My favorite beach is littered with pearly pieces of sand dollars. I’ve brought enough home to fill a largish terracotta pot. I’ve found whole ones but they are usually small; it’s hard for a large sand dollar to make it to shore without damage once its dead. Then, there’s the one I found nearly buried in the sand where the tide was lapping. The center hole, where the mouth is on the bottom side, is broken but it makes a better aura for Mary.
Last week, I stole a dollar. That’s not quite accurate: I took one that someone else found. I assume it was a she who picked up two sailor’s ears, an orange baby’s foot print, and a mostly-whole sand dollar on which the shells were carefully piled. A Marlboro butt was snuffed in the sand beside the small cairn. I wouldn’t have noticed except I reached for the butt to put in the trash bag with my own — and, there it was.
My heart actually skipped a beat. I looked around to see if anyone was watching. But I was sitting a long way from the high tide mark and this wasn’t a random collection; this was an assembly of treasure. I picked out the cigarette and moved the sand dollar into my own pile. Unlike her, I remembered to take it home.
There’s a carpet of living sand dollars between the shore and the sandbar. They shift and stir like loose paving tiles under a careful foot. Living sand dollars are greenish brown and covered with a fine fuzz of cilia which they use to propel across the ocean floor. They also excrete an iodine-like substance when removed from the water; telltale yellow stains the hands of those who don’t know better (tourists) and those who don’t care (callous locals).
I wish I didn’t care. I long to bring home a big stack of perfect round specimens. I’d set them in the sun to die and dry, then soak them in a bucket of bleach. But to do that would be against my self-styled religion. So I take what I can find — and what others find and leave behind.