bring you joy.’ And despite the pain that gnawed at her body like a towel being wrung dry between one’s hands, Angelica reached down and lifted the child high into her arms, and they squeezed one another tightly that they might give each other strength that would last each of them their lifetimes.

    Setting her gently down again, their eyes locked them deeply together into tiny waves of laughter, like the ones that carried the paper boat off into its happy journey. Hand in hand, Angelica and Autumn ran from the water’s edge, the sound of the shells dangling around Angelica’s neck chiming like the ice in a sweet summer’s drink. Together they skipped away, away, up onto a rolling green hill where they collapsed together in a delightfully messy pile of the sweetest giggles. Angelica wrapped her arms around the child, feeling the strong, young heartbeat pounding blissfully against her own. Yes, she was tired and sick, and when she closed her eyes, she could almost believe that right now she was just a step or two from heaven.

    Angelica sighed, breathing in the crisp Autumn air, the nearby sea breeze and every sign that, at this very moment, she was still quite fully alive. It would be many months before she would be strong enough to return to the water’s edge, to search once more for tiny shells or to slide again beneath the long, misty pier like a bright fish, full of energy and possibilities. But for now, this one moment of life was enough, and she would take it like the shells around her neck with her into whatever the next moment might hold. She felt herself float and disappear like the tiny blue paper boat. It was no longer within her view, but she knew that it was still on its adventure into unknown waters and she determined, with everything within her, to see her voyage through to its mysterious, unknowable end.

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Christmas lunch is finished, and after an indulgence-induced nap, several of our party decide to take three dogs – my beloved Golden Twins and one rather portly King Charles Cavalier – for a drive to walk along Flinders Beach. Usually, I am diving under this beach’s ancient wooden pier, making photographs of weedy sea dragons, small schools of fish and the occasional nudibranch or eagle ray. Now I find myself walking along the shore in a flowing pink dress and my best pair of heeled shoes, entirely inappropriate for such spontaneity. I remove the shoes and feel myself sink slightly into the weed-strewn sand as it presses into my soft bare soles.

Three men – my boyfriend, along with his brother and his brother’s friend – are some way ahead of me, hurling tennis balls far into the ocean for the boldest dog to retrieve. They move further and further ahead of me down the shore, and I am quietly delighted by the slowness of their pace. Steadily, I’ve begun to focus my attention on collecting shiny specimens from the hundreds of tiny shells washed up on the shore, some rocking and spinning with the tide’s ebb and flow in the shallows. I know I will need many minutes – and possibly several fixated hours – to sort and sift through them all. This ocean is the quintessential Australian Christmas tree, the late afternoon sun bouncing and glistening across the water’s surface like fairy lights gleaming off garlands of blue and silver tinsel. A thin veil of the smallest shells sparkling in the water, then just beyond its lapping reach, is now a sand-bottomed box of bright, festive baubles, each more fragile than glass.

I am absorbed, filling my hands – then my pockets – with shells no bigger than my smallest fingernail. Many are as common as snail shells – cream, green and orange. Others are small, elongated cones, covered tip to tip in tiny brown checkerboards. Of course, the shells I am searching for against all hope are any shade of pink. While a few shells offer the smallest flecks of the coveted hue, so far only one, now buried amongst fifty or sixty others deep within my pocket, has caused the pink heart within me to pulse with delight.

When I glance up again quickly, the men and dogs have become little more than slow moving specks on the long expanse of sand, and after a few more steps, I find myself much relieved by their distance. I have stumbled upon an unexpected trove, a concentration of tiny treasures right at the water’s edge – literally thousands of them. I determine to work my way eagerly through this richly bejewelled tapestry of sand until the moment the men and dogs return. My eyes are dazzled by the pearlescent rainbow of tiny shell beads. My hands cannot move quickly enough to feel them all as the cool water washes over them: sharp, smooth, spiralled, flat, perfectly round, halves clasped together like fragile hearts, a jewellery maker’s drawer of bright beads spilled out onto a sandy workshop floor. Far too many shells to search through on my own to find the ones that will delight me the most – and soon there’s a dog pressing its wet nose against my hand. The men have almost returned.

“Time to head back,” my beloved commands across the sand. Such are the subtle moments that threaten to destroy the soul. “But look at all these shells! I could honestly do this for hours.” And as all three men have now returned within a few steps of where I crouch barefoot in the shallows, I extend myself to buy more time to secure more of the most precious tiny ornaments. “Before we head in, would you please each find me one special shell as a final Christmas gift?” Sensing they will not get me back to the car before obliging my request, three new sets of eyes turn towards the sand and the next stage of the treasure hunt begins. “Do you have this one?” my boyfriend asks, tendering a green snail shell. “Yes, but I wanted another.” He heads off again in search of something unique and he finds it – a sharp, narrow shell like a long pearly fingernail.

“Here’s a nice brown one,” his brother declares. He is not in the mood for shells. His quickly chosen offering matches ten or eleven already in my pocket. There is nothing inspiring about it at all, but I thank him for his gift. By now, the third man has retreated far down the beach. He bends every few steps to select yet another sun-kissed gem. His large hands full, he reluctantly turns to walk the treasure-littered expanse of sand back in my direction. “Do I have to pick just one? I’ve found so many!” And not content to just pour his collection into my waiting hands, he goes through maybe ten or fifteen or twenty tiny jewels, one by one. “Look at this one – it’s magnificent! The colours on that one are just outstanding. These checkerboard shells look hand-painted. And some of these could almost be pearls.” His delight delights me more than any of the shells he is now describing with the most intense child-like wonder.

It’s getting late and, while the slowly setting sun evokes sadness that the hunt for Christmas shells must draw to a close, my pockets and hands are full to overflowing. Three wet dogs pant beside me as we make our way back to the car. How long since I have gathered shells as though there was nothing more blissful to do in all the world? How long since I have walked barefoot along a stretch of sand without so much as wondering what treasures might lie deep in the water underneath the adjacent pier? To my surprise, I cannot remember doing either of these things – any time at all – in my adult life. My most recent memory of such pleasure is of myself as a child, wearing pink shorts and a straw hat too big for my head, in awe at discovering the large spiralled shell of a paper nautilus, peeking like an enormous pearl from under a piece of driftwood. Now as I empty hundreds of tiny shells from my pockets into a small cloth bag, I promise that I shall return like a child to this magical stretch of sand to collect more tiny, shiny treasures. Soon.

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