Dale and I have been home for almost a week, and while we love our home we sure do miss island life. We would begin our days early, just after sun up, dress quickly and traverse the sandy trails that lead to the beach. On the shore, we made our way south a couple of miles to the thatched-roof house, our breath synchronized to the sound of the waves washing ashore. Big breaths of salt-soaked air filling our lungs. Walking in stride with the shore birds digging for their breakfasts. We studied the surf for familiar shapes, and let go of everything else. We lived only in that moment. On our way back, tired and usually hungry, we would stop at a favorite spot along the beach for a lunch of fresh fish before returning to our room to rest and plan the remainder of our day.
This year we visited the CROW center for the first time, a place where local wildlife is rehabilitated and returned to the wild. It's sad to see what can happen when wildlife and men cross paths, but these folks are doing remarkable work and making a difference. We also added a visit to the Sanibel Library to our itinerary this year, after learning of the shell collection on exhibit. The collection was donated to the library and represents one woman's collection over a period of 40 years on the island, and it is spectacularly displayed in the windows at the entrance to the library. It was a little difficult to photograph, but I did manage to get a few decent pics:
Shell Collection at the Sanibel Library
Dale and I grew up in South Florida and met as teens during a summer job. We have been drawn back to Sanibel since my father introduced us to the island in 1974. As young parents, we began our own family tradition and returned each summer with our sons. There were times when we shelled alongside a stroller. Not an easy task, pushing a stroller through sand in that heat, and I asked Dale about it during one of our walks last week. Back then, he said he did it for me, but over time he has grown to love shelling too. And I believe our sons love the island and the memories we created there.
We have learned so much over the years about the island and the ins and outs of shelling it's beaches. The lighthouse beach is the place to go for wenteltraps. I knew they were there, but I never realized just how small they were. They are tiny and fragile, but you can usually find them in the wash near the lighthouse. One night after dinner at Gramma Dot's, I found a large one. On another night after dinner, a few of us from the artist retreat, Dale, Luis, Julie and I, ventured down to the lighthouse at sunset. It was low tide and there were quite a few shellers on the beach and they all had the same idea, wenteltraps. We did not find a wentelrap, but we did find plenty of other tiny shells, and before long we encountered bottlenosed dolphin fishing for their dinner off the shore. We later waded out onto the sandbars where we found an abundance of living shells and sea stars. Every day at the beach is different and you never know what you might discover. One morning, on our way back from shelling at a large shell pile 10 minutes from the Inn, Dale, Julie and myself were privy to a mating pair of manatees just feet from where we were standing. This ritual went on throughout the afternoon, much to the amazement of onlookers. Another morning while shelling, I encountered a fisherman who was excited to share with me a new turtle nest. The mother turtle had been seen off shore for a couple of days and the previous night she finally came ashore to make her nest.
A delicate little Angulate Wenteltrap found on Lighthouse Beach.
Luis, Catherine & Julie.
Sunset at Lighthouse Beach during low tide.
Last year, after we returned from Sanibel, I designed a couple of new collection boxes, and was so pleased with them that I decided to make one of them the subject of an artist retreat and workshop that was held this summer. It was my vision to share this island paradise and to create in a space on the edge of the earth, surrounded by sea, sand and sky, with other nature-minded souls. To rise with the sun each day, to shell and return to the studio to work simply with a few tools, paper and nontraditional materials such as shells, coconut fiber, gumbo limbo bark, surrounded by and inspired by the island's natural beauty. I was honored to have had this handful of artisans join me and share in my vision. And, Dale and I will be back again next year for another Sanibel Adventure!
Catherine's Collection box
Barefoot in our seaside studio.
Front to back and left to right, Shannon, Carol, Julie, and Rebecca.
No sooner did we say goodbye to our art friends, did son Ian arrive. We had not seen Ian, who is an NYU student, since last December and it was an emotional reunion for me. I was so happy for the opportunity to spend time with Ian and that special person in his life, Natalia. We took them biking, hiking and kayaking, and had some really extraordinary meals at Traditions on the Beach before they returned back to the city. I miss you two!
For the last couple of days of our visit, Dale and I were alone again. We awakened one morning to find that an entire bed of Giant Atlantic Cockle shells had washed ashore overnight. Every three feet or so, for nearly a mile, there was a matched set of cockles and hundreds of sea whips everywhere. I found two tiny little one-tooth simnia's attached to sea fans, and there were hundreds of pen shells many of which were housing live sea urchins. Due to some strong winds that we experienced coming from the west on the first few days of our visit, some of the larger shells that we generally find, eluded us. But we managed to find an alphabet cone, several Florida cones, the one-tooth simnias, a nice wenteltrap and even a piece of a Junonia on our last day. But it's as Anne Morrow Lindbergh has said in The Gift from the Sea, one cannot collect all the beautiful shells. One can collect only a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. We feel priviledged to have this longstanding history with Sanibel, and to have had the opportunity to be back on the island once again.
Thank you Dale for all of the many beautiful photos you took each day to memorialize our visit.
One of my treasured finds, a piece of heart shaped coral.
Shells we collected and displayed on a table outside of our room at Island Inn.
Catherine and Dale in island mode.
A couple of the many spectacular sunsets we enjoyed!