Monday, January 13, 2020

The sound of the surf ~ my column from Sunday's paper

NOTE: I planted the seeds for this column in a post here last week.

This week I needed an idea for my column, so I went on a quest. As it turns out, I didn't have to venture too far. Inspiration was hiding in the old carved rosewood box on my dresser.

Hidden underneath some old pocket knives, political buttons, and mismatched cufflinks, there was a seashell the size of a thimble. I think it's called a ladder horn snell shell. Picking it up gently, I held it up and stepped closer to the light coming through the bedroom window to get a better look.

Timeshift – all of a sudden, I was shirtless, wearing cutoff fatigues, and combing the beaches in Panama in the fall of 1971. I was stationed at Ft. Sherman at the time.

An overnight storm in the Atlantic had washed up coconuts, mountains of seaweed, and teakwood from who knows where. There in the surf was the seashell. Sitting down, I analyzed the artifact as if it were a gemstone.

Instinctively, I held the tiny shell up to my ear to see if I could hear the ocean. Looking back, I realize how wacky that was. The ocean was close enough for the surf to wash sand up my shorts. There was no way I could have heard sounds coming from that shell.

This shell wasn't the first one I'd ever found. I'd been to Florida several times as a kid and found shells there. Also, one of my duty stations in the Army was near the New Jersey shore. On those beaches, you were more likely to find a pull-off tab from a can of Budweiser than a seashell, but I did find a few small ones that I kept as souvenirs.
Jilda and I spent New Year's Eve 1999 at the beach with friends. A storm before midnight sent torrents of vertical rain that lashed the windows. Palmetto and palms gyrated in the wind and scratched the side of the house as if they wanted inside. The power winked out, and we toasted the New Year by candlelight.

The next day, the tide was angry. On our morning stroll, we picked up bushels of shells.

It was a remarkable time. We still have many of those shells in baskets throughout our home.

During my years working for MaBell, I had opportunities to travel. The trips where I would be gone more than a day or two, Jilda went with me. We visited the sea in New England, Washington, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and California. We have shells from each of these places. We also have shells from when we vacationed in Ireland.

Back in the fall, I went through a time when I woke up at 3 a.m. It was as if an alarm went off somewhere. My eyes opened, and it took every trick in the book to fall back to sleep.

There's a conch shell on my nightstand. It's about the size of a baseball. One night when sleep would not come, I noticed something in the light from the digital alarm clock. Reaching over, I realized it was the shell. I had forgotten about it.

Quietly picking up the shell, I held it to my ear. After a few slow breaths, I could hear a gentle roar. After listening for a few minutes, I placed it back on the stand, and soon I was asleep.

There's probably a scientific explanation for that sound, but I prefer to think of it as the sound of the surf at the ocean.


  1. Jersey beaches are not much for shelling, but they are clean!

  2. How I miss the sound (and the scent) of the ocean.

  3. There is something about looking for shells that bring the kid out in us. It’s always nice to hear the sound coming from a shell.

  4. How wonderful you have shells form so many different places. Wheat good memories they are! I hae only the ones from Florida. My favorite place to be has always been the beach. Nothing so relaxing as watching the waves go in and out.

  5. YES the sea shells. If you are at a beach you MUST pick up one. NC beaches it is 'sand dollars'. I have mama's treasured 'horned shell' brought from the South Pacific by my brother in WWII. Mama treasured that shell.
    Enjoyed the read very good column!

  6. I can understand the sound of the conch lulling you to sleep. There is something so soothing about the sound of the waves. Even sitting on a riverbank can make me want a nap.

  7. My Mom brought home tons of sand dollars when she traveled to Florida. As a kid I always grabbed shells but the last time I was at the Oregon..I didn't find many shells. Yes, the sound of the waves is very soothing..even the waves trapped magically in your bedside sea shell!

  8. I know that feeling of being connected to the sea through shells, Rick. I left oodles of them at my last house for the new owner (my son) and know that he enjoys them much as I do.

    Happy shelling---Hugs- Diana

  9. I love watching the waves crash ashore


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