Lesson from a Seashell Snail

What are you searching for?

Sea shell from North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

The Backstory

Get to the ocean from Ohio. Check. Walk on the beach. Check. Search for sea shells. Check. Finding THE sea shell without knowing you were looking for it. Unforgettable.

There must be something ingrained in us humans that encourages us to go walk on the sand and hunt for shells. While my family visited North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, that’s what most people seemed to do while walking on the beach… looking down (and no, not at their phones, surprisingly), occasionally bend down and flip a shell over, and then keep walking. Over and over again. WHY?

Why do people search for shells on the beach? What are they looking for?

What ARE people looking for when searching for shells on the beach? Maybe that’s a rhetorical question to ask, but I doubt anyone would be able to answer it. It’s like we’ve all been brainwashed to search for something, but we don’t know what “something” is.

The Object

Perfect, mesmerizing detail. Made by a mollusk.

That is… until I found the shell I did not know I was looking for… the most beautiful, detailed, and intricate shell I have ever seen; and, it came with its creator — the seashell snail, a.k.a. a mollusk.

As I was walking along the beach, I bent down and picked up shell after shell. Some that caught my eye as “interesting” or what seemed like “one of a kind,” I put in a bucket. Then, I reached down for this shell…

As I grabbed it, I felt something abnormal. Then, it moved! Startled, I immediately dropped the shell, with a bazillion things running through my mind of what possibly could have felt like that. Did it poison me? I had no idea. It was rough and slimy, and every alert sense I had was front and center. But, in the same second all those thoughts came rushing in, they left and were replaced with curiosity. What was it?

I reached down and picked the shell up again. Nothing. Okay, great. Now, I’m imagining things. I tapped on what would be the hollow part of the shell and found nothing but a hard, amber-like coating. It was smooth and solid, and I didn’t think anything of it. I began to study the design of the shell and how amazing the colors were spun in a circular pattern. The contrasting colors and contoured shape followed my fingers, as I thought about what could have made this. So, into the bucket it went.

Can you believe this was made by a living creature?

The Mollusk

After a few minutes, I noticed this blob coming out of the shell — complete with small antennae. It was a snail. That rough, mucus-y blob that scared me was a snail. I had never seen a sea shell mollusk before, let alone touched one. The shell I found was not only amazing to look at, it was still home to its creator; it was still “living.”

The hard coating that I thought was nothing ended up being the defense mechanism of the snail to hide and protect itself from prodding things like my fingers. That made this find even more fascinating. The snail’s expanded size was unexpectedly large too, and as it sprawled out, it looked like a big, wet mop that just landed on the floor.

Once I got it back to the condo, I had another tough decision to make… 
to keep it or not to keep it?

The Lesson

There are billions of shells on the beach, and that’s probably underestimated. Yet, I know people who will get up early to go walking on the beach or time their walks with the outgoing tide to get first dibs on the new shells that came ashore. I caught myself wondering why I wanted to do that. I did not know the answer, so I thought about what this sea shell snail could teach us.

The take-aways:

  • Nature is still the best artist.
  • You need to turn over a lot of shells before you find the one you’ve been looking for.
  • You won’t know it until you see it. Where “it” is something personal.
  • The best defense is actually perfect camouflage.

When I found the shell pictured in this story, the answer became a little more clear for me. We search for beauty, simplicity, and something beyond ourselves. We want to connect. We want to have trophy memories that take us back to a place where quality time was spent.

Why do you walk the beach and search for shells? What are you looking for?

BONUS: I kept the shell. Not the mollusk.

Written by Shaun Holloway.