We are beachcombing on the coast of Florida before dawn. Puffy eyes, matted hair, half awake, a string of four on a mission – myself, our oldest daughter and her 8-year-old twins.
Quietly slipping out the door, we leave while the others sleep.
We scuttle across an empty two-lane highway, trudge up a long wooden ramp, push open the creaky iron gate and descend a lengthy stretch of stairs leading to the white sand below.
The tide has done a fine job depositing treasures on the shore while we slept.
Tiny white shells the shape of butterfly wings, some with a pearl sheen, others with a delicate yellow trim or splatter of orange, are in rich supply. They are fine shells, but we are hoping to find conch shells, the shells with spirals and curves that look like they have been artfully turned by a master glass blower. Those are the ones that let you hear the surf long after you have returned home and shaken the last of the sand out of the suitcases.
We have the beach to ourselves and fan out.
“Over here!” I shout. I have spotted a small shell with a definite curvature in the grey light. The girls run over. I dig it out of the sand and discover — a cigarette butt.
The search continues. I call out that I’ve found another unusual shape, round with ridges.
I unearth what turns out to be a bottle cap.
I wander off determined to redeem myself when I find another one-of-a-kind.
“Look at this! It’s all black!” I shout.
It’s a shard of charcoal left over from a fire pit on the beach.
I am zero for three.
My daughter is waving her arms a distance down the beach. Maybe she found a conch, the shell that lets you take the waves with you.
We all race her way and discover it isn’t a shell at all.
It is a shark. A small shark. A small, dead shark positioned nearly upright on a sand ridge. At least we think it’s a shark.
Fellas setting up beach umbrellas and chairs for the day roll by in a truck and we ask them what sort of fish it is.
“Shark. Definitely a shark.”
They slowly drive off. If we’d walked away, they would have jumped out of the truck, thrown the small shark in their truck bed and had a grand story to tell.
But the story is ours and so are the pictures. We pose for pictures beside the shark, acting like we reeled it in and are relishing our victory. We take more pictures looking terrified.
We even yell, “Shark alert!”” to several runners passing by, who, of course, stop and take pictures as well.
We return home and the ones who slept in ask if we found anything interesting.
Just a few shells, a bottle cap and chunk of charcoal.
Oh, and did we mention the shark?