Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What's so special about these rocks and shells?

Scottish rocks, mostly from Arbroath

Disclaimer: this post is not about Scotland.  Well, okay, the rocks and shells were collected in Scotland, but that's just incidental.

It's hard to tell from a picture what's special about a rock.  You can see, in my amateur photograph, that some of them are nicely shaped, or maybe that they have a nice coloration, or that they have a unique feature, like the hole in the center rock that has trapped a small white shell.  These are the things that initially draw me to a rock - it's shape, it's color, it's uniqueness.  But what leads me to put the rock in my pocket rather than just examining it and throwing it back (preferably toward the water, to hear the satisfying "clink" as it hits other rocks and "splash" as it makes its way into the sea) is the feel of the rock.  A rock I keep is one that I'd like to carry around in my pocket like a talisman. The round grey rock in the center of the small rock arrangement is a carry-around rock.  It's smooth, small, round. I think Claire, even though she's only 3, has inherited some of my rock-feel tendencies. She picked up the large grey rock at the top left of the photo in Abroath, and refused to part with it.  I could relate. Even though it's too big to be a carry-around rock, it has the same feel to it.   

Shells from Gairloch

I am similarly attracted to shells, not so much for the feel, but more for their aesthetics. I like unbroken shells with unusual colors.  Claire was attached to the pink shell at the top, so we brought it home - I might have thrown it back because of the extra calcification.

After we collected shells at Gairloch and Arbroath over the summer, I decided that I wanted to display the shells.  This was tricky because small children and shells you want to keep whole don't really mix.  So I hit on the wineglass solution - it's not like we really drink wine anyway, so no one will miss them. In the wineglass, the tiny shells are visible but harder to crush.  The sea glass mixes in nicely too.  If I was crafty, I'd make sea glass jewelry.

Tiny Gairloch shells and a few bigger ones from Arbroath
More Gairloch shells
I love the fragility of the shells, and the robustness of the rocks.  But when I pick them up by the sea or the river, I know they'll never quite be the same as they are in that moment.  Freshly washed off shells and rocks glisten in the sunlight.  Small clam or mussel shells or periwinkles hang together as a pair.  Differently colored rocks assert their uniqueness against a background of brown and grey. When I take them home, inevitably they dry off and become duller.  The pairs break apart, and the rocks that looked so brightly colored on the beach pale in comparison with some of my shiny stones at home.

Yet my windowsill is filled with rocks and shells, collected recently, and even a few that I picked up a long time ago that I secretly snuck in a box last year to be shipped all the way to Scotland (shh, don't tell Paul).   In the middle of the dark Scottish winter, I can look at (and hold) my rocks and shells and be back on the coast, poking around through piles of gifts washed in by the latest high tide, searching for perfection to slide into my pocket and take home.     

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