Nature’s Broken Gifts

Feb 20, 2016 by

They come rushing, tumbling out of the briny water, crashing over one another. They settle, broken and imperfect, in piles on the sand. Many people take their morning power walk, crunching them underfoot. Others, like me, find the therapy in their presence.






I could do this for hours: hunting for shells. I find a nearly inexplicable pleasure from the task of meandering down the beach, eyes strained on the ground before and around me, desperately hoping for a treasure.

The more I hunt for shells, the better it gets. With each passing minute, and eventually, hour, the more I enjoy the process, the more my skills – if you can call them that – are honed. I liken the process to some learning I have done in optometry school: cortical adaptation. Just google the Troxler effect if you want a demo. Essentially, the brain adapts to seeing one thing and is tuned to perceiving change.




At first, the piles and piles of what look like clam shells are amazing – incredible finds on their own. Then my brain adapts. They are just the noise in the search for something different, the backdrop.

Then my brain selects a colour I haven’t seen before, an angle, a shape, a completely unique shell!

As I bend down to retrieve my prize, I hope hope hope it isn’t broken.

More often than not, it is.





An unbroken shell is the dream, but the hunt is the therapy. Like some people find their minds at ease doing a puzzle, or exercising, or painting, finding shells quiets my mind. All the running thoughts that slosh around in there all day every day all the time non-stop finally coexist. There is finally peace.

And just like the shells, it’s not perfect, but it’s pretty great.





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  1. Mom

    Remember the shell hunting on Maui with Isabel when you were about 8. We were looking for Isabella shells I think.

  2. It’s so nice to read this! You wrote everything that I feel about wandering the beach for hours looking for the perfect specimen! I was so excited a few years ago when I first was on the gulf of mexico and I found my first seashell. I brought home mostly broken shells, laid them out, identified them, and I still have them in a box somewhere.

    I was so lucky to visit Sanibel Island last month – they are known for their wonderful shelling. It was wonderful!

    I’m glad to have found your blog! 🙂

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