Seeking a gift from the sea...

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach – waiting for a gift from the sea."

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh (1906-2001). Lindbergh is an American author who was also the first American woman to obtain her glider pilot's license. The quotation is from a favourite book of mine, Gift from the Sea, written by Lindbergh in 1955.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh


This is my aged copy of Gift from the Sea. It is a quick read and whenever I pick it up and glance through it, (often over the decades), I find something meaningful, some life lesson to take to heart.

It's time for a temporary escape from the routine and the Christmas hype for one week.  I will be bringing Gift from the Sea along with me to read on the beach.

This year has been a difficult one with the loss of my mom in March.

She always lavished me with encouragement and praise regarding my art.

All the crafts I had given her over the years were proudly displayed in the family home. This included a wooden key holder with painted pansies, an antique washboard I had cleaned up and painted with roses above the washboard section, a family tree, angels, and painted pots.  It surprised me that she never returned to the painted sceneries later in life that she so loved doing as a young mother. 

I miss her terribly especially at this time of the year.

A holiday by the sea

Hubby and I haven't had a holiday together since April 2014 and the time seems right just now.

It is a gift we are giving ourselves at this moment in our lives.

It is a gift I need.

open sea shell

We are flying to Mexico today to soak in some sun and relax on the beach.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh writes that for a while, when one first arrives at the sea, books should remain unread, and there should be no writing, not even any thinking. (I guess that might mean no art as well...)

"One is forced against one's mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore. [...] One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings."

I am trying very hard to get excited about this trip. More than ever, I know I should take her advice seriously and  just let the sea soothe me and forget about everything else.  

sea shell

Searching for gifts on the beach

I love walking along the beach, looking for treasures.  Polished stones and glass find their way into my home.  I have started photographing various objects I find washed up on shore.  Shells fascinate me with their creamy pearlescent interiors and concentric whorls on the outside highlighting sometimes subtle, sometimes vivid colours.

Even though I live nowhere near the sea, it's not surprising that shells have been part of my life.  They have been the subject of my art and crafts time after time.  

I first painted a shell in 1987 when I used words to create art long before there was software that could make image poems in seconds.

A university professor had asked permission to use the shell on a cover of a book he was about to publish. I had made him a copy and the image below is my yellowed copy.

image poem sea shell

Shells inspire creativity

Bowls of particularly beautiful shells are displayed in two bathrooms in my home. My parents were "snowbirds", the name given to retired Canadians who spend the winter months in the Sunshine State (Florida). They brought back shells for me so that I could use them in my crafts and they started this shell craze of mine.

At one time, shells and pieces of coral framed a mirror in our powder room, an idea I had seen in a home decorating magazine and I decided that I could easily replicate the frame which became a conversation piece when guests visited the powder room. After I got tired of it, we discarded both frame and shells.

Over the years, I collected shells from all the places I visited.

New collection of shells

This past September, I gathered beautiful black and grey shells, colours that I did not have in my collection, from the Jersey Shore near Strathmere. When I want to feature shells in my sketchbook or elsewhere, I have an impressive collection as inspiration.

shell on Jersey shore

the Jersey shore at Strathmere

journal sketch, watercolours, of shells of the jersey shore

Last year, I painted shells and coral in my sketchbook when I took an online watercolour sketching course with Jane Lafazio.

sea coral in sketchbook

sketchbook sea shells

In the sketch below, I selected a few of Lindbergh's passages that are personally significant and I used them around more painted shells.

When I first sketched the page of shells and quotations and emailed it to close friends, they  expressed their appreciation for Gift from the Sea as they too had read it or had someone close to them who had read it.

The shell is intricately woven as a metaphor throughout the life lessons in this little gem given to me by a dear friend in 1984. I wonder if she knew the impact the memoir would have on me? 

seashell sketch with quotations from Gift from the Sea

Lindbergh writes at the end of the book that shells remind her that "the sea recedes and returns eternally."

Through the ebb and flow of life itself, one must learn to accept the gifts as they are revealed and remain open to the present, not delving too much in the past, not looking too much to the future.

For the gift is truly found only in fully living in the moment. This is a little more difficult for me this year.

How will you "live in the moment" this holiday season? What books have left the greatest impact on you?  

4 Responses

  • This was an especially poignant posting. Enjoy your holiday with Neil and remember the
    Christmases with your mother fondly.

  • Ce que tes commentaires nous touchent et nous inspirent, Louise. Je sens que tu seras la vacancière la plus attentive, la plus réceptive et la plus reconnaissante de son séjour au bord de la mer, pendant cette vacance au Mexique. Bravo ! Je vais aller chercher la copie de ” Gift From The Sea” de ma mère que j’ai dans ma bibliothèque, un livre qu’elle affectionnait autant que toi, et en lire quelques extraits en pensant à toi et à tes précieux enseignements.

    • Oui Marie. Il faut lire et savourer les passages. Lire lentement et avec réflection. Tu m’en parles, ok?

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