The shell book said to soak the shells in a combination of bleach and water, so that the shells don't perspire, so my patio bucket is filled with dozens of tiny shells, all being decontaminated with a will and a way which reminds me of the decon scenes of the old movie "The Andromeda Strain". The Sanibel beaches did indeed feature thousands upon thousands of sea shells, an inventory reinvigorated each day by an ocean of suppliers and handlers.
Despite having spent part of my business travels on an airplane reading about molluscan ways from a book so thick and full of genii and species that my head swam, I went to Florida to "the shelling beaches" without any real substantive knowledge of shells. When we first arrived on the island, we gathered our first shells on the beach, and watched an osprey dive from a high elevation to snare a fish from the surface of the water. We followed a late afternoon lunch (I enjoyed my French dip sandwich) with a trip to the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation. There the kind folks sold us seeds to a native Bahamian flowering bush, and we watched butterflies flitting about. Then we went to the Bailey Tract of the J.N. "Ding" Darling wildlife refuge, where we saw many rabbits, anhinga birds, herons, and one alligator.
On Saturday, after some early shelling, we went on a three hour "back country" fishing boat, where we caught no fish, but we enjoyed the mangrove sights and bird-call sounds. We visited the Shell Museum, where we learned a great deal more about shells than I ever thought I'd learn. Our visit began auspicously, as a black racer snake (harmless, but sleek and black and usually shy) lay on the wide stairway into the museum. I liked learning about the shells, though after a rather busy week, I fell asleep a bit during the wonderful video a local women did about the shells and the animals that live in them. I never dreamed that molluscan life involved quite so much violence. I much prefer to enjoy the colors of the shells. The museum was quite well done, and fits in with my theory that musuems which do one thing very well are superior to museums that try to do too many things.
On Sunday, we drove forty minutes to the somewhat inland Corkscrew Swamp preserve, an Audobon Society
park which featured 2.5 miles of boardwalks literally above a swamp. On the way in, we saw attractive swallowtail kites, a species hitherto unknown to me, but quite charming. During the hike, we alternated between spaces of slash pine, "wet prairie", and dark, swampy mangrove. I liked being able to hike and see it all from the slight remove of a boardwalk. I enjoyed seeing the little blue herons, fishing for crawdads, and the baby alligators, sleeping on branches floating in a weedy "lettuce lake". I heard so many birdsongs and calls that I could not identify, and I lack the gift of knowing which tree to view merely by call alone. The entire trip, though, proved restful and pleasant, to a place with very few tourists but a great deal to see.
On Monday morning, we went to the Edison and Ford Winter Home park in nearby Fort Myers. Mr. Edison built his home there in the late 1880s, while Mr. Ford bought a next door home some years later so that he could spend the two weeks near Mr. Edison's birthday alongside his friend Mr. Edison. The museum had a delightful exhibition of Mr. Edison's many inventions, from the gramophone to the dictaphone to electrical lighing apparatus to the motion picture camera. A laboratory in which he and Mr. Firestone quested for a native rubber source proved quite interesting--they found that the goldenrod sufficed in part, but the invention of artificial rubber by DuPont made the point superfluous. The houses themselves were not offensively ostentatious, and the tropical plants, though decimated by Hurrcane Charlie, were quite interesting. The presentation featured very little of the negative aspects of either man's life, but I did not mind as much as I originally thought I would that the presentation was more booster than expose'. I loved the huge eighty year old banyan tree, trunks expanded all around.
On Monday afternoon, we went to the main section of the J.N. "Ding" Darling wildlife preserve on Sanibel Island, where we saw so much wonderful wildlife. We saw a huge flock of the gorgeous roseate spoonbill, with its pinkish coloration. We saw ibis birds fish for fish, which seagulls tried to take from them. We saw dozens upon dozens of ladyfish, snook, and redfish jump in the shallows, sometimes reaching several feet above the water. We saw many herons, red-shouldered hawks, and an osprey or two.
Surpisingly, we did not see alligators, but we made up for the lack with a gaze of cute little tree crabs. This wildlife refuge was very well done, and, had we found this portion earlier, we might have come back for days more of watching this activity.
Throughout the trip, we got to spend a fair bit of time walking beaches along with the plover and tern,
gathering shells of no particular value or note, and, in my case, unsuccessfully fishing from pier and beach with no discernible prowess. I had imagined that a "shelling beach" would be like a "lava beach", almost unwalkable, but in fact it was a very pleasant sandy/shell beach as to which the shells congregated at the water line, eager to be examined. At one point, I thought I had gathered something interesting, because I found a univalve seashell which got its own listing on the charts and maps. I could tell from a shell chart that it was a "cithrine", and I wondered if its distinctiveness made it rare. A visit to the store "She Sells Sea Shells" taught me that it had a market value indeed--a full twenty five cents. The shells we gathered, though, were of many colors, though none of great size, and
after I have treated them with the disinfectant soak, I look forward to mailing them off.
This afternoon I've been recovering from the days of hiking, fun, and wildlife. I enjoyed most seeing all the birds, rabbits, and leaping fish, as well as the fine restaurant meals. I've always enjoyed Florida, but it's good to be home. Now I just hope my throwaway camera shots came out on this trip.