Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Some kids may grown up singing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star", but ever since I can remember, my refrain has been more like "Twinkle, twinkle, little shell!"  I have had a lifelong interest in shells, so when I read that my favorite group travel supplier---Road Scholar ( www.roadscholar.org )---had a program on Sanibel Island that fit in with open dates on my calendar, I was eager to sign up!  The program had the title "Beautiful Sanibel Island and the SW Florida Coast #20899.

Although I have not traveled much in Florida, I have perused enough travel magazines to know that Sanibel Island is one of the few geographic locations that has a "body position" named after it!  It is called the "Sanibel Stoop", and is illustrated in this photo.  The name derives from the often-seen posture of people along the beaches of Sanibel Island.  They are "stooping" over to pick up/examine some of the myriad of seashells that are to be found on the beaches of Sanibel Island.

was out before sunrise at the beach, located just steps from my hotel room, and quickly saw that there were dozens of folks already out combing the beaches for seashell treasures.  They were SERIOUS shellers, as evidenced by their use of flashlights to examine every inch of sand.  Each shell picked up has to be examined closely before putting it in your bag, because it is ILLEGAL to gather up the shells that still have a live critter in them.  They are to be returned to where you found them.  You can check out the islands' website ( www.sanibel-captiva.org ) to find out additional shell collecting guidelines.  

Each morning of the program, my pre-daylight beach stroll would have me ending up in the lovely restaurant of our resort, where I could enjoy the sun rising over the Gulf of Mexico horizon.  The lodging for this Road Scholar program was the beachside property called Sundial Resort ( www.Sundialresort.com ) and was an absolutely WONDERFUL place to spend the first full week in January of 2015!

According to the trained conchologist who gave a presentation on "How to shell" on Sanibel Island, this resort's location was where the most seashells were being found, during this time of year.  As seen in this photo, some collectors use a specially-designed "scoop net" to bring up sealife for closer examination.

I observed that not all of  the beach visitors were interested in mollusks.  Some folks were also trying their luck at surf fishing.  The sun shining on the beach highlights the reason very few people go barefoot on this particular beach.  It is absolutely COVERED in seashells!  Those shiny spots in the photo are not pebbles!

I mentioned earlier that I was able to see the sunrise over the Gulf of Mexico every morning, and likewise, I was able to enjoy the sunset over the water every evening.  This is because Sanibel Island is a barrier island that lies almost perpendicular to the Florida mainland, instead of parallel to the mainland, as is usually the case for barrier islands.  It is this perpendicular alignment that makes the shelling here so phenomenal.  The beaches are exposed to more wave action/tide changes/currents that many other Gulf of Mexico barrier islands.  Another thing that makes strolling the beaches of Sanibel Island so peaceful is the prohibition of high rise condominiums along the shoreline.

The Sundial Resort had many guest amenities, including use of beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach towels, tennis courts, bicycles, and KAYAKS!  I was delighted to get the opportunity to do some ocean kayaking in the afternoons when our Road Scholar activities were complete for the day. 

After kayaking, there was usually time to do some sunset photography along the picturesque beach.  Sanibel is usually ranked in the "Top Ten" Florida beaches list, and I definitely understand why!

Our Road Scholar participants posed for a group photo on the lobby staircase at the Sundial Resort.  It was fascinating to get to spend time with such great folks from all over the USA!  Although we were strangers when we arrived on Sunday, we had made many new friends by the time the program ended on Friday!

All of our breakfast meals were at the Sundial Resort, but for most of the meals beyond that, we tried a variety of delightful restaurants located around the island.  I had wonderful meals at each and every one of them!  Plus, since there was a refrigerator in my resort condo, I could ask for a leftover box to take home some of the ample portion sizes we were offered!  The  young lady in this photo without sunglasses, was our leader for the week, Julie Cardenas.  She did a FANTASTIC job, and I hope to be able to attend some of the other Road Scholar programs she leads, that include kayaking adventures!

A highlight of the program for me was visiting the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum ( www.shellmuseum.org ).  They have an extensive collection of shells from all over the world, and they are organized in a way that is very pleasing to the eye, as well as educational.

I can assure you this is the biggest "gastropod" I have ever had the privilege to hold in my hands! 

Our Road Scholar group was treated to a special program at the museum where we viewed a video about shells, and then were allowed to touch examples of specimens we had seen on the video.

I have given a lot of thought as to why this kid who was born, and grew up in, "land locked" Arkansas, was so intrigued by shells.  I have traced it back to this very helmet shell (shown in the photograph), that belonged to my grandparents, who lived in Locust, Arkansas.  One of their sons lived on the California coast, and probably brought back the helmet shell to his parents on one of his return visits to Arkansas.  This photo shows my grandparents, with me in the center, and I am pretty sure that I am holding that beloved helmet shell.  When I was a child, that shell was like nothing I had ever seen before, and when they told me to hold it up to my ear to hear the sound of the ocean, it seemed to have magical properties!  I am thankful that helmet shell survived their move from Locust, into the big city of Harrison, and that I am still "keeping it in the family" today!

The fascination with the helmet shell, was the reason my eighth grade science project was all about mollusks! ( FYI-- Gastropods are the "single shell" specimens, and pelecypods are the "double shell" specimens).  You can see the delight in my face because of the First Place ribbon I won!  That early success in the marine sciences ( along with the Lloyd Bridges' Sea Hunt television series ) is probably one of the reasons I started out my college career, majoring in Marine Biology!  If you know me, you know that I did not become a marine biologist, and my goals/dreams have seen many revisions.  Thinking back about all the trials/tribulations/triumphs that have happened in my life since this photo was taken when I was 12 years old, I am reminded of one of my First Place 4 Health (www.FirstPlace4Health.com ) memory verses that says:  "Surely it was for my benefit that I suffered such anguish, in your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all my sins behind your back."  Isaiah 38:17  .   So even though my vocation did not turn out to be a Marine Biologist, it was still fun to be a "wannabe" marine biologist during my week on beautiful Sanibel Island----it gave me "MILES OF SMILES"!!  Tricia