Delighting in the mollusks of art history.
Typical of her species, the clam deactivated all of her social-media accounts on her thirtieth birthday and headed to the sea, not wanting anyone to wish her well. She was unable to explain this urge to hide on what most considered a momentous transition—thirty!—a day that’s usually reserved for last-hurrah debauchery. Instead, she Googled cabin rentals in Sag Harbor, where she and her husband would be unlikely to run into anyone they knew. On the drive out, a misty rain cloaked the empty highway. It rained all night, so they stayed in, drank bourbon, and watched The Shining in bed. The next morning, when she went out for a jog along the shore, the liminal space between sea and sky looked fuzzy, indistinct. She searched for something to latch on to. In the city, she tended to look up, searching for scalloped edges and glimpses of figures in lit windows, but by the sea, she looked at the sand. Whatever she picked up she put back down, knowing from experience that these objects would never be as beautiful as they were at first glance, half submerged and luminous in the frayed light.
She couldn’t explain it then, the urge to hide on one’s birthday, but recently she read a passage in Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost about the molting behavior of hermit crabs that explained it perfectly. Hermit crabs have soft, vulnerable bodies, so they scavenge for shells left behind by mollusks. Aside from shedding their exoskeletons, this shell-search is the riskiest part of a crab’s life. Between scurrying out of a too-small shell to a better-fitted one, any number of things can happen: she could get eaten, lose her old shell to an opportunist crab, or get dragged off by a male crab for mating. At the cusp of the molt, the last thing she wants to do is call attention to herself, so she buries herself in the sand or waits underneath a rock. Read More