I have an odd ritual when I go to the beach. Once I drop my things, I make a beeline to the surf’s edge and stalk up and down the shoreline, hands on my hips, frowning down at the sand. Eventually, I’ll stop, bend forward, and snatch down with both hands, then examine my captured clump of shoreline.
If you guess that I’m shell hunting, you’re partially in the right. It’s not empty, abandoned shells that I look for, though. It’s live coquina clams.
When I was in elementary school, my uncle first clued me into the fact that there are more reasons to dig at the beach than just sandcastle construction. My family came down to visit him and my grandparents on the Florida Gulf Coast and–of course–went to the beach. I was hoarding fistfuls of washed-up shells and showing them off to the adults of the bunch. My uncle indulged my excitement and poked through my finds, noticing that I’d chosen several dainty shells composed of two pieces and still joined in the middle. When the two sides were splayed out fully, I thought they looked like tiny angel wings.
“Want to see something cool?” he said. I was certainly not going to pass on that opportunity. He waited for a wave to recede, then dug his hand into the sand and flipped over a scoop of it. My jaw dropped. A new wave passed over the upended pile and a half-dozen shining, gem-like creatures scooted back down into the sand: variable coquinas. Continue reading