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Shells in bright green seaweed

Shells in bright green seaweed

Today I walked along the beach, alone.  Thinking about beauty and…well…things we determine are not quite so beautiful.  How every place and every person contains parts which don’t photograph as well. 

Sometimes, when we first visit a place, we fall in love with all the beauty.  Our eye follows loveliness; we admire this and that.  We view the palm trees and sigh at the way they sway in the wind.  Our heart thrills to the surf, to the low and high tides and white beaches and arching dolphins.  Beauty surrounds us.  It’s where our eyes so often follow, the thrill of the gorgeous.

Today the shores of Fort Myers Beach lie strewn with seaweed.  Brownish-greenish seaweed everywhere.  It’s not…how should I say this?…pretty.  My mom and I have a theory (only a theory, mind you) that a rougher sea might blow the seaweed out into the depths.  In the meantime, it lies thick, like an eyesore, blemishing the white shore.

Thick layers of seaweed wash in against the shore

Thick layers of seaweed wash in against the shore

I have another theory that beauty exists in most everything, although sometimes it’s hidden.  You have to search deeper to see the patterns and glow and light which becomes obscured.  A feather resting in the midst of brown mud-like seaweed perhaps reminds us of that possibility.  To look a little more intently for the hidden patterns of beauty, rather than immediately dismiss our minds labeling things as “ugly”.

Feather in seaweed

Feather in seaweed

Several years ago my mom introduced me to a friend here in the condo.  Her name was Kay Fisher Lewicky.  She was in her 80’s then.  She grew up in Austria before World War II, marrying a half-Jewish fellow.  Her family worried for their safety and urged them to move to Paris.  Still, they were sent to the camps.

She said the prostitutes imprisoned in the camp saved her.  She was young then, and the “ladies of the night” convinced the guards not to take her away, and harbored her among them.  Both she and her husband escaped (don’t ask me how) and moved to New York City.  She later became the personal massage therapist for Neil Sedaka and in later years, when he came to this area to sing, a limousine brought her to his shows.

She created and painted shells from the beach, making art and beauty from the leftover chips of shells.  From the “ugly” cracked pieces, she saw beauty and made little creatures which sometimes won awards in local craft shows.

Kay's shell creations

Kay's shell creations

Some folks might deem the following creature “less than beautiful” but look at that symmetry of legs and shell and strong pincers on that crab!  A mother and her son, wading out a bit further than the seaweed, showed me the dead crab in their pink bucket.  “The seaweed killed it,” the eight-year old boy told me solemnly.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I asked him if we might photograph the crab.  He agreed, and we crouched on the sand for the dead crab’s obituary photo. 

Ode to the crab which died recently

Ode to the crab which died recently

Finally, there’s certain shells prized around here for their round shape and five petal-like pores.  Most folks consider them beautiful.  I looked for one this week along the beach, but only broken chips remained.  Once, several years back, hundreds of live ones blew in along the Gulf.  The live ones aren’t so beautiful, or so people will say.  They’re gray and covered with a velvety skin of movable spines.  After they die, the shell remains and bleaches white.  Beachcombers collect them, prize them, carefully protect them against breaking.  Here’s one my folks have here in the condo:

Lucky beautiful sand dollar...yes?

Lucky beautiful sand dollar...yes?

I think an admirable goal is to allow our gaze to expand until we can view beauty in mud, in thickets, in broken shells, in brown seaweed, in broken lives.  Let’s keep trying, shall we?

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Snowy egret at the shore

Snowy egret at the shore

When you’re living in a cold northern climate, opening the door and walking outside involves effort.  One must find and pull on the snow pants, the socks, the boots, the coat, the hat, the gloves or mittens, the scarf and sometimes even the neck warmer.  Once outside the cold can pierce you to the core. 

While one can learn to even thrive in cold climates (and perhaps some people thrive naturally) in warm climates the distinction between indoors and outdoors lessens.

One opens the door and walks outside sometimes dozens of times each day when the temperature lingers between 70 and 85.  One can walk outside without shoes!  Sleeveless!  In shorts!  Shirtless!  (Well, some of us can do this publicly without social stigmas, usually the males among us.)

I find the ease between moving indoors and outdoors an incredible luxury.  Perhaps one wouldn’t need a commitment to spend time outdoors each day IF one lived here in southern Florida.  Yet, I know that’s not true either.  In summer, the heat scorches and burns and fries bare feet on pavement.  The heat wilts everyone and everything.  It would take a huge commitment to surrender outdoors to the heat every day.  Once again, it’s all relative.

Morning sparkles on the Back Bay

Morning sparkles on the Back Bay

My mom noticed the glints of sunlight shimmering across the water as we drank our morning coffee on the lanai.  The first rain in weeks had sprinkled the grasses and palm trees and asphalt after we awoke, but soon abated. She sent me scurrying for the camera, down the elevator and outside to capture the diamond-like sparkles.  Effortless.  No pulling on boots.  No bracing for the cold.  Skin met warm air…a certain sense of freedom pervades in this tropical world. 

We hiked out to the beach again, choosing to wear our Teva sandals and wade across the lagoons to the Gulf.  My mom and I admired the birds, especially that beautiful egret above.  Later, looking in the bird book, she said somewhat reverentially, “That was a snowy egret!”  We carefully turned the pages back and forth between egret and snowy egret.  The snowy egret is known for its “golden slippers”. Yes, a snowy egret, indeed.

Long expanse of beach

Long expanse of beach

We waded in the Gulf.  It felt like lukewarm soothing salty bathwater.  Small shells, abandoned by their underwater occupants, littered the sand beneath our feet.  We spoke of possibly shelling down on Lover’s Key sometime this week.

Shells underfoot

Shells underfoot

We sipped a drink at the Holiday Inn before walking home and eating shrimp pasta salad for lunch.  Afternoon:  swimming laps in the pool, cross-ways, head under the water.  Most of the ladies keep their hair dry and coiffed, not wanting to ruin hair-dos with chlorinated water. 

People smile and want to make conversation, but I feel strangely silent and quiet.  Not many thoughts gallop through my mind.  Hands cupping the water, pulling, stroking, feeling the bathwater temperature.  Feeling no separation between water and self, simply the sensations of dissolving boundaries, floating, almost disappearing.

I could get used to this.

By the pool

By the pool

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