It was suggested that in order to improve my creative writing skills and my attentiveness in the landscape I might look at the Unfinished Ode to Mud by Francis Ponge.  As I was strolling along the beach, and while Freddie my Golden Retriever was playing in the sea, I picked up some shells that interested me – mainly limpets but a couple of others too.  I planned to write about my find.  But first, I referred to a few of Ponge’s poems, including The Pebble for inspiration, but finally rested on The Mollusc and Notes towards a Shell to refer to here:

“The mollusc is a being – almost a quality.  It has no need of a framework, only a rampart, something like pigment in a tube.

            Nature here foregoes giving plasma some kind of form.  She merely shows her attachment to it by keeping it in a casket more beautiful inside than out.

            It is not therefore just a gob of spit but a most precious reality.

            The mollusc is endowed with tremendous strength to shut itself up.  In fact, it is really just a muscle, a hinge, a spring, a blount and its door.  Two slightly concave doors constitute its entire dwelling place.

            First and last dwelling place.  It lives there until after its death. . .”  (2008) p19).

And:

“A shell is a small thing, but I can make it enormous if I set it back down where I found it, on the stretch of sand.  For then I shall take a handful of sand and observe the little that remains when most of it has run through my fingers, I shall observe a few grains, then single grains, and none of these grains of sand will now seem small to me, and soon the form of the shell, this oyster shell or this mitre shell, or this ‘razor’, will look as impressive to me as a great monument, both colossal and precious, something like the temple at Angkor, Saint-Maclou, or the pyramids, but with an infinitely stranger significance than these too obviously human products.”  (Ponge 2008) p33).

Why did I choose these two extracts?  The obvious answer is that that they are about similar topics to my finds on the beach, and whenever I walk on the beach, my eyes scour the ground looking at the natural beauty and marvelling at the individual nature of shells, wondering how they came to be separated from the rocks, in the case of the limpets, and how they came to rest in the place I find them.

Limpets have always fascinated me and as a child we tried to remove them from the rocks, without any success of course.  They continue to have appeal for me, because their colours, patterns and shapes are so different.  Some are grey/blue, others are brown and cream, and the insides of the shells are exquisitely patterned.  The patterns are unique – some have a dark ring towards the top of the shell while others have more regular-shaped circles.  The texture of the shells is also varied – some have deep ridges whereas others have been smoothed by the relentless movement of the sea.  My finds are Common Limpets (Patella vulgate), and they are certainly plentiful, but in my view, not common.

For my part, and because it is a sunny day, I am drawn to those that sparkle in the sunlight, immediately thinking they might be special in some way.  They are easily spotted in this part of the beach as it is dry because of the warmth of the sun, and because there are usually fewer shells to choose from.  I like that because it focuses me on the individual shells rather than being overwhelmed in the plentiful parts of the beach.

I spot a limpet twinkling in the sun.  Its inside is facing up exposing a purple-blue edge and a cream centre.  The sun shines right through the cream part of the shell making it look like mother of pearl.  As I cradle it in my hands, I see that it has a very smooth outer shell, perhaps an indication of age or a turbulent life on the rocks under the sea.  As I move on, I pick up two more of the bluish shaded shells before spying a quite different one with brown ridges and a deeply indented outer shell.  Its centre is a caramel colour with a darker chocolate edge.  Its surface is much rougher to the touch.

As I retrieve Freddie from the sea and retrace my steps, I reflect on paying attention, in a small way, and already the wonders of nature have become more alive and fascinating for me.  While my words might not do my subjects or experience justice, nonetheless I plan to work at it and improve my skills such that the use of all my senses become intuitive.  I pay most attention to the visual stimuli of the external world, but an appreciation of touch, smell, sound and taste should enrich my overall capacity to dwell in nature.

Postscript

While not directly relevant to my finds in my pocket today, as I reach the garden gate, I recall a book I read a few years ago The Pebbles on the Beach:  A Spotters Guide (1954)I make a mental note to re-read

 

References 

Ellis, C. (1954). The Pebble on the Beach:  A Spotter’s Guide. London, Faber & Faber.

Ponge, F. (2008). Unfinished Ode to Mud. London, CB Editions.

 

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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