Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Sunrise Treasure Hunter, Wrightsville Beach, NC
Sunrise Treasure, Wrightsville Beach, NC

I awoke before sunrise this cool October day, pulled on my jeans and hoodie and made my way down to the lobby for a warm cup of complementary coffee. Sitting on a rocking chair on the main balcony with coffee firmly in hand, I watched the first light of dawn slowly radiate the early morning sky. The ocean’s relentless waves were crashing on shore as a distant hurricane overran the island of Bermuda, creating prime surfing waves and cautionary rip currents just offshore. As the sun’s light began to permeate the darkness, I caught sight of a lone figure slowly wandering down the shoreline. Focusing my telephoto lens, I observed that the man was operating a metal detector in search of valuable treasure buried just under the eroding sand.

Finishing my coffee, I made my way down to the beach. Fortunately the prime time to collect seashells is also the best time to photograph magical sunrises over the ocean. The early bird does indeed get the best seashells and photos. And the timing is even better at low tide and after a major storm, like the present offshore hurricane. I like to stroll near the water’s edge at the shoreline where exposed shells are deposited near the ocean wash. As the eastern skyline begins to glow with pink and blue pastels, the breaking day tests my patience while I await the arrival of the main attraction. That becomes an opportune time for shelling as the back wash recedes amid the bubbling sea foam. Small shore birds scurry along the foam lines efficiently harvesting the miniscule tidbits that were ordered for breakfast delivery.

Of course, it helps to be at the right place at the right time. As I glanced down at the beach drift at my feet, the golden glow of a sea shell that had just arrived on the last wave made its appearance. The marine mollusk had long ago succumbed to the starfish that had bored a fatal hole into its hard protective exoskeleton. The mollusk had secreted calcium carbonate in periodic layers as he aged, creating an expanding, protective outer shell. The mantel surface secreted the building materials both outward and on the edges over the inner surface leaving it sculpted by irregular folds and tubercles. The mollusk’s unique diet determined the varying pigments that created the one-of-a-kind color in the shell.

There’s no guarantee that a shell will still be there after the next advance of the final burst of energy from the onslaught of salt water. And the stranger with the treasure hunter’s metal detector had just passed this way ahead of me, but he was defining treasure differently than I this morning. So I bent over and gently scooped up the island treasure and placed it safely in my hoodie pocket.

It’s difficult to place a value on most things for individuals. Some folks consider an object worthless while others call it priceless. The value can be all about what fits your eye and what you individually treasure. The money cowry shell was widely used worldwide in trade networks and traders could realize gains of 500% when obtaining them from the source. Australian tribes each had their own shell money and considered the other tribe’s shells worthless. Jesus taught us to store our treasures in heaven and not place a lot of value on fleeting earthly stuff because where our treasure resides, there our heart will be also.

And you can always return from a good walk along the beach with the treasure of a revitalized spirit and a good suntan.

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