Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Searching for Sand Dollars

I stride the beach, pausing every so often to bend and pick up a shell. Curling and whispering on the sand about my feet, slow swells of green water roll, a rhythmic pulse.

A gathering of gulls shriek and complain, no doubt wishing for an ocean stir to rough things up and slap a few fish onshore for supper.

In pink sundresses and floppy hats, two little girls crouch on their haunches, tiny fingers reaching for black ridged scallops and yellow jingle shells. An Amish woman, her hair covered in a white gauze cap, gathers the long skirts of her modest rose dress. She stops, leans closer for a better look, and selects a brown-striped turkey-wing.

Whether a leathery gent with an imposing paunch, a lithe blond in a turquoise bikini, or a well-browned matron, gold bracelets jangling, we walk the shore, hands cupped around shells, entranced by the variety of nature’s designs. We pluck them up, spiraled and curved, pottery-thick, ice-brittle, in shades from gray to vivid orange with squiggles.

Sand dollars are best. Bleached clay-white, etched with a star, they are fragile, so easily broken. It is rare to find one intact on the beach. And so, we hunters head for the water. Wading thigh-deep, the beer-bellied, bikini-clad, and sun-hatted hunch, peering through rippling water.

As I toe the sand, sifting, sending out smoky plumes, braids of gold sunlight waver. A school of silver fish flash around my feet. And I notice the absence of thought. Searching for sand dollars seems purpose enough to clear my head of its usual spin.

Squinting, I scan for the elusive disks. There? No, it’s a shell. There? No, it’s another shell. So it goes. Purpose enough.

I slosh back to the beach empty-handed, but grateful for the warm sun and wide blue sky feathered with light-hearted streaks of jet trails.

A tall man, tan, perhaps European, with dark hair and white teeth strides purposefully toward me. He holds out his hand and says, “For you. A gift. I found it in the sea.”

A sand dollar.

I beam my thanks. He smiles and walks away.

Sand dollars. A kind gesture. Purpose enough.

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