Last week, I had a particularly strange dream. The image of the monstrous seashell building is still tumbling around on the ocean floor of my brain.
I know it was fueled in part by my neighbor. She was preparing to attend a beach wedding over the weekend and as I watered the garden at dusk, she called out over the fence to ask my opinion on the best dress of three. A mini fashion show ensued as she popped in and out the front door in short order, doing a quick pirouette each time. I suggested the comfortable stretchy number with the peacock feather pattern over the short cocktail dress or the thing with the trailing wrap skirt and bodice that would require stitching and extra boob support to make it work. Why make an outfit more complicated when you need to be comfortable near the ocean—because . . . sand, saltwater, and wind.
Later, she awaited her frantic friend whose son was getting married to arrive last minute to help prepare wedding favors—seashell ornaments. Piles of them. All of which needed a dab of hot glue, ribbons, and hole-punched tags with the bride and groom’s names attached. It would be a late night of of production for her and as it happens, for me as I slept.
In the dream, I rowed a small boat out into a wide canvas of ocean. There, I saw a large metal spike rising from a soft ripple of water and bubbles. I slipped into the water to swim towards it and grasped it with one hand, my legs floating behind in a gentle current. I touched the top of it, and found it sharp and tapered as a needle point blade.
Then I looked down into the ocean below and felt a strange wave of fear and nausea as I discovered what I was holding was a spire attached to an enormous building that went down for miles. It was shaped like a turrid shell, more specifically, Turris babylonia: the Babylon turrid or Tower Turrid. I could see endless windows spiraling into oblivion, casting golden whorls of light out of the black-green hulk of bone-metal. The windows were an inverted negative of the pattern on the elusive Scaphella junonia: the junonia shell, or Juno’s volute.
I battled two opposing instincts—swim down to see if there was more to the cityscape; or get back in my little red boat and find the nearest land. Somehow, my sense of the building was based on a faint memory from a previous dream. It did not feel like a livable, underwater Utopia, but a submerged and dark-tinged Atlantis. This seashell skyscraper was merely a glittering prison tower.
The morning after the wedding and my dream, I asked Terri how everything turned out.
“Oh, we were up ’til one in the morning,” she said stiffly, “but they turned out nice. Hold on, I’ll show you.” She ran back into the house to retrieve a sample.
She dangled a few shells on silver and gold ribbon between two fingers, one of them a Babylonia. The dream swam up and flooded me with remembrance.
Later, I read that people who attend beach weddings often receive seashell favors, bought in bulk from a craft store, just as these were. Sometimes, brides want that extra stagecraft to their ocean side ceremony and purchase cheap bags of foreign shells to scatter along the beach or create aisle runners. They often get left behind, run out with the tide, and wash back in to the minor annoyance of pros or the sheer delight of amateur shellers (yes, a name for people who collect seashells) depending on their knowledge of where the shells originated. But most people who buy them have the innocent intention of spreading them on local beaches so their children and grandchildren can go hunting and find a rare treasure—albeit, not a local creature that has fled its conical home. Shellers call these castaway orphans and refugees “Wedding Shells.” Still others want to rid themselves of their old beach comber collection with similar meaningful ceremonies that return them to the sea, even if it’s not the same water.
I look at some of my own collection on my nature altar, recalling the sandy coastlines and aquamarine water I dove in to collect them—even who I was with when I found them. California. Florida. Oregon. British Virgin Islands. Once, I opened a box on a dresser at an estate sale to find a small clutch of shells, which promptly went home with me. I wondered, where had they gone to find all these? What memories were attached to all these nature objects? Were any of my prizes wedding shells? Certainly not the brain coral or the banded tulip shell, not the dried urchin or the sand dollar—I found those in their native spaces.
And what of all those holey stones aka Faerie Stones, Hag Stones, or Witch’s Amulets I have a knack for finding? Or for them finding me. It is said that they offer protection by placing them on a nail near doorways. Faerie stones provide a window into other worlds as you gaze through the naturally made hole eroded by time and water, or clam-like shelled creatures called piddocks, known by the sweeter name, angelwings.
Piddock shells are divided into 2 or 3 sections, one of them with a pointed beak that contains a set of ridges or “teeth,” much like a grinding plate for spices. They slowly drill their elliptical shells into rocks, creating tubular burrows, rhythmically contracting the muscles attached to their wings, siphoning water and holding it in to create an expansive pressure, and extending a fleshy foot that grips the stone surface of their home to rotate the shell. As they grow, they enlarge their hole, carving out space to live in and protect themselves. They remain in their stonehouse hidey-hole their entire lives—5 to 10 years. Because of their foot and their siphon hose, they can never quite fully retract into their shell halves and close their wings. They are a mouth with teeth on the outside and feet on the inside! Those muscles fusing the wings together become weak, and the rest of the shell fragile, making it rare to find angelwings on the shore with both halves still intact.
But perhaps what I should be doing with the stones with holes in them drilled by nature to see through time with, is what the mystics did—thread them with a black cord and put them near the bed to ward off nightmares. Especially nightmares of buildings in the shape of a cutting shell rising above the water’s edge.