Sunday, July 19, 2020

The beach... a reflection

We recently came back from a week of vacation on the beach. In the middle of COVID, we flew to Florida to enjoy the vegetation, dip our feet in the warm waters of the gulf, collect shells and just plain relax. We booked the time back last September, so, when we were given the green light to go, we jumped on the opportunity.

Shell collecting by calm, warm (86F) waters seems to have a mesmerizing effect on humans. At any hour from before dawn to after dusk people of all ages and backgrounds walked on the beach looking for some little treasure, consisting of striped, ridged, calcium carbonate ‘pods’ – shells we call them. These used to be the house of small mollusks; they have washed onto the beach and are now destined to be ground down into sand by erosion and crushing along with billions of other similar remains. 

What is it with this activity that captures the imagination and time of young and old alike, man and women, rich and poor? I tried to think of another human activity that attracts all category of people in a similar way. I could not think of one.

Sanibel Island, where we spent our week of vacation, it’s a heaven for shell collecting. Because of its location and currents of the Gulf, millions of new shells are dumped on its shore every single day. Not many other beaches in the world are so lucky. I felt speechless and humbled by the beauty of life in the oceans that these shells represented. The ones I saw, the ones we collected are just a tiny fraction and reflection of the many more that reside under water, most of which nobody will ever see and enjoy. Yet, the mollusks still produce them, with colors, ridges, with interesting and varied shapes and sizes; and this process has continued for the whole life of the oceans. Each of these shells is a testimony, like each of us, of a unique life which God created, knows and cares for. While this is not a solid argument for the existence of God, it is hard to fathom that all of this bounty and diverse beauty could just be the result of random, small changes from an initial chemical soup. (Job 12, 7:9).  I’ll leave the scientific arguments to books like “Signature in the cell”, “Darwin’s doubt” and “Darwin Devolves”. In the meanwhile, I awe at the beaches and ocean floors covered with millennia’s worth of crushed shells, reduced to dust size particles. It makes we wonder, “Was there any sand on the beaches when the oceans were first formed?” 

I learned that it takes anywhere from 1 to 6 years for a mollusk to build its shell and grow with it to full size. Fascinating! They are surely small work of art, so insignificant it seems, yet so detailed, precise and precious, if we take the time to observe them.

Our family lives in a beautiful place, right at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Yet, I have wondered before how incredible it would be to live in a tropical resort and walk on the beach every day.  Who knows, maybe when I retire, I can spend a couple of the coldest months of the year in a place like this. I know my aging sore joints and body (which gets cold so easily) would thank me for that. The appeal and my enjoyment would come from spending time outdoor observing flowers and animals. Living in a tropical resort seems appealing; the beauty of nature, the warmth, the relaxation of a beach lifestyle. I could get use to that very quickly, I am sure. I do wonder though if it would make me more self-centered and selfish. There is nothing wrong with comfort, for sure, but living in a place that, in addition to the warm weather, is designed to maximize our pleasure at all times seems to bring us further away from the realities of this world, where there are people that have very little and struggle for basic necessities every day. Why are we here and what is the meaning of life? Surely not to just satisfy our own desires. Maybe I now better understand the meaning and purpose of vacation. 

I ran a few miles on a couple of days during our stay in Sanibel Island. Running is part of who I am and I like to experience it wherever I get to travel to. I also wanted to find out how different it felt to run at sea level after living at altitude for more than 20 years. Honestly it felt just as hard, but I think part of the problem was the 90+ degrees temperature and 80% humidity. It was summer after all in Florida. Anyway, I did collect three Strava CRs and a second place on another running segment. I could have grabbed a couple of more on the last morning of our stay, but instead decided to go watch the sunrise on the beach and I was reworded by a beautiful spectacle of sun and clouds and by ibises looking for a morning snack in the sand and a large group of pelicans still resting on trees. A perfect goodbye gift to an almost-perfect vacation. See you again soon Sanibel, I hope.

My favorite bird on the beach - the Ibis
Sunset at Bauman's beach

The pelicans hang out on this tree when not fishing

Sunrise on the last morning
The family with one missing...
so many shells

sausage tree


Mangrove forest