Seashells, Trees, and Accepting What Is

I spent the past weekend near the ocean in Wilmington, North Carolina. It’s a two-hour drive from our house, and we used to visit once or twice a year. It had been a few years since our last trip.
We hiked in Carolina Beach State Park for the first time and that was a lot of fun. We climbed massive live oaks (Quercus virginiana)! And that was even more fun! I grew up climbing trees and still do every chance I get. If I ever go missing, there’s a good chance you might find me sitting up in some tree branches.

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We drove to Wrightsville Beach and walked out on Johnny Mercer’s Pier–a beloved local landmark. The sun finally came out so we walked on the beach. There were a lot of people out. Young kids splashing in the water with parents nearby. Teenage girls lying out on towels, shivering but trying their best not to show it, lest they look uncool. College-agers playing sand games and drinking beer. Large families laughing and talking, grandmas wrapped up in blankets. Surfers, fisherpeople. Lots going on.

I stooped down to look for seashells, one of my favorite beach pastimes. After I carefully chose and gathered about twenty-five to thirty of the prettiest shells that washed up near me, we made our way back to the parking lot–our meter time was about to expire. 

IMG_9125I placed my treasured shells in a used coffee cup, and we went on our way to the next thing. Coffee and dessert, I’m sure.

I’ve written about collecting seashells and one of my all-time favorite books: Gift From the Sea. (You can find that post here.) In this classic meditation on women’s lives, Anne Morrow Lindberg muses about the real gifts that she takes home with her from her seaside vacation. It’s not the shells she has collected; she returns most of them to the sea before she leaves. Because, do we really need to collect and take more things home? No. She concludes, “It’s simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid.” What I understand that to mean is the acceptance of all of life, in all of its cycles. Or, as they say, warts and all. 

Back at the hotel, Chuck and I shared our first ever White Russian, compliments of the hotel bar. It was fairly strong, and we were glad to have only had half.

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It was a mostly rainy weekend, but not a loss. We hiked, we dined, we made it home safely to four adorable kitties. And I got reminded of an important lesson after throwing away the “empty” disposable coffee cup that held my seaside souvenirs–my collected and treasured seashells. I had completely forgotten about them being in the cup, which got thrown away on our return trip home. Now, I remember why I quit amassing large amounts of shells while on vacation. I don’t have to take things from where I observe them. I can enjoy them while I am in their presence, and then simply leave them be. I didn’t beat myself up too bad, but I wish those shells were still on the shore, instead of in a Circle K Gas Station trashcan. But I accept my blunders, the rain, the sunshine, all the cycles of life–warts and all. 

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March 2019, Wilmington NC


52 thoughts on “Seashells, Trees, and Accepting What Is

  1. I can relate! I came to the conclusion long ago that what I was wanting when I gathered up all those shells from the beach, was to take home the smells, the air, the sand, the weather the experience of being there where the land and sea meet…. secretly I’m a mermaid – or a gypsy – or both….. When I had that aha moment, in my memory it happened as I stooped to load more into my already bulging pockets but may just as well have happened when I looked at the mass of my collection and it brought me no joy for it had died away from its natural environment, it changed how I looked at my beachcombing activities and now I just walk and smell and feel and be and bring that home with me.. So yes, I can relate! Love the selfie of you and Chuck – it is nice to see you out and about and looking so happy. And also up a tree. I used to climb trees, now I am not so nimble, I just pet them and chat now ❤

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    1. I think you could be both gypsy and mermaid, Pauline! I agree, we want all that the shells stand for. And they are wonderful reminders of the beach and our experiences there. Thanks about the selfie:) I’m trying to get more comfortable able sharing pictures of myself. I take the worst photos—especially selfies! 🤣 Although I loved the tree photos; I had no idea Chuck was taking those. Climbing, petting, chatting: I love my trees! I can talk a tree’s ears off, if that’s possible!!

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  2. I have really enjoyed how you wrote this. And thanks for including the photos! The way you wrote this reminds me of what I enjoyed most when I worked as a reporter at a small newspaper after college, writing feature stories, capturing moments and events in words and images. It seems like you had quite an interesting weekend!

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    1. Thanks so much, Paul! The photos are hard for me, as I explained to Pauline above. I’ve never liked sharing photos of me, but I’m getting better about it. Plus, the tree pics were candid, and well, I’m posing with trees! 😊 We had a great weekend.

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  3. A fellow tree climber! I knew I liked you! 🙂 Looks and sounds like a great weekend away; sometimes the good ones don’t have a lot of activities you feel you have to do or “stuff” coming home, just a mellow time in different surroundings together. (Love that Blue Devil t-shirt also!)

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  4. Oh such a lovely adventure! I have walked those paths many times. Once when my beagle got lost in Carolina Beach State Park. OOPS! We had quite the adventure that day as she loved to explore! We used to live in Wilmington and took advantage of the beach often. I find that the best souvenirs are the memories. Thank you for sharing yours.

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    1. I love that: The best souvenirs are the memories. 🙂 It’s a nice walk through there with many different ecosystems. I definitely want to go back. It must’ve been fun to live so near the beach. But now it’s pretty crowded and busy. Still wonderful, though. Thanks for reading, Lisa!

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  5. My husband will not stop collecting shells. It’s adorable but I’m not sure where we’re going to put them. I worried on a recent trip home from Florida that our checked bags were not going to make the connecting flight and he said, “Don’t worry. I put my shells in my carry-on.” I love this post and especially the tree climbing photos.

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  6. Sweet! Lots of lessons in this post. Glad you guys got to get away. I am not familiar with that park, will have to check it out next time I’m in those parts. I love that you got to hug and climb some trees!!! And oh, white Russians. Hello, 21st birthday, or what I remember of it. 😉 Collecting seashells takes me way back to some of my earliest memories, with my grandmother. I violated the “take only photos, leave only footprints” edict and brought back many of the shells I found in India last month, creatures for sure not included. Now what to do with them …

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    1. It’s a nice park! And a better hike than we even thought it would be. We saw lots of birds. The pitcher plants weren’t up yet, or at least we didn’t see them. Beautiful trees!
      It’s hard not to take the seashells, especially the special ones that speak to us. I love brown seashells!
      I want to hear all about India, and be prepared to tell me about the White Russian experience, too! 🤣 🥂

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  7. LOVE.LOVE.LOVE!! And ALSO disappointed because I TOO was in the NC coast this weekend!! My parents live near Southport, NC. I’ve been caring for my father (you read that last post!!) and been traveling back and forth b/w Raleigh and NC coast every 2-3 days for the past MONTH. And on my way there I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS take a stop in Wilmington, by the Battleship. I walk/RUN over the bridge into downtown. I mediated/yoga by the waters edge, then make my way back to my car to drive the remaining 20min to my dad. I am there ALL THE TIME these days. He and I walked along Holden Beach Last week during a particularly windy/cold evening. I collected shells, we tried to wait for the sunset but I..WAS..FREEZING!! So I took the shells home and placed them in my parents porch. SALT WATER = SANITY…. so glad you were able to appreciate it 🙂 But HOLLA at me next time you there!! Like I said..I’m there ALL THE TIME these days!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Stacy! It’s such a peaceful, beautiful place. I’m glad you get to spend so much time with your parents, but I’m also glad you have a pause place, too. That’s important. It gets tiring driving so much, but that’s really not too bad of a drive. We usually head for the mountains when we go out of town, but we need to get to the coast more, especially in spring and autumn. I’ll let you know if we go! 🙂

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  8. It looks and sounds like you had a grand day! I envy the warmth you were able to enjoy in March (while the snow is still piling up outside my window). It was fun to partake of your adventure and also recall the bottles of seashells I’ve collected so long ago but no longer recall exactly where they were from. I, too, enjoyed Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book and your insights on acceptance. That in itself is a huge gift.

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    1. Thank you! It was a lot of fun. Your comment gave me pause to think. We collect things to remember the experience, but the experience itself is what we remember, not the things we collect. Or where we got them. I’m a nostalgic collector of insignificant (probably not the right word, maybe: seemingly insignificant) things, but I wonder how much lighter I would feel without them. Something for me to think about!

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      1. I do find that as time goes by not only can I not recall where a seemingly beloved collectible came from, but that my attachment to it has also lessened. Perhaps that is the natural evolution of aging because it will be easier to let go of these things when the time comes to downsize. 🙂

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  9. Wow, I was thinking about that when you wrote that you took 25 or 30 (or whatever). Even the “junky” ones haha can turn into sand, I thought to myself. NOT THAT I HAVEN’T DONE PLENTY OF THIS STUFF MYSELF and, in fact, used to have a shell collection as a kid that I still own and keep in boxes under the bed!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So I am indicting myself more than anyone!!!!!!!!!! And one of my poems in Doll God mentions collecting from nature . . . . But the poem is about loss and collections don’t make up for loss, do they? LOVE the tree climbing!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! XOXO

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  10. It sounds like a wonderful relaxing weekend Cheryl. I can’t help collecting shells and pebbles, I have jars of them at home and it’s true, we want to take a memory of a time and place with us, yet I couldn’t now tell you which shells came from where or when!

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  11. Do you know, I still have seashells – and sea glass, another big fave – from the shore when I was five? I’ve accumulated some since, but have tried not to bring home any more unless I spot some special little beauty. Maybe like a conch shell, we can hear the ocean when we have a shell in our hand, always so soothing. Glad you had such a nice weekend.

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    1. Thank you! And how wonderful you have something to go with your special childhood memories. I think it’s great to collect or gather things that make us happy, as long as we don’t start collecting too much and lose the magic of it all. (Except for books! Haha! I will never stop collecting books, even though it sometimes brings me stress! How will I ever read them all?)

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      1. Book Heaven is right. It’s hard not to come back home with 20-30 books and only have spent $20 (That’s Sunday). Everything is divided up by genre, so they’re easy to find. You spend a little time in Fiction because they’ve divided it by author, A-F and G-L, etc. But they have cookbooks, kids’ books, science fiction, you name it. And all nicely arranged on tables and shelves above with cartons underneath, and the Friends of the Library people wandering around to answer your questions, help you find things, etc. You bring your own canvas bags, and they accept any form of payment. And it helps support our county library system!
        Should you actually want to do a road trip, let me know and I’ll direct you to nice B`n B’s, etc. On this side of the state are also located all the river towns, right near the Delaware.
        Sorry to go on and on … but it is really cool. 🙂

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  12. A lovely trip, and excellent point! Blondie loves gathering rocks from the beach, but then the rocks just end up littered about her room to get stepped on, fall onto other things, etc. Collecting’s a joy, but maybe collect them in that moment and then leave them for another little soul to find, you know?

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  13. Lovely post and lovely place! I have a collection of pebbles and shells which I’ve built up over the years and which are very special to me and are displayed with love, and at least I can say I’ve put them into use for paintings, but now I leave these gems lying when I visit beaches with a different philosophy altogether – leave them lying as nature intended :>)

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    1. It’s nice to bring nature inside to rewild our lives and homes a bit. I treasure the feathers, stones, and shells that adorn my desk, altars, and windowsills. I, too, am more discriminate now, and leave much lying where I found it. “Much” because I still bring a thing or two in that makes me smile. 🙂

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