I slip on my Birkenstocks and my toes feel a ghostly dust of sand from my last outing. I snatch my cornflower blue baseball cap, which has done nothing to help my face escape the sunny freckles that appear across my nose whenever I go outside. I sweep my hair back with a knotty hair tie. I grab an old plastic bag and my battered water bottle, completing my beachcomber look. Soon enough, I’ll be a speck of a human on a vast expanse of sand, merging into the misty spray of the ocean, right where water meets sky. But until then, I’m on a mission: finding shells.

As I make footprints on the Cape Cod shore, I keep my eyes peeled for shocks of purple washed up on the beach — bits of quahog clams, a native of East Coast oceans. These clamshells, called “wampums,” were spiritually significant to the native people who first came to Cape Cod, symbols of love, honesty, and support. At my summer camp, Cape Cod Sea Camps, you are allowed to give one wampum a summer to someone who has impacted your camp experience; in this case, wampums symbolize friendship and loyalty. I keep this in mind as I scan the sand for their glossy purple and milky white pattern with mesmerizing swirls and stripes. 

The purple hue shines like it came from a faraway galaxy or a peaceful lavender field. But sometimes I don’t feel peaceful or meant to shine. Often, I’m preoccupied with juggling 42 sticky notes that swirl around my head like an angry ocean wind. I’m lying in bed worrying about getting enough sleep when I can’t even do the deed without the help of melatonin. I’m enforcing perfectionist habits in my schoolwork and ignoring my time management skills. I’m speeding to my daily destinations without pause. My good mood dwindles into weariness. 

This sensation of frantically tumbling through the sea can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting — the currents pushing you toward an inevitable breakdown. That’s why it’s important to find the wampum within.

This isn’t easy for a person like me who’s used to an intense pace of life. To calm myself down, I feel the delightfully chilly ocean breeze on my skin. I search for my place of passion, like I did on the auditorium stage my junior year during my honors recital oboe performance. Two years before, under the same honor, I’d forgotten my piece on stage. It was humiliating. My failure made me feel insignificant. But here I was, older, prepared, sweat and stress lines gathered on my brow, thinking of all that could go wrong during my piece. I needed to connect with my inner wampum. Giving a nod to the pianist, I began, channeling my memories of the beach. The music crested and my confidence swam through the waves of my Vivaldi concerto.

These wampum moments don’t come often, rarer still if I don’t make the effort to center myself. Only then might I wash up on the sand, dazzling the eyes of onlookers who come my way. If I am passed by, I can’t give up. The ocean will envelop me once more while I grow and learn to feel my beauty, until I float back onto the sand, more determined than I was before. And I wait, the wampum within prepared to shine.

I catch a glimpse of a fragment of history and nature and pick it up, feeling its grooves and admiring its pattern. I’ve never seen a shell like this before! Placing it in my trusty grocery bag, I turn and look at the ocean one more time. My sandals are crusted with salt and damp with sea water. Even more sand has worked its way into the worn soles. My hair has escaped its tie, and my hat has only slightly abated the frizz of my windswept tangles. My water bottle drained, I walk away from the beach, perfectly content, wampum restored in my hands and heart.

Quinn Sciarra is a longtime Cape Cod Sea Camps (CCSC) camper. She won the Wono Director's Efficiency Award at CCSC in the summer of 2019. This A Place to Share column is adapted from Quinn’s college application essay.

Photo courtesy of Cape Code Sea Camps/Camp Waziyatah, Barnstable, MA.

Commercial Recreation Specialist