Conch shells have a feeling of eternity. Built with the spiral of an ongoing, growing and expanding yet cyclical effort, they are replete with detail and texture, amazing structures built by miniscule creatures.
I first became intrigued by shells in the fourth grade, on a winter stay in Luquillo. We were on the beach every day for two weeks, four of us: me and my brother and two brothers we had met who were from Hingham. We swam and fought and built forts out of palm leaves, sticks and coconuts. I picked up shells washed up on the beach.
I found a conch shell, and my mother conspired with me to fit it in our luggage and bring it back to wintry Massachusetts. That summer, in Plymouth where we’d spend summers in a cottage by a pond, I found a store that sold exotic shells. It was the strangest store, bright and corny, mostly stocked with tourist souvenirs for the Plymouth Rock crowd, but also trading in these unexpected things. They were beautiful objects in bright colors: green and orange, built in unexpected dramatic shapes, spiky or curved back upon themselves. I started collecting them, with my parents help and approval, these magical objects. They were so creative and unexpected, with long spiky forms or completely circular, curved back in on themselves, and hard and protective but also often surprisingly fragile.
I don’t think I saw them as homes, as someone’s home or even someone’s skeleton, and yet that’s what they are. They are constructed painstakingly, the life’s work of those who build them, they are building the exoskeleton that allows them to live, for as long as they live, or building diminutive cathedrals. It’s this feeling of grandeur that has drawn me to this conch shell, and to dedicate some hours to scratching its image out on paper, in traces of red ink.
It is its complex construction, the spiral marked on its face that gradually spreads out into the world, and its horned back stretching upwards. These structures feel eternal, they feel monumental in a real sense of the world, like monuments to a life lived, to dedication. Their endurance seems palpable, in such a way that migrations and flights will pass over and above them, will flow around them, and they perdure.