Arianne Baadsgaard Cope
I’ve always been captivated by spiral shells. It’s meditative to trace their spiral pattern, gently growing outward before coming to a point.
Like my daughter, I collected snail shells when I was little. They were the only shell available to me in a mountain desert. I tried to imagine what it was like inside that simple little house. There were no real rooms, surely. Just a narrowing circular tunnel in the dark. It either must feel incredibly safe in there, I imagined, or terribly claustrophobic.
Here in the Pacific my fascination with spiral shells has grown. I love finding weathered shells on the beach where the inner chambers of a shell have been revealed by sand and wave.
Life is a spiral, I’ve learned. Not some journey between point A and B on a time line. Life turns in on itself, gently but surely bending around.
In nowhere has this been more apparent than in Samoa. You see, this place was very much a part of me before I ever wiggled my toes on its sandy shores. Until I was old enough to realize otherwise I thought the whole world was only two places--Utah and Samoa.
You see, my Dad lived in Samoa for two years between the formative ages of 19 and 21. He was here as a missionary, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He told me stories about this place. Taught me songs and words from the Samoan language. I used to sift through his box of Samoan treasures often, pressing my hand respectfully into the smooth Ava bowl, holding the shells to my ear, studying the pattern on the tapa cloth, and tying on lava lavas. It was his amazing pictures of this place that got me interested in photography. I learned the ins and outs of photography using the sturdy vintage SLR he brought with him here.
My Dad’s parents kept a coconut he mailed them on their mantle. I can still see it there, with the stamp pressed on its husk, their address printed on its surface in my Dad’s tiny, deliberate handwriting.
To me, Samoa was as significant a country as China or Russia. Even more so. I had no understanding of population sizes or power. I was captivated by this place. It must be terribly important to everyone else as well. This is how my children feel about Spain, the country where their daddy served a mission.
Like Spain transformed Jared, Samoa transformed my father. It became a part of who he is and therefore a part of all his children.
I wonder what parts of him thread back to this place. His generosity has a Samoan feel to it. His way of saying a lot with a few words is something I see here all the time. He has a steady gentleness to him, my Dad. I feel it in the waves here. I think of him every time I step outside. There simply must have been something about this place that my Dad needed, to become who he is. So the tides brought him here to become it.
I must need it too. How else do you explain that I ended up, of all the places in the world, right here, washed upon the same shores, walking under the same coconut trees?
Dad was here more than 35 years ago. But it feels strangely like we’re here at the same time. I’ll be out on a street and turn around, suddenly, expecting to see him. The money here never leaves—coins from the 1960s and 1970s are still circulating. I swear I can see his finger prints on them. Isn’t that him sitting behind me on the old rickety bus? I turn around. No. It was just a feeling.
I know he’s at home 7,000 miles away, dealing with a life 10 children and several decades have loaded on his shoulders. But he’s here with me too. You see, the circles of our lives have overlapped. In this spiral shell he’s just one turn ahead of me. I can reach up and feel the step of his young self on the ceiling. I hear his muffled echo.
And I imagine him pausing, back in 1973, in the market buying bananas or walking through a village, because it feels like someone he knows just passed by. He’s sitting watching the waves crash against the black cliffs and wondering why he doesn’t feel alone. He doesn’t know me yet. But I’m already a part of him.
He’ll circle away from Samoa and toward me. And then I’ll circle away from him and toward Samoa. Life is spiraling us around in a beautiful, simple dance.
I’ve always been captivated by spiral shells.