Posted in theology

Gifts from the Sea

By Elizabeth Prata

Happy Fourth of July long weekend, if you’re taking it off! For many of us the beginning of July is high summer. Lots of families take vacations at this time of year, and many of those, choose to go to the beach.

Shells, sea glass, rocks, coral, barnacles, and pottery from the sea, collected from Labrador to the Bahamas. Prata photo

I used to take a week off at Christmas and head to Florida, and the week of the 4th I’d go to my favorite spot in Maine, Lubec. If you see the map of Maine as a profile of a dog, Lubec is at the dog’s nose. It borders Canada separated only by a narrow inlet. The bridge from Lubec takes you to Campobello Island on the Canadian island of New Brunswick.

As you might guess, the beaches on the hardy, rockbound and foggy coast of Maine are wild. As a matter of fact, Dr Beach, AKA Stephen Leatherman, several years ago rated a beach near Lubec as the most wild in America.

In December, I took my vacation at Venice FL, where the sand beaches are white and the ocean is azure and gentle at the Gulf coast.

Beaches around the US and around the world all have their own personalities. Each one yields up its own treasures. At Jasper Beach in Machias Maine, the beach has no sand! There’s only smoothly polished rocks of rhyolite and jasper. At Lubec’s Globe Cove, the sea yields sea glass, from the hundreds of years the fishing fleet used to throw over their glass bottles. At Venice FL, the sea yields up shark’s teeth in great numbers. At the deserted beaches in The Bahamas, you find coral washed up, bleached and in interesting twisted shapes. In Labrador, you find scallop shells bigger than your hand! All you need is one of these for dinner!

You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. (Psalm 89:9)

And of course, there’s shells!

If you’re headed to the beach, or are already there, here are a few facts I found fascinating. As you amble along the borderline between ocean and ground, as you wade in the waters to cool your tired feet, as you shield your eyes and gaze out to the limitless blue expanse, praise God for making such a beautiful habitation, and its creatures so complex and wondrous.

My favorite shell is the moon snail. He has a lot of cousins. They all have that sweet spiral, so pleasing to the eye. Their hushed colors of slate grey or moon blue are also pleasing. In the US’s warmer waters and the tropics the shell colors are brighter. Some think this is because of the temperature of the ocean. Others think it’s because of the different food available that translates through digestion to the calcium the shells are made of. Scientists still aren’t sure what kinds of pigments the mollusks are using. The reasons for shell coloration and variation are a mystery to scientists, but God created them all. In one day! He knows why their colors and shaes are so varied. Perhaps to create a palette of beauty that glorifies Him.

Juvenile whelk, collected Gulf Coast Florida. Prata photo

Moon snails for all their delicate beauty are actually rapacious predators. The holes you see on other snail shells are made by the moon snail. He climbs on top of a shell, spits acid, uses his tongue lined with teeth to drill a hole, then spews acid onto the hapless mollusk inside. He waits for his prey to melt a little, then inserts his stomach into the hole and absorbs the prey.  Ouch! Yuck!

This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the LORD Almighty is his name: (Jeremiah 31:35)

Did you know that the moon snail is hatched with a little shell attached already? That’s the point at the start of the spiral. So cool.

Moon snail, collected Maine. Prata photo

Scallops can grow into the size of dinner plates, their age shown by lines on the shell – just like the rings of a tree. I found that one in the photo at the top, in Blanc Sablon near Labrador Canada.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— he remains faithful forever. (Psalm 146:6)

The Bahamas has been described as having the third most extensive coral reef system in the world. Did you know? Andros Island has a 140-mile Barrier Reef – and that is one of the longest coral reefs in the world.

Coral. The Bahamas. Prata photo

Did you know? Corals are in fact animals, not plants. Coral reefs are the largest structures on earth of biological origin.

Sea glass is becoming rarer.

Did you know? Sea glass takes 20 to 40 years, and sometimes as much as 100 years, to acquire its characteristic texture and shape. Sea glass begins as normal shards of broken glass that are then persistently tumbled and ground until the sharp edges are smoothed and rounded. In this process, the glass loses its slick surface but gains a frosted appearance over many years.
Naturally produced sea glass (“genuine sea glass”) originates as pieces of glass from broken bottles, broken tableware, or even shipwrecks, which are rolled and tumbled in the ocean for years until all of their edges are rounded off, and the slickness of the glass has been worn to a frosted appearance.

This article talks about the best places to find sea glass and mentions Jasper Beach in Machiasport, Maine among other beaches Downeast. That’s where you find the round and tumbled stones. Some glass can be found there, too. But if you’re going that far, drive just a bit further to Lubec, and walk the small beach at Globe Cove. That’s where even more sea glass treasure can be found.

If you spot some sea glass, salute our God who made the ocean and currents’ motion so strong that over time his waters will wear away hard glass.

See the barnacles on the scallop? Apparently in Labrador they grow em big! Barnacles are a sea creature that attaches to things, like they did to the underside of our sailboat. Enough of them get on there and it slows down the boat considerably, creating a lot of drag. Occasionally you have to pull the boat out of the water at a marina and scrape them off.

Barnacles on a scallop. They make it hard for the scallop to swim, too. Prata photo

Did you know that the cement barnacles use is stronger than anything man can make synthetically? How barnacles did it was a mystery from time immemorial until 2014. The US Navy has been intensely interested in barnacles, partly because of the issue of slowing the boats when barnacles grow on the hull, and also because the cement the creatures use is so sticky in salt water!!

When you’re walking on a pier and see the barnacles on the pilings, salute our God who made them so super strong.

Jasper Beach Machiasport ME. Prata photo

Whether it’s shark’s teeth, shells, rocks, sea glass, pottery, or any other treasure you find on vacation, praise God who made it all in 6 days by the power of His word and the creativity of His intellect.

Below you’ll find some resources I’ve enjoyed to help me learn more (and perhaps extend my vacation even after I get home?) the wonderful finds you find at the beach!

Conchologists of America, information about the shells and the animals that inhabit them. Conchologist is a shell collector.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote a books of poems and thoughts called Gift from the Sea. Here is the link to the 50th anniversary edition

Remembering Lubec: Stories from the Easternmost Point (American Chronicles) 
is a short book about life in that harsh but beautiful climate and location

This is a good book, and pretty, too: Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems


Posted in discernment, Uncategorized

The Forgotten Victorian Craze for Collecting Seaweed, and other biblical thoughts on women’s roles

I subscribe to a funky and interesting magazine called Atlas Obscura. The daily digest presents articles about little known places and events from today or the past and brings new life to them. For example, did you know that all the NY City Public Libraries were built with apartments in them, so the caretaker could live on premises? This was to keep the coal stoves burning, which had to be stoked constantly. Photos of the now-defunct spaces intrigued me. The empty, roomy apartments in the most contested real estate locations fire up my imagination.

I read yesterday of a fad in Victorian times (that’s the period Queen Victoria reigned from 1837-1901). It was seaweed collecting. Natural history was a huge endeavor back then. As travel became easier (trains, steam ships) and missionaries went abroad, so did flora and fauna collectors. Carl Linnaeus’ work as a zoologist and botanist led to the creation of modern-day biological nomenclature for classifying organisms. This work has led to Linnaeus’ distinction as the father of taxonomy, says the Carl Linnaeus page. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution also fueled interest in classifying and organizing the world around us.

As the Atlas Obscura reports,

Nineteenth century Britain was a hotbed of biological enthusiasm. “Natural history was absolutely huge,” says Dr. Stephen Hunt, a researcher in environmental humanities who works at the University of the West of England. Households filled up with painstakingly stuffed mammals and birds. So-called “gentlemen scientists” traveled the world drawing, describing, and collecting plants and animals. As railway networks grew, and labor advances led to more leisure time, ordinary citizens got in on the trend. Microscopes became more affordable, and collecting clubs popped up across Britain.

Ease of travel and new theories sparked an interest in the natural world and the Britons ambled over hill and dale, mountain and sea to collect, classify, draw, press, save, and discuss what they had collected.

One can easily imagine the draw toward the seashore, in Victorian times as now. When I was traveling on a sailboat, I collected shells. I organized them in a fishing tackle box according to the taxonomy outlined by Linnaeus. It was fun to try and organize the world. It was interesting to connect to the sea creatures around me. Shells are fascinating and beautiful, and for the budding botanist, I suppose their fascination with the plant world equaled mine of the sea.

In Victorian times, the beach-going women wore their multiple layers of wool skirts to the ankle, parasols overhead, mincing delicately along the wavelets lest a female should fall and expose something, like a shinbone or that most enticing of cartilage, the kneecap.

The reason that there was not a Victorian-era craze of women collecting seashells or plants and only of seaweed collecting, is because of sex. Atlas Obscura continues,

Women, though, were still largely left out. The biggest natural history clubs of all, the Royal Society and the Linnaean Society, refused female members, and barred women even from their “public” meetings. Hunting animals was too dangerous, and digging up plants was, well, too sexy. “There was a taboo on botany, because Linnaean botany was based on the sexual parts,” says Hunt. “That was seen as controversial.”

The excessive prudishness and rigid, Pharisee-like adherence to gender roles (especially for women) of the Victorian era was a pendulum swinging response to the loose morals and licentiousness of the Regency period immediately prior to Queen Victoria’s ascension to the throne. Cultural prohibitions against women collecting flowers because they might be unduly stirred by a stamen … seems excessive.

That is precisely why we don’t look to the culture for guidance as to male and female roles. The old chestnut that ‘back in Bible days women were regarded as chattel’ and ‘we have made advances in culture and societal understanding’ does not hold true. Liberals say, ‘Women can and should teach in church and even be pastors, not like in those dim old days.

We have a mere 70 or 80 yer life span on average. Sometimes it’s much shorter. We have no long-term cultural memory. We are too deeply involved in society to be able to have any sort of objective perspective on changing times, shifting morals, or what is considered a normal cultural standard.

After the Victorian era came the short Edwardian period, then the flappers, higher hemlines, women entering the workforce as secretaries, telephone operators, and nurses. The pendulum had swung again. Cultural changes happen more often and more rapidly than we think. In the United States, it only took 15 short years for all 50 states to change the high and narrow standard for allowing divorce to a no-fault, EZ, anytime divorce. That’s lighting fast.

God is called the Ancient of Days. He alone has the high perspective of us humans. He alone has the invention of time itself in His hand. He knows what we believers need. He instituted roles for men and women, youths and elders. He set the qualifications of deacons and pastors. He inspired scripture urging fathers and mothers to perform their respective roles. There are no cultural reasons for allowing women to teach in the structure of church and no cultural reasons for men to abdicate leading in the structure of the church. There are only biblical reasons and Godly standards. God’s standards are always best.

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. (1 Timothy 2:12).

Now go collect some plants and shells, you never know when the pendulum will swing the other way and those activities will be seen as too salacious. 😉