I’m seated on a lounge chair at Caesarea beach, an ancient Roman seaport, an hour’s drive from Galilee. It’s a weekday and the sandy white beach is mostly deserted. The blue-green water sparkles in the sun. There’s a seashell resting at my feet. It’s not terribly remarkable but I reach down and pick it up. It’s white, curled, folded onto itself. A few orange specs adorn its back. The crown at the tip of the shell swirls like an ice cream cone. On its front side there’s a long, narrow slit, its insides hidden from view and from my probing fingers. I suspect at one time a creature must have used it as its home. Now the shell just rolls back and forth in my hand.
Seashell on Caesarea Beach, Israel
How long has the seashell existed?
When did it start life?
What did it “see” during its lifetime before settling on the sand?
The Roman aqueduct ruins of Caesarea are behind me, a massive structure of stone arches that are buried up to their ankles in powdery sand. Two thousand years ago the aqueduct carried water to the Roman port.
Did the seashell exist then?
Did it witness the Roman legions, did it “meet” King Herod the Great?
Was the shell born here, a native, or was it swept here by currents and waves from
distant lands around the Mediterranean?
If so, it must have witnessed sea voyages, sailors, slaves, ships, battles, triumphs and defeats.
Now it’s content to just lie on the beach, to take a well-deserved rest from the pages of history.
Near the water’s edge there’s a woman in a straw hat and a bathing suit. It hard to tell her age. She bends over the shallow water, her hands searching in the wet sand. She scoops a handful of seashells, shakes off the excess water and dumps them in a clear plastic bag.
Her catch of the day.
I hear a cry. For a moment I imagine the shells had cried, refusing to leave their centuries-old home. But it turns out the cry came from a child’s mouth, refusing to go into the water with his mother.
The woman with the shells shakes the bag a couple of times, as if to weigh its contents, to determine if she’d picked enough. She continues to follow the contours of the shoreline until her image fades.
What if every man, woman and child carried off twenty, fifty, a hundred shells to decorate their homes with, to build a miniature replica of the Eiffel Tower, to string “exotic” necklaces, to hang them on the wall, collect them in a jar like unwanted pennies, or use them as a conversation piece at a dinner party, to show them off as “vacation souvenirs,” to make up a story as to how rare and exquisite they are.
If that were to happen (and it does), there won’t be any seashells left on the shore. They’ll become “extinct.” Later generations will no longer find them on the beach, discover the lost relics in a kitchen drawer someplace.
“Wow, those were lovely things, once.”
I fondle the icy-white seashell in my hands one last time. I then release it to the sand at my feet.
It can’t speak, yet, somehow, I hear it. And the rushing waves to the shore.
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.