I dreamt of Las Vegas. What I recall is being on a huge plateau sky deck that overlooked not an arid wilderness, but a vast inland sea that appeared almost overnight. The waves were enormous.
I knew this great galaxy of new life sprang from the clouds and not the dessert below. Exotic creatures swam in the magnificent water that blanked the night sky. The dream ocean hangs above but not drowning the terracotta colored world below.
Even now I can see it as I close my eyes; this amazing ocean floating above the dessert and every now and then some aquatic artifact drifts like a feather to the parched sand below…
The Atlantic Ocean so much a part of my childhood that even as an adult surrounded by dessert I bring the salty brine to my dreams. I watch the epic film Lawrence of Arabia staring Peter O’Toole and I can’t stop my mind wondering all that sand and no sea, how can it be?
Summers of my youth were spent visiting my family in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania hundreds of miles from the ocean and yet dig in the shale of any gravel driveway and fossilized scallop shells were easily found amongst the other rocks. How could there be ancient seashells hundreds of miles from saltwater? I was told was many thousands of years ago the ocean covered nearly the whole planet and then sea life flourished abundantly. The mountains rose up revealing the land beneath to warm and dry in the sun.
Every day I am able I walk the sands that fringe the Gulf of Mexico. Living on an island each day is an opportunity to discover new shells and to witness the abundant wildlife that share Sanibel with the humans. Pelicans dive for fish in deeper water and rays little bigger than a Frisbee skim the ankle-deep waves for breakfast and dinner. Sandpipers forage among the shells washed up for their food and close by people walk with the Sanibel stoop to collect shells. It is a paradise people flock to after the bitterness of winter cold, for on a tropical island spring rules eternal.
Life before we self isolated seems ages ago and yet we attended the 83rd Annual Sanibel Shell Festival in March. This event brings shell collections collected around the world from snorkeling, to scuba divers and even more fantastic are the ancient shells collected in locations far from any saltwater. Spectacular shells belonging to species of mollusks extinct for thousands and sometimes millions of years ago is a rare peek into the evolution of a species. We may marvel at the ingenuity of an octopus’s camouflage, but we may trace their ancestry back far enough and once they too depended on the protection of a shell.
Shells are the introduction to Sanibel for thousands of visitors every year and while they are here they may have a cloudy day to visit the Bailey Mathews Shell Museums and the prize specimen of the exhibit, a Pacific octopus. When we learn about shells we may also learn about ourselves. What I’ve learned about myself is I would rather have sand between my toes than wear gloves to shield my fingers from freezing cold. I prefer to don a straw hat instead of a woolly knit cap and I’ll take the warmth of the sun over the bite of icy wind. This for me is not new, I have always been a summer loving human and here on Sanibel I savor it every single day.
We have it appears as the rest of the planet come to terms with life during the time of Covid-19 and we must strive to find normalcy in an ever changing world. Bicycling albeit with a cotton mask covering our nose and mouths is one way we breakup the routine of being inside. Rising and walking the beach just before sunrise to exercise and clear our minds of the negativity of the pandemic is another. Shells are still swept up on the sands daily only there are far fewer people to collect them.
Eventually schools will reopen, children will play with their friends and we as adults will once more gather in mass to watch entertainers or our favorite sports team, but until we have the all clear it is foolish to jeopardize that possibility with false starts that will only prolong self isolating. Treebeard an Ent in JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings had a phrase perfect for humans with low tolerance or impatience, “Don’t be too hasty,” or as Benjamin Franklin is quoted, “Haste makes waste,”. I consider good people a luxury we cannot afford to wreak havoc on.
My Dream Fish an original artwork on Strathmore toned blue mixed media paper. Pablo Swiss made pencils by Caran d’Ache. Golden accents achieved with van Gogh metallic watercolors, all purchased before the pandemic.