Twenty-nine treasure hunters talked strategy before their annual expedition began.
They plotted their location, consulted their charts and picked the best time to begin.
"It's important to be out there at the crack of dawn," said one adventurer.
"Oh, I think the best time is even earlier than that," said my friend, Marilyn, our skilled strategist.
To me, it seemed like the dead of night as we snaked quietly to the beach. Others had gotten there before me and the red ball rising from the ocean told me the treasure hunt had already begun.
Some of us started looking around our immediate surroundings while others trekked quickly down the beach, wanting to be the first to find their treasure.
Some searched at the water's edge while others waded into the Gulf, thinking that deep water held the best treasures.
The treasures we were seeking that day were seashells. Our Englewood Shell Club had traveled to Sanibel Island for our annual seashell scavenger hunt.
Some snatched up everything that looked appealing and soon had heavy buckets of their treasures from the sea.
Others were more selective, knowing just what they were looking for. They only stopped to pick special shells.
Those who waded into deep water were looking for "the big find," large specimens of desired shells.
I, on the other hand, kept my eyes peeled for the tiny wonders I most prize. I was pleased to find a few tiny wentletraps along with some ceriths, augers and other interesting shells. Most were about the size of my thumbnail and some were even smaller.
I so appreciate the intricate beauty of these small wonders. When there is such beauty in something as small as these shells, how can we possibly comprehend the full majesty of our world?
I can never hunt for seashells without thinking how much the search for shells mirrors life. While I walked along the beach with my friend, Jeanne, watching some women walk out into deeper water, I observed that some have to go far away to find their treasure, while others find it within arm's reach, regardless of where they are.
"You're a bit philosophical for so early in the morning, aren't you?" she retorted.
Absolutely. Searching for seashells does that to me.
I think it's amazing how selecting seashells is similar to how we make some of our choices in life.
I recall a trip to the beach with my daughter Maria who quickly picked up a bag full of damaged shells. I told her if she kept searching she could find plenty of perfect ones.
"But can't you see the beauty in these?" she asked.
Yes, I can. And I can see how that applies to people, too.
Some are cracked and chipped, showing wear from years of living. Some are damaged by the waves of life. But their inner beauty remains; ready to enrich the life of someone who cares enough to look closely.
When I think about it, I realize that when I bypass big shells to search for the tiny wonders of the sea, I am mirroring where I am now in life.
I no longer seek the big prizes. Instead, I glory in the small pleasures of each day.
There was a time when my career was paramount and I stayed focused to keep it on track. There was a time when I collected writing awards like I now collect seashells. If I won a lot of awards in one year, I called it a successful year. Now, I have a new way to measure success. If I use the day wisely, if I keep my eyes open to the wonders around me and if I keep my sense of appreciation in tack, I call it a successful day.
If I am able to play in my present outdoor Paradise, I know I have been given a grand prize.
If I am surrounded by caring friends, I know I have rewards worth far more than a wall full of writing honors.
When I moved on to a new stage in life, I dumped the award plaques in two big garbage cans. Some friends told me it was "a sin" to throw away the fruits of my labors.
But I believe that life offers new rewards every day and I lap up the tiny pleasures of each day.
The first taste of coffee in the morning, the enticing aroma of dinner simmering on the stove, the blessed pleasure of sharing meals with someone who is high on life and knows not to take these gifts for granted – those are "prizes" I now value.
Is my emphasis on enjoying small pleasures a function of age, or, is it a function of wisdom?
Do I find my treasure in the "small stuff" of each day only because I have finally slowed down long enough to notice?
Whatever the reason, I believe that it's our daily menu of "small stuff" that can make us content.
Like those shell seekers who stay close to shore on their treasure hunt, I have learned not to overlook the treasures within easy reach.
In this daily treasure hunt called life, we don't have to travel to distant shores to find our treasure. It is close at hand, waiting to be noticed and enjoyed.