Shell Shock: The Crustacean Calamity

Shells without feet waiting for a clean and polish

We got home yesterday afternoon and, being the Type A person I am, I immediately dove into the process of unpacking, doing laundry, and getting settled at home again. This was an even bigger task than usual because we had celebrated Christmas by unwrapping gifts the night before we left for Hawaii, which meant there was an even bigger mess left behind than usual. Sigh. I don’t like chaos in my house. I find it counterproductive to my intention to live a more peaceful, mindful life. It’s difficult for me to feel at peace when I look around a cluttered, dirty house.

While we were in Hawaii, I would wander along the lava rocks on the beach outside our rental home and look for shells that had been beached and discarded. I would collect nice looking shells of that variety, ones on dry land rather than in the tidal pools because I know the tidal pools are teaming with sea snails and hermit crabs, and sometimes live cowries too. To be careful, though, when I would collect the shells, I made a habit of drying them on the lava rock wall by the pool or on the counter in the bathroom. The shells needed to be dried before packing, and I figured this would allow time for any sea life living in the shells that had somehow managed to escape my notice to make a break for it. And it did happen. One day I brought the few shells I had found to our bathroom, removed them from my pocket, walked into the other room, and a little while later heard something make a sound in the bathroom. I returned to find a hermit crab in the sink. Apparently that shell’s owner objected to being collected. I took him back to the beach and set him into a tide pool. He was free.

At any rate, as I was unpacking my suitcase yesterday, I found the shells I brought home in a Ziploc bag and set them out on my bathroom counter. I had plans to sterilize and polish them, but that process could not begin until I had the house settled again. While I was busy unpacking my toiletries and putting some towels away, out of the corner of my eye I saw one shell moving across the counter. Dammit. I had a stowaway. Despite my best efforts to ensure I didn’t transport any live creatures from the Hawaiian tropical climate to cold, semi-arid, high altitude Colorado, one of the shells held a tiny hermit crab who had refused to let his presence be known on the bathroom counter in Hawaii.

The little guy had lived through a day on the counter and another twelve hours in a plastic bag inside a suitcase, only to arrive 3300 miles away from its origins and 1030 miles from the nearest ocean. I momentarily considered setting up an aquarium setting for him before coming to my senses. Colorado is no place for a tiny, salty hermit crab. I had to dispatch him. I hated to do it (and I will not disclose the methodology of such actions here because I am still wracked with guilt), but it had to be done. And, no, I don’t really want to talk about it.

I’ve spent a bit of time since then beating myself up for being a murderer. Finally, though, I decided I had to forgive myself. I did not mean to bring him here. I didn’t set out to harm anything. I tried to leave my shells time enough to walk away if they were inhabited. I also realize I am likely not the first human to err in this fashion. And on multiple occasions while looking for shells on dry land in Hawaii, I found hermit crabs who were stranded away from the ocean (seemingly miles away if you consider how small they are and how far the tide had carried them from their point of origin) and picked them up and returned them to tidal pools, thereby saving their lives. Sometimes, life is messy. I am a person who has rescued snakes, voles, mice, rabbits, and even salamanders from window wells. I need to cut myself some slack on this one life. I try to be a good steward on this planet, but being good does not mean being perfect.

Next time I go to Hawaii and collect shells, though, I am going to stop the collection process two days prior to my departure to give any accidental sea life ample time to escape my evil clutches.

3 comments

  1. When I grew up in Washington State we had a boat and vacationed in British Columbia in the Inland Passage. I played with hermit crabs and had a bucket of them on the back deck. I’d give them fresh water each day and watch them switch shells for bigger homes. Then I started having nightmares about them and let them all go. I can relate to your hermit crab adventure!

    1. Caring for creatures is stressful, especially when they are so small and fragile. It’s somewhat easy to tell if a dog or cat is in distress in terms of their health. It’s much harder to do that with a crustacean. I can understand the nightmares.

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