Crab claws, lichens, shells, and stones from all over the world have taken up residence in my home. They’re in bowls, on windowsills, and shelves in ever larger numbers, and it’s my fault.
Visitors to my house may wonder why things like a Central Oregon sulfur lichen, a piece of tropical, bleached coral, and a Swiss-cheese like chunk of driftwood from the Olympic peninsula adorn every uncluttered surface of my abode.
The answer in part is that I love and hate souvenirs. I don’t like the kinds of things tourists buy in airports that are branded with a word, image, or icon of a place, but are actually just pieces of plastic junk soon to end up in the junk pile. I want a real keepsake; a tangible memory of the place beyond my sketchbooks. My first preference is something edible: honey, jam, wine, beef jerky… My second choice is something useful and locally made: a bag, utensil, pottery… but really there’s only so much stuff that I actually need. Failing those items, I can think of no better representation of place than a natural object. I don’t actively seek them out though. They seem to call out to me and I am powerless to resist.
Traveling along the shore of a isolated beach, my eyes continuously scan the edge where land and water meet. After a stint in marine biology and a lifetime of beach combing, I quickly discern treasure from typical beach wrack. The wrack may consist of my favorite seaweeds like Turkish towel or bull kelp, but those get stinky pretty fast in one’s pocket. Higher in my search pattern is the item that is not like the others. A blue instead of red claw, an agate on a beach full of dull gray sand, or a tiny piece of driftwood that has been polished by the tides and shaped to fit perfectly in the palm of my hand, all attract my attention. After a brief examination, most of them go back on the shore, but over the years, plenty of them end up coming home.
So many of them now clutter my house, that I don’t recall their individual stories. They’re just beautiful things. So this sailing season, I’m setting them free. As I travel, I will toss moon snail shells on islands, liberate crystals on busy beaches, or deposit sticks, mosses, and lichens in forests far and wide. So when you find that object that doesn’t belong, think twice: I may have put it there!