If your family is like mine, you come home from trips to the beach laden with shells and rocks. I can't imagine spending any length of time at the beach without stooping, at least once, to pick up some treasure thrown from the sea. The waves curl in with a rush and drag and there, spinning in the foam, you catch sight of some bright shell, or interesting rock, tumbling end over end. T. and L. and I brought back buckets of shells from our trip last week. We found many of them on a desolate strip of seashore just outside Rodanthe in the Outer Banks. But we also found some interesting ones at our own stretch of beach, particularly first thing in the morning, and in the evening, just before sunset.
Bits of shell like this one, twisted and broken by the waves to resemble a rose:
Oyster shells and mussel shells can be extraordinary--flattened into slipper shapes, or beaten smooth by the sea until they feel smooth like marble.
Shells always look their best when wet, though. They gleam and glisten, and all the colors seem brighter, somehow. Then you take them home and, like your beach memories, the shells lose their gleam and their finish becomes dull, less intense. When my sister and I were teenagers, and in Greece for the summer, we devised a system for preserving the sheen of rocks and shells--that "just pulled from the sea" look that makes them so appealing. We took a jar of clear varnish and, while the grownups were napping inside, we'd sit on my grandparents' balcony and varnish away, exclaiming over how the finish brought the shells to life again. Yesterday T. and I spent the afternoon varnishing our own shells and rocks, and spreading them out to dry across the kitchen table.
I'm not sure yet what we'll do with all of them when we're done--fill up bowls of them, perhaps, or make rock fish with the best ones.
A friend showed me how to do this: make a visit to your local craft store, buy some thin beading wire and some soft, thicker, pliable wire, and twist the thicker wire around a rock or shell. You can then "weave" the thin wire in and out of the fish's fins in a dream catcher weave, and thread beads along the wire, too, to add color. I turned T. loose with wire and a scallop's shell and she made a wire "alligator" and hung it from our kitchen lamp.
I love doing projects with my kids that are echoes of activities I did myself when I was younger. I find these moments especially rewarding--when I see continuity in my children's habits, desires, projects, and dreams--when I see the threads connecting them to aspects of my life that I have loved, and the new threads branching out from them--teaching me to love new things, too.