Julie the shell picker has long gray hair that glistens in the sunshine like a silver shell. I meet her this morning walking the Gulf while I’m kneeling in the sand on the edge of the surf to pick up a shell.
What did you find? she asks in her friendly tone, with her bright purple netted bag dangling from her shoulder, She’s wearing a cotton beach dress, sleeveless and white, splashed with extra large screen printed shells in black.
I don’t know! I turn it over in my hand to show her both sides of the shell.
Oh, it’s a beautiful find, she says. Except – this is alive –
Oh, well I won’t keep it then – I say. But she’s already busy with her fingernail, prying off the tiny live creature she’s spotted that has attached itself to the shell; it’s almost transparent, like a round sticker the size and shape of a quarter. She tosses the creature back into the sea and returns the shell to my hand.
It’s a lightning whelk, she says. That’s when I ask her name. Julie walks this beach every day like me. I’m certain now I’ll spot her easily in her seashell dress with her silver shell hair. Now I know her name and she knows mine and she knows the names of the shells.