This is the next installment of Beatrice Allen Page’s unpublished manuscript, Landscape With Figures:
“The outgoing tide left a great abundance of sand dollars strewn on the beach, which happens only occasionally – probably something to do with the storm.
Four little girls, one carrying a small basket, one an empty coffee can, and the others paper bags, were eagerly collecting them.
I met Mr. K giving his dog a run and as we walked on up the beach together, he remarked that he was certain there was a fortune to be made in shells if one could figure out a way to use them in some really practical way, not just some piddling thing like making jewelry.
‘With all the millions of shells lying on beaches all over the world, free for the taking…’ and all the time he was talking, he was playing with one of the sand dollars, tossing it lightly on the palm of his hand as one might a coin. And I saw in his eyes a reflection of what he saw as he looked at the shell: billions and billions of silver dollars. One might have known that Mr. K is a successful businessman.
Later in the day I passed the four little girls sitting on a doorstep busily painting their shells with water colors. There was a line of completed ones lined up on the porch railing. They called me to see them, frankly pleased with their handiwork. They had brought out the petal-lined pattern on the shell by filling in the five ‘petals’ with colors that stood out from the background.
‘Don’t you think they’re artistic?’ one of the asked me, obviously deriving as much delight from her accomplishment as her great-grandmother may have derived from painting china.
I agreed and waited her her to inform me they were for sale. I did all the youngsters an injustice – none of them had any such mercenary motive. Their pleasure was purely aesthetic.
I got to thinking as I walked on about the different attitudes people take to simple, everyday objects like seashells. A scientist would approach a shell, if he’d never seen one before, with great curiosity. He’d want to know what substance it was made of, what was its purpose, what determined it shape, what kind of environment it was found in, where it fitted into the scale of evolution – in short, all the facts that could be known about it. Increase of knowledge would be his principal goal.
The artist, on the contrary, would appreciate the shells simply for the design, the form, the color, the texture. It would not bother him too much to remain in abysmal ignorance, for instance, of what a shell is made of.
The collector would look only for rare and perfect species, the fascination for him lying chiefly in the challenge of the quest.
To the poet, a shell would very likely be a raw material for a metaphor. And similarly a mystic might see a shell as a symbol – as the scallop shell, I believe, is considered a symbol of spiritual pilgrimage, although I have no idea why.
One could go on at some length with examples of how different temperaments look at the world. No wonder individuals and nations have trouble in communicating.”