- shelling on Sanibel -

Sanibel Island - southwest Florida - on the Gulf of Mexico. We're here by an interesting twist of events. We had reservations to go to Cabo San Lucas but had to change our plans three weeks ago because of the swine flu scare in Mexico. At the time we didn't know if the epidemic would get better or worse. Our Hilton Vacations Club 'time share' had only one place to offer as an alternative for the exact same dates, and it was this little island in Florida. So here we are - and honestly I'm glad for the switch. This place is wonderful.

Sanibel Island seems to be known for three things - it has a well-preserved natural habitat, it has an old-time lighthouse - built in 1885, and it is famous for being THE place for the hobby of 'shelling.' (Shelling is collecting seashells.) This is why: much of Florida’s southwestern coast is surrounded by a string of barrier islands. While most of these slender islands run in a general north-south direction, the crescent-shaped Sanibel Island is positioned in more of an east-west direction. The Gulf current here sweeps up the coast from the south, and Sanibel Island, positioned sideways to the flow, scoops up an abundant supply of seashells. Collectors flock to the island and comb the beaches, hunched over in what is called the "Sanibel Stoop," looking for the perfect shell. Yeah, I had never heard of such a thing, but apparently shelling is a big deal here. The island shores are literally made of shells and sand.

The people above are all looking for shells. They walk along at water's edge with sieves and strainers and bags for placing the shells. I talked to one lady and asked her why she pursues the hobby. "Are you searching for valuable shells?" I asked. "No," she said, "the shells aren't valuable; they're treasures." Then she enthusiastically sorted through her bucket of shells showing us what was special about each one. It was the color, or the perfectness or the unusualness. Kind of like birdwatchers, shellers have a master list of shells, and they work at finding all the shells on the list. The woman showed me her favorite that day - a miniature conch shell that was perfectly shaped and pure white. She told me that she fills decorative glass with her shells.

There are birds everywhere on Sanibel Island. abundant fish, I think that fish are abundant because there are fisherman on every pier and shoreline. And from the looks of the sign above, there are also alligators. Scott asked the desk clerk at our hotel if we really need to be worried about alligators. "I don't really know," said the young man, "I've only lived here five weeks. But I heard that if one comes after you, you should run in a zig-zag." So Scott and I have been practicing our zig-zag run.