Saturday, November 16, 2013


There's a pretty ceramic bowl in our house that holds shells, rocks, pottery shards, and even a few fossils, all collected through the years on family beach trips.  I doubt that the bowl has ever been emptied.  The top was furred with dust, so this morning I began to take the objects out to wash them.  The top layer was mostly seashells, but there were several broken pottery pieces, glazed red clay.  I remembered collecting these a few years ago from a small volcanic lake in Italy, Lago Bolsena, where the water was icy blue and the surface of the lake shivered every now and then, sending ripples toward the shore, which tumbled small pieces of broken pottery. (drawings 928 and 929).

Below the pottery was a collection of small seashells, the kind that we collected after we moved to North Carolina and started going to ocean beaches.  There was a small but perfect wentletrap (drawing 916), a shark's tooth (drawing 917, what I think we called an auger shell (918), a sunset tellin (919), and a broken but still pretty lightning whelk (920). We collected shells every day, saving them in egg crates and arranging along windowsills of the cabin.  Sometimes we held shell contests, and always we hauled home bags and bags of shells.  Drawing 921 is a very fine baby's fingernail shell (I think we made up this name), and drawings 922 and 923 are both jingle shells, those pearly gray and sometimes gold shells that made good wind chimes.  Drawing 924 is a scallop shell, small but perfect.  Drawing 925 is a kitten's paw, 926 , which we thought looked like a bed pan, was a baby's ear shell, and 927 was a large slipper shell, certainly a prize winner for its size.

The top drawings on this page are all of objects collected at Lake Michigan.  These were in the lowest level- the oldest- of the bowl, and they date from the early and mid 1980s when we went to South Haven every summer.  Because Lake Michigan is a fresh water lake, it doesn't have sea creatures that make shells like those from Atlantic beaches.  We collected many small flat black stones prized for their perfect ovalness or roundness, their smoothness, and their usefulness as board game pieces.  We also found beach glass in jewel colors, worn to a satiny matte finish.  The rarest colors-- purples and occasional deep blues-- were the prize winners.  But the most amazing finds were the crinoids and blastoids that we found, fossilized plant parts  from prehistoric times.  Drawings 909 and 915 show a fossil snail shell and a rather large plant stem. 

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