‘I Love Shelling’ Gets Some Awesome Press!

My favorite blog about shelling on Sanibel got some well deserved press- Just in case you missed the NYT on Wednesday August 7, 2011- I thought you might like to read the article too!

A Florida Island Draws an Array of Seashells and Their Hunters

By    Photos by Angel Valentin

The New York Times

Published: August 7, 2012 The New York Times

“We take our shelling very seriously,” said Clark Rambo, on Sanibel Island last month with his wife, Pam, who blogs about the hobby. Specimens pour onto the beach, in part because of the area’s geography.

Hundreds take to the beach near the lighthouse on this hammock-shaped island, hunching over the sand as they dig, lift, inspect and move on. The position is so common it has a name: the Sanibel Stoop. The beachcombers wave and chitchat but, with their competitive instincts primed, they steer clear of one another’s turf, keeping a sharp eye out for dots or spirals or telltale lumps in the sand.

“We take our shelling very seriously,” said Clark Rambo, who is known as Super Sheller Clark, a moniker used, sometimes admiringly, sometimes grudgingly, by his wife, Pam. “Every day on the beach is a treasure hunt, and that’s what makes it so competitive.”

Stretched out as far as the eye can see are shells — large, tiny, cone-shaped, scalloped, spiraled, white, orange, pink. Sanibel Island, and its neighbor, Captiva Island, just off the state’s southwest coast, are where hunters come for a seashell bonanza. There is no other place like it in the country, and very few places like it in the world. On some days, depending on the wind, shells pour onto the beach in piles, seducing even the most jaded beachgoers.

This has been particularly true in the weeks since Tropical Storm Debby, the late June storm that caused flooding and beach erosion along some pockets of Florida’s west coast but proved a boon to seashell hunters.

Sanibel’s largess is in its geometry: It is a 12-mile barrier island with a distinctive curve. The coastline runs west to east rather than north to south. When storms blow in from the northwest, the waves and currents funnel more than 300 shallow-water species of shells right onto the beach. Other parts of the world, like the South Pacific, may draw more species, but the shells are not nearly as easy to find. They require boat trips and dives.

“There are days here when you have layers of shells four feet thick,” said José H. Leal, the director of the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum here. “It’s one of the best places in the world for shelling, for sure.”

Seashells have proved resilient, too. At a time when fish stocks are down and coral reefs are dying, Mr. Leal said seashells — made by mollusks mostly from the calcium carbonate in seawater — continue to thrive.

For some, searching for seashells is a hobby; for others, it is a calling and an obsession that sometimes reaches back generations, with collections passed down like heirlooms. Here, there are shell clubs, shell stores, shell guides, shell excursions, shell crafts and the shell museum.

Inside his shell-festooned house, Mr. Rambo holds dear a black-and-white photo of his room as a boy. The image shows his twin bed, spread with seashells mostly scooped from the Jersey Shore. Mrs. Rambo, an artist, also grew up collecting shells, a shared passion that helped cement the couple’s relationship 18 years ago, despite Mr. Rambo’s being injured during a date.

It happened during a day of shelling on Sanibel early in the courtship; she pushed him (playfully) as he stood, his feet dug into the wet sand.

“My leg did a spiral twist,” he said. “Sounded like a shotgun.”

Now Mrs. Rambo is a sought-after figure on the island — a shell-ebrity, if you will — because of her popular Web site, www.iloveshelling.com. It is routine for her to be stopped to listen to a fan rattle off a list of finds (tulips, conchs, whelks, murex) or to answer a question about where to go and when. (The answer is Lighthouse Beach and Blind Pass, which lies between Sanibel and Captiva at low tide, when the wind is westerly, preferably after a storm.)

On a recent evening, shell hunters hungrily swept the beach with their eyes. They picked up shells and peered inside them.

“Is anybody home in there?” Mrs. Rambo asked. If a mollusk was inside, she placed the shell back on the sand. That is the rule in these parts — no live shelling. Before a 1994 law, people hauled boxes of shells away and began depleting the shoreline.

In front of the lighthouse, a teenage boy picked up a starfish and showed it off. A woman from North Carolina dug a hole. She recognized Mrs. Rambo. “I’ve probably found 15 bittersweets,” Denise Kisko, 56, told her, referring to a scallop-shaped shell. She glanced at a 13-year-old girl who was snooping in her spot. “Don’t you find anything in my pile,” she said, kidding, sort of.

Competition is stiff. The morning last October that Mrs. Rambo found a precious, elusive junonia, a species of sea snail known for its brown spots, she had told friends to meet her at Blind Pass at sunrise. Hoping to beat the competition, she got there before sunrise, with a light on her hat, to hunt solo. She spotted the junonia in a little trench. It was her eureka moment.

“I started screaming,” she said. “I was a shellunatic.”

Never mind that her husband has found four junonia over his lifetime, a remarkable feat he loves to sprinkle into conversations. After he posted a photo of his fourth junonia online, it proved too much for the shell crowd.

“They started booing him on the Web site,” Mrs. Rambo said, with a laugh.

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Cone Shells: Dangerous Beauty


I collect cone shells fairly often. On Sanibel, we have Alphabet, Dusky and Florida cones.  I just watched a NOVA documentary on venomous creatures, and to my surprise learned ALL cone shells are poisonous!

According to several online resources, the neurotoxin of these Atlantic varieties are not as deadly as their Pacific kin. However if I do run across a live specimen, I will certainly handle with exceptional care while returning it to the sea.

Here is a link to the documentary I mentioned NOVA: Venom Nature’s Killer
For more on varieties of Sanibel shells visit I Love Shelling

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Childhood Memories of Florida

I was born in 1965, and grew up in Homewood, Alabama. From the time I was a little girl, my family vacationed in the Florida panhandle.panhandle_map

My family, and people we knew went to Ft. Walton beach or Panama City. I didn’t know much about the rest ofpost card of florida with mickey mouse Florida. I knew rocket ships launched from a place called Cape Canaveral; that Mickey Mouse  lived somewhere ‘way down there’ and from TV ads, that oranges grew in great numbers somewhere in Florida. A farmer put a sticker on every one of those oranges before he sent them to our Piggly Wiggly supermarket! Between government land for rocket ships,  farm land for oranges and whatever land Walt Disney had, there really couldn’t be room for much else, right?

APOLLO1lWe vacationed in the Florida in the heat of summer. I never questioned the logic, this was just something we did.  Every year my parents got so excited about those trips, so I too, was thrilled to leave a hot and sticky Alabama for a hotter, and stickier, Florida; where, at the very least, there was the ocean.  Thinking back, I am pretty sure the anticipation and planning of the trip was at least as much fun as the trip itself.  I remember planning all the games we 3 kids would play in the car on the way, what clothes we would wear; packing and repacking our little suitcases and bags to fit everything we would need.

There are memories from so many years and trips, but really, they were all the same. On the day of our trip, Momma spent the morning gathering what seemed like half our house; and the afternoon ‘fixing’ her hair and makeup. She would don a new ‘vacation dress’ just as we were ready to leave. My dad liked to drive at night when it was cooler, so after he got off of work we would load the car and go. In the early seventies we had  a green square-back Volkswagen. In the early eighties, a blue ford station wagon with wood paneling on the side, and jump seats in the back.  All the windows would be down in the car. My sister, brother and I played games to pass the time. We would wag our arms up and down at truck drivers whizzing past us on the highway, jumping up and down (no seat belts in those early days) and squealing with delight when they obeyed our signals and sounded big truck horns. We played I Spy; punched each others arms when one of us saw a VW bug. On the back roads, in the twilight hours, we held our breath and stuck our thumbs to the ceiling as we passed a cemetery. We played at these games till our playfulness disintegrated into irritated squabbling, which would inevitably lead to a smack from one or another parent.  Silence would be ordered, then sweaty, restless napping would eventually fall over each of us.

A 4.5 hour drive to Ft. Walton Beach, Florida seemed like an eternity.  When my younger siblings were sleeping, daddy would let me sit by his side and steer the car.  As far as I knew, I was the one driving, and that was thrilling for a little kid.  Because we always arrived at our destination at night, we smelled the ocean before we saw it. To this day the smell of the ocean on a warm summer night is the most wonderful one I know. Though my parents referred to it as ‘the beach house’, we always stayed at a teeny, pink cinderblock house a block away from the actual ocean.  I suppose, when you only see the beach once or twice a year, that little pink box was close enough to count.

The walk to that crowded beach was always a misery.  It started on the steaming hot pavement and transitioned to sand so-hot-it-blistered your feet (why did we never wear shoes?)  I remember my mom slathering my white skin with coppertone, then tying a big floppy hat to my sweaty head.  I don’t know how vigilant my parents were about sunscreen back then, but we could have protected our skin better had we just rolled in sand after applying the coppertone. We always came home sunburned except for the places where sand had stuck to that oil.

After a day at the beach, there were afternoon naps, charcoal grilled hamburgers or a BBQ chicken dinner, and we had ice cream every night.  There were rainstorms at night that sent us running to the safety of my parents bed.  Thunder rattled that little pink box with wind and rain so fierce I knew we would all wash away by morning. Daddy would always calm us down by counting the time between lightning and thunder. Though we never did so at home, we sat outside in the dark every night with my parents; slapped mosquitos and watched meteor showers, or just counted stars. One year there was a total lunar eclipse. I remember my brother running around with sparklers while my sister and I sat between mom and dad; each of them pointing toward the moon and explaining what was happening.

My memories are bits and pieces of many trips to Florida with my family. Though I live ‘way down’ in Florida, I am grateful to live, full-time, in an environment where my parents, siblings and I shared so many happy times.

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A Land Remembered by Patrick Smith

Everyone in my family loves to read, but my  son and I do not get excited about the same kinds of books. So when my twelve-year-old brought home a copy of A Land Remembered and said I HAD to read it,  how could I not be intrigued?

We recently uprooted our fifth and seventh grade sons from the only home they’d known in Idaho, and moved them to Sanibel, Florida (a place they had only visited once before.) At school, Jacob was given an annotated version of Patrick Smith’s novel as required reading.   For six months prior to our move, I had tried to help Jacob find books outside of the ‘fantasy’ genre he enjoyed, without much success. Hooray for required reading!


As he handed me a copy of the book, (he actually checked an extra copy out of the school library) I shot a quizzical look his way, so he said  “Mom, I know we don’t really like to read the same stuff, but you will LOVE this book, and I want to share that with you.”  Wow. This book must be something, right? I started reading A Land Remembered that night and from the first page, I  was swept away to a time and place and people, with whom, by the end of the book, I felt a kinship and connection. I am touched my son thought of me as he was reading this book, certainly our connection is stronger for having shared the journey through this beautifully written novel.

Jacob is now enjoying reading books in genres other than ‘fantasy’. He has picked up more Patrick Smith books to enjoy, and has branched out to nonfiction books!  A Land Remembered has given me much to think about as I put down roots here on Sanibel. I hope the connections I make to ‘natural Florida’ are as deep and meaningful as the ones Mr. Smith has made.

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A Day In The Life

As I mentioned, every exploration of flora and fauna on Sanibel is a beautiful confusion of the senses. I am happily overwhelmed in my early days of learning about what grows and lives here.  I am first ‘wife’ and ‘mom’ and this part of my life keeps me very busy.  But every day (okay almost every day) I leave my ‘real’ life behind for an adventure.  I need only step into the sunshine and look about to find a tiny ambassador for the natural world.  A brown anole or tree frog is inevitably perched on a bromeliad or hanging on the wall of the house, head cocked, eye upturned, gaze steady. This ambassador usually bids a quick adieu, skittering off to more important matters, and I am free to explore.

Leaving home for the beach I am barefoot, having left my winter boots a thousand miles from here. I walk down the middle of our street because here, I can. For the first few steps I am acutely aware of the absence of familiar noise.  Little, if any, traffic. Rarely do I hear the distant mechanical rumblings I associate with all my days of city living. There is just the hush of the wind, and the warmth of sun on my skin.

I walk in silence for only a few moments when overhead the screech of an Osprey awakens me from my delusion of  quiet. Suddenly, it seems each of my senses is  competing to take in something from this ‘other’ world I have entered. Feet leave pavement, and toes sink into almost-but-not-quite too hot sand.  Everywhere my eye lands there are tiny explosions of color and texture. Flowers wave brilliant red and yellow petals in the wind, motioning me towards calm, aqua water.

Ocean breeze blows.  Sea Oats rustle.  The smell of the sea signifies my arrival at water’s edge. The rolling body of a dolphin breaks the surface of water then disappears, leaving my eye searching for another graceful pass.  A squadron of pelicans slide silently across the water in a precise single file, then rise high into an unbroken expanse of blue sky. They target a school of fish, and fall, one splashing after the other into the sea, where they fill their pouches with wiggling, silvery mullet.   My ears are full of the sounds of nature. Shells tumble in the surf, each begging me to look and touch. Waves break around me, endless in their song.  I step into the ocean, splash cold clear water on my face. I taste salt, feel the sun upon my shoulders and sand between my toes.  I close my eyes and know that  I am home.

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What’s This? Useful Identification Resources

The beaches of Sanibel are littered with treasure. People (and I mean me) pick up the darndest things!  Inevitably,  I hear someone, or I myself ask,  “What is this?”

Identifying the ‘stuff’ you discover on Sanibel  can be overwhelming.  There is a staggering abundance of native flora and fauna, and then there’s what is on the beach. Not a single day since moving to Sanibel, have I walked the beach and come home without a new treasure to identify.

There are many good ID guides available, but two stand out for me. The first resource I turn to is not a book at all, but an amazing blog.


iLoveShelling is a comprehensive and well organized blog, crafted by longtime Sanibel resident Pam Rambo, which chronicles the island’s common (and not so common) sea shells, beach bling, flora and fauna.

Pam is an artist, photographer and lover of all things ‘seashell’ and ‘beach bling’.  She shares in stories, photographs and videos what she, and other folks, are finding on Sanibel’s beaches. Her creativity and love for life on Sanibel shine through every post and photograph. Even if you aren’t a sheller it’s worth a visit to her blog. Her posts will transport you to our little paradise here in SW Florida.

If I’m in the mood to peruse an ID book,  Florida’s Living Beaches  is most used in my home.  Purchased in January 2012,  it is already dog-eared from use. Many shops on Sanibel have copies for sale. I found mine at  MacIntosh Books and Paper.

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