One of the best things about visiting a beach is scanning the shoreline to see what types of seashells are there. I’ve seen a quote saying, “seashells are love letters in the sand,” which is far more romantic than saying they’re the exoskeletons of sea creatures that have died and rotted out or been eaten by other sea creatures. This is, of course, what they actually are, but poets don’t become poets by bluntly pointing it out. Gazing across a sandy beach, there’s a beautiful variety of shells, each one glinting in the sun. For those who collect them, it’s a hunt for a perfectly formed and unique specimen, but for me, I just enjoy looking at them where they’ve landed. And just in case they are indeed love letters, then I also don’t have to worry about taking someone else’s mail.
Most people love seashells precisely because they’ve been emptied of their inhabitants. Finding a lovely shell is not quite as romantic when you discover there’s still something soft and gooey living inside. Then it’s just gross. Once they’ve been cleaned and are sitting in a jar, however, they simply become a beautiful reminder of a wonderful day at the beach. I’ve never collected shells because once they’ve traveled so far inland with me, they lose all context and I find it a bit sad. It just makes me want to go to the beach again and I know I can’t for some time. I realize it should bring back the wonderful memories, but I always just feel a little bit of loss.
So, I leave them where I see them. Shining in the sunlight, waiting for someone else to give them a good home. I’m happy in my discovery at the time, though, and feel almost giddy upon finding one that has an interesting coloring or is particularly unusual. And that feeling of the experience, just in that moment, is all I really need to take home with me. It’s a beautiful instance in time, where I see something beautiful and enjoy it for what it is. A tiny home. A little place where a creature once lived until it was time to move on to wherever it is creatures go next. The gentle reminder that we’re all here for just a brief moment on this planet, but as an artist we can also leave something beautiful behind. A little painted picture that someone discovers years later, thoroughly excited to have finally found a love letter in the sand.
About the Doodlewash
M. Graham Watercolors: Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Burnt Sienna, and Ultramarine Blue. Lamy Safari Al Star pen with Platinum Carbon sepia ink in a 5″ x 8″ 140 lb. (300 gsm) Pentalic Aqua Journal.