While I was teaching in the Creative Writing class at Lee High School, a well-meaning student brought me a Christmas gift of two hermit crabs in an "eco" box, complete with sea salt water and hermit crab "pellets." Not wanting to hurt the student's feelings and to be the gracious and kind person I like to think of myself as being, I made a fuss over the hermit crabs, and said how much "life" they would add to the class--like another window to the outside world. However, as days passed, I noticed that the water in the sea water shell had not diminished and the hermit crab food pellets, intended to be utterly irresistible to hermit crabs, remained untouched. Inwardly, I was miserable. I don't like to remove creatures from their natural environment. My mother always found it taboo even to pick up a shell with something living inside it; even if it was the shell of her dreams.
During Christmas break, I knew I had to take the crabs back to the sea. I had looked beneath the seaweed and straw where they were hiding inside their shells, and I could not determine if they were living or dead. They were completely still. However, they rode in the backseat of my beat-up Saturn to Mexico Beach, just southeast of Panama City.
The hotel, where I have stayed, for almost 40 years, has five levels, including a parking garage that, like every room, faces the sea. As I unpacked the car, I stood in a wind tunnel of moist sea air and took a cleansing breath. I reached for the eco box, praying the crabs, if they had been alive in the first place, had survived the journey. To my delight, the crabs were not only alive; they were waving their claws and pinchers as high as possible, climbing against the plastic walls of their prison, as though saying, "We're home!" I didn't even wait to get into my room, even though it was already dusk. I know life urgency when I see it.
I drove to a point between Mexico Beach and St. Joe, on St. Joe Bay, where the water was shallow, and there, climbing over rocks, shoeless, I walked into the water with my cargo of alive and lively, no longer depressed or withdrawn, hermit crabs. When they first touched the sodden sand, it took a moment for them to realize they were free. Since I think most of us share that feeling in common, I gave each the tiniest of nudges. Off they scurried, in what appeared to be hermit-crab abandon, and they disappeared under the water of the bay.
As for me, relieved and happy as a hermit crab mother who has released her offspring, I sat on a rock and watched the water until I could barely see it anymore. I smelled the salty air, and I wondered just how long my hermit crabs had been waving their claws in the backseat. Sea air carries far into the distance. What longing they must have felt in their small beings. I know. I feel much the same about the sea in my much larger self. I will never again accept a gift of hermit crabs in an eco box; or, if I do, I will immediately return them--let them go. Home. A place we all recognize from far away.
Causes Bonnie Roberts Supports
The Southern Poverty Law Center, The National Resource Defense Council, The ACLU, Doctors without Borders, Save Darfur