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Appreciating things great and small

Published November 13. 2010 09:00AM

One by one, they come back to the bus, clutching their treasures in their hands.

They are members of my Englewood Shell Club and we have spent the past two days treasure hunting in Islamorada and other parts of the Florida Keys.

Some hunted underwater, wearing wet suits and snorkeling gear to better find the prizes they sought.

Some stayed on shore, hunting under rocks and in hidden crevices.

When we boarded the bus at the end of the day's search, our club president asked to see what treasures we found.

Jeanne Friend opened her small bag to show several kinds of coral, including a distinctive rose coral shell.

"Ohhhh, how pretty!" exclaimed the club president in appreciation as she eyed Jeanne's treasures.

"The way we carry on, one would think we had real gems here," laughed Jeanne.

They did have gems. They had handfuls of proof of the wonders of nature. When you learn to appreciate the intricate beauty of even the smallest shell, you begin to fully appreciate the scope of how wondrous nature is.

As seashells go, what we found on that trip weren't the finest or the rarest of shells. Islamorada is a boater's paradise lovely to visit but it doesn't offer a treasure chest of shells such as one can find at Sanibel, one of the best shelling places in the world.

Because we didn't have the variety of shells we usually find, we had to look harder and longer for our treasures from the sea. And that had its own special rewards.

Many of us ended up collecting snail shells, of all things. I thought the bleeding tooth nerite was extraordinary in the way it looked like two teeth under bloody gums. It's certainly well named.

I never realized how varied, how colorful and how beautiful something as simple as a snail shell could be.

If you doubt this, pull up photos of snail shells on the Internet. I think you'll be amazed at the intricacy and beauty of these shells.

It's not a stretch to say shell club members are a bit like shells themselves in that the more I learn about each one, the more intriguing they seem. One of the things I like best about them is their appreciation of each and every thing in nature.

When we made a side trip to see the Key deer at Big Pine, there were so many oohs and aahs when we spotted the tiny deer that are about half the size of Pennsylvania's white tail deer.

I thought then of the children's poem about all creatures great and small. The older I grow, the more I appreciate all creatures great and small. I'm even starting to appreciate the alligator in my backyard pond.

I've been told that photographers learn to "see" differently and I know that's true. It's true of shellers, too. Those who learn to look for the beauty and specialness of a fingernail-sized shell learn to extend that appreciation to all of life.

Seeing beauty in simple things is a gift worth cultivating for anyone because it reaps personal rewards.

Someone once explained that theory by comparing it to using a flashlight instead of a floodlight. While a floodlight illuminates the broad picture, a flashlight can pinpoint small areas, letting you see more detail.

Do you look at the world through a floodlight, or a flashlight? If you learn to zero in on detail in any simple thing, you see more of the miracle of creation.

Author and radio personality Joni Eareckson Tada isn't a sheller but, through necessity, she has learned to look at life through a narrow beam. When she was a teenager, Joni dived into a shallow pool, breaking her neck and becoming a paraplegic.

One would think living life in a wheelchair would be limiting. But Joni says having limited movement expands her world rather than limiting it.

"It's all in how you learn to see," she said during one radio broadcast. When your world is smaller, you see more, she explained, because you look more closely at every little thing. She talked about relishing the detailed beauty of the inside of a flower and appreciating the play of light as the sun poked through trees, things others might miss as they hurry by.

Before her accident, she said "big boisterous pleasures" provided only fleeting satisfaction for her. Now, she finds pleasure in the way a breeze feels on her face and in the sound the wind makes when it rustles leaves.

"Smaller pleasures are rich because these things yield a spurt of gratitude," she said.

I've always remembered her talk about small pleasures. The older I get, the more I seem to relish small pleasures of all kinds.

Joni Eareckson Tada is right. Whether it's a seashell, a sunset or a snail, zeroing in on small pleasures truly does expand your world as well as your gratitude for life.

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