Shells: A Haiku & Ruminations

Many things may be found along Earth’s shorelines, where rocks and sand meet the rolling waters edge. Shells, rocks, washed up garbage. All sorts of detritus.

Shells. I don’t think of them as detritus. More like mysterious beauties shrouded in juxtapositions: seemingly solid yet often easily crushed. Hard minerals yet ephemeral. Light in weight but dense and seemingly impervious.

Oyster and other shells are time keepers, mineral evidence of a bivalve’s life lived during a specific time, in a specific place. This is just like us: our own human bones.

Bones: A Haiku
Old hard oyster shells
Rings bare evidence of life
Only bones are left

Shells: Timekeepers of the Water

Oyster shells have rings, much like tree rings, which give clues about their life. The rings are visual evidence of growth and age as well as the marine environment a mollusk called home. For an oyster, less energy is spent growing during the cold season (winter) so growth is slower, which is visible in dense age rings. The warm season (summer) allows more growth and a less dense ring. To tell the age of an oyster shell is to look at seasonal growth: one year of growth = a thick dark section + a thin white line (warm season and winter season, respectively).

I don’t know about you but noticing and pondering these patterns in “seemingly simple” shells humbles me. Think about what they must endure, similar to plants. They aren’t going places. There they are, taking what comes at them. Though some even take adversity and turn it into pearls.

Lavandin and Thymus herba-barona with shells from Long Island Sound (29APR2020)

Not Only Time Keepers But A Renewable Resource

Other then having an appreciation for “washed up shells,” those lovely old bones offer a sustainable bounty which may be incorporated into garden mulch among many other things (see a link below to learn more). Do you grow Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, sage and rosemary? These herbs love the calcium carbonate in shells and limestone. Incorporating shells into gardening, especially for plants that prefer basic (pH >7) soils, is a lovely way to not only reuse what the Earth provides but also gently amend soil pH with a renewable resource instead of turning to a non-renewable source such as limestone. Also, a carpet of different shells is visually interesting versus traditional bark mulch when appropriate (again…sustainability…hmmmm…).

Shells Offer Us Life Lessons

Oyster larvae, the next generation, must settle on hard surfaces to fully mature. The best surface is an oyster bed (reef), which is mostly composed of previous generation’s shells. Compare this with human knowledge: new generations don’t often come up with new ideas but modify and build upon the foundation of previous generations ideas. As I’ve learned from texts and people before me an excellent way to learn first hand is though observing the world around us and humbly admit that a seemingly “trivial” creature as an oyster can teach us a lot.

On a parting note: I recently stumbled upon the following article by David Cecelski, which gives valuable insight into how shells were used in the Carolina’s. If we clean up Earth’s waters we may once again have such a relationship of recycling and reusing the bones of the ocean. Do you incorporate shells into your garden’s health? Reach out and let me know.

A hydrangea thrives next to this group of shells, which seems to suit the plant just fine over several years.

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