I Find Shark Teeth

I grew up hunting for shells with my mom on Figure Eight Beach. My favorites were Olives and Drills. Hers were Scotch Bonnets. When I was young, shells seemed to be everywhere you looked. They grew harder to find as I grew up. Or maybe I stopped looking so hard.

My dad taught me to hunt for shark teeth. I found a few along Figure Eight. I even found some stuck in the shell-laced pavement they used on the driveways there. I would dig them out with a screwdriver and add them to my jar of shells.

When my dad saw how much we enjoyed finding shark teeth, he took us to a place on the other side of Pamlico Sound where you could buy a bucket of sand and sift for teeth. We went wild over this. You could find dozens of large teeth with almost no trouble. Dad purchased a ton of sand and brought it back to the farm with us. We built screens out of scrap wood and wire mesh and sifted for teeth all day. I felt like I was panning for gold.

Amber and I moved back to the beach a year ago, and I immediately resumed my hunt for shells. We’ve found some keepers, but they are few and far between. So many more people looking, I suppose. Maybe fewer washing up on the beach. I’ve taken to wearing my snorkel and mask and swimming just offshore to spot them before they wash up. But I notice a few others doing the same.

What’s impossible to find are shark teeth. I looked and looked every day we went to the beach. I would kneel in the surf, waves crashing against my back, and paw through the fine shells looking for that small triangle amid the broken fragments of the once-pretty. I never found a single one. I spent hours trying.

And then I ran into a couple of hippies on the beach. The woman was twisting wire around a shark tooth, fashioning it into a necklace. She had a similar necklace around her neck. “I can’t find any shark teeth,” I told her. I wondered if she’d give me some pointers or tips.

“You find shark teeth,” she said. With utter conviction.

“No. I don’t. I’ve tried.”

“You find shark teeth,” she told me. “You have to start saying it. Say ‘I find shark teeth.’”

I said it, but mostly to placate her. I didn’t really believe that would make a difference. I don’t believe in magic or karma or any of the awesome things that would make life more interesting if they were true. But I do believe in the power of determination, and so the next time I was out hunting in the sand, I kept telling myself, “I find shark teeth.”

And I did. Three of them in that same spot. I ran like a young child to Amber, who was reading under an umbrella. I showed her each one as I found them. They were tiny things, no more than specks. I started to wonder if I was finding them now because I was trying harder, or because I had a false sense of confidence to spur me along, or because I was looking in each palm of shells a few minutes longer before dumping them into the surf.

I told myself similar things while I was writing my first novel. Even though I’d tried and tried to write a novel for twenty years, always failing, this time I told myself that I was a writer. I told myself that I finish novels. I came home from a writing convention where another wise guide, Caroline Todd, lit a fire under my ass. And so I lied to myself about what I could do . . . until I did it.

Now I know that I can write a novel. I know I can find shark teeth here on Jupiter Beach. And so I do both with more diligence, with more time and care than I invested into these pursuits before I truly believed in myself. All it took was listening to someone say something kooky or crazy, tell me something about myself that I didn’t believe, but say it with such utter and complete conviction that I began to doubt my own doubts.

I find shark teeth. And so do you.

29 responses to “I Find Shark Teeth”

  1. Missy Kleinhen Avatar

    Excellent! Thank you!

  2. I love hunting on the shore for sea glass, that is what I am always searching for on the beach. I have never come across a shark tooth (perhaps cause my beaches are all on Long Island Sound) but now I definitely want to. Cause I find shark teeth!

  3. Love this. Thank you, Hugh.

  4. This is excellent! Shark teeth and writing. I need to try that.

  5. Well, I’m inspired. I wont tell you what it is that I’ve been half-heartedly attempting for these last 3 years (or so), never truly believing that I was good, intelligent, or otherwise capable enough to do (no, I am not a writer…)

    What I will tell you, is that this morning I was trying to convince myself that this goal was not out of reach for me. However, as with most mornings in my recent history, I was doing a pretty shoddy job of it. I started feeling pretty worthless. Then I read this post…

    In no way do I believe that simply reading a post can make you a different person, nor do I believe that I was “meant” to read this post today (by some higher order, or blah blah). But, as a person who has always had things come easily, and having something that definitely hasn’t been easy become a focal point of my life, I really needed something to motivate me in a way that I’ve never really been motivated before. After reading (and feeling) this post, it’s like something finally clicked in my head. Whether or not I succeed in my endeavor, I now trust in myself enough to give it a shot.

    I know this article wasn’t written for me, but I’m going to pretend it was. Thanks, Hugh. You ‘might’ have just inadvertently changed my life…?

    1. I was going to mention your name in the piece, but didn’t want to put you on the spot!

  6. I did not know this about you. We never went shark tooth hunting that I remember and there is a great place to do it around here. Seriously, you can find a dozen teeth (more or less) in an hour at this beach. Next time you guys are back in town for a while, perhaps.

    1. That would be awesome. Do you remember the time we collected a hundred or so sand dollars in one day?

  7. Needed this today. Thanks for the inspiration, as always Hugh! :)

  8. You never cease to surprise and delight me. Thank you.

    That was a beautiful and inspiring piece for anyone, no matter where our individual insecurities may lie. Now excuse me, but I have some shark teeth to find.

  9. I look for shark teeth all the time, but I can never get the words out right… :)

  10. Awesome story Hugh, thanks for the inspiration!!!

  11. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story.

    My husband and I will use the phrase whenever we get discouraged or frustrated with our writing endeavors: “I find shark teeth!”

    Have you thought of writing a memoir? I’d love to read it.

  12. It seems I needed to read this. Thank you, Hugh. May you always find shark teeth.

    1. And you as well, Debbie!

  13. After hours of not finding “sharks teeth” and other maritime curiosities here on Miami Beach I simply go one of the several of the Alton Road novelty / souvenir stores here and buy the largest ones available. Sometimes, I’ll purchase in a conch shell or, better yet, one of those artificially colored dried out mini octopuses. I’ll stare at them in the brown paper bag for hours while I eat and watch the gay dudes rollerblade in french bikinis in front of my breakfast table at the News Cafe. Inspired with the wonderments of nature, I feel absolutely joyous at this wonderful display of beauty and then I’ll proceed to drink and thank God for the miracles of life. (PS: There are many types of man made curiosities where I live, unfortunately they are usually washed away as flotsam created by high pressure sidewalk sprayers operated by sun weathered hired Haitians after the nightclubs empty out an early 6 AM. It takes early rising, commitment, and faith to appreciate the wonderments of life and Glory of God here in Miami.)

    1. We don’t allow store-bought in this house! ;)

  14. We always went shell hunting with our new bucket (and spade) we got them every year before we went to the seaside. In one small place there was a kid who use to collect Winkles and sell them to a local guy who sold fish from a van. We tried that but he wouldn’t buy them from us, Scunner! I hated it when jellyfish would be stranded on the beach and people would cut them up or drop big stones on them. No respect for life, plain ignorance or just stupidity.

  15. What a great, personally inspirational story to share with your readers Hugh. Thank you.

  16. Cleve Johnson Avatar

    When I was a kid, I used to hunt for sand dollars. I’d find pieces here and there but never a whole one. Last year I planned a camp trip to a wonderful beach on the Oregon Coast. I have two young children and I was determined to find some whole sand dollars. We woke up very early, grabbed the sand toys and hit the beach as the sun was rising.

    For nearly an hour we hunted and hunted. Didn’t find a thing. There was a large flock of pelicans on the beach and it was obvious they were hungry and hunting. It seemed hopeless. They were like a swarm of locust moving down the beach just ahead of us. In a last ditch effort, I decided to head straight for the flock. I ran right to where they all were with my kids in tow. The pelicans flew off and sure enough, right where they were feeding, right where they shouldn’t have been, I found my first whole, entire sand dollar. For the next hour, we found ELEVEN more (don’t worry naturists, we didn’t take the living ones). My kids thought I was crazy I was so excited. They had no idea how hard I had looked my entire life, and during their first trip they found so many.

    I guess determination and a willingness to keep at it are so often the difference between success and failure. Im so glad you pushed through and wrote your first novel Hugh. Your success and the story of your success has been inspirational to me. Keep writing and keep looking for shark teeth Hugh, just make sure you check where the pelicans are feeding.

  17. Hi from NZ

    Here’s a thought

    As a writer you have two choices:

    You can be the light that leads the way down the dark alley of writing to a successful publication career


    You can be the mugger that stops you from getting there.

    Your choice

    Advice … Stop mugging yourself!

  18. […] It’s a wonderful story, right? A small blue engine chugging along the tracks and despite all obstacles his ability to think positively allows him to accomplish his dreams. While I’m sure I read the story as a child, I’ll admit it’s been awhile since I’ve revisited the tale except in the use of metaphor, so we’ll have to stick to the watered down version of the story that I presented within two sentences. It’s a classic, after all, there has to be more to it than that, right? More to the point, this week I’ve felt much like that same little engine as I chugged along on my word count for NaNoWriMo telling myself, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Or, to use a more recent metaphor that I read, “I find shark teeth.” […]

  19. You tapped into a universal spiritual law, the existential equivalent of gravity. Law of attraction, manifesting, it begins with gratitude and ends with positive acting-as-if.

    I have a postit on my gear changer that says it like this: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    I personally keep falling forward in the direction of my dreams as if they already are what I dream they will be, and inevitably the magic trampoline catches my fall. It is a breathtaking way to live, one I had to reach the end of all my own strength to experience.

    It’s a truly amazing thing to wake up every morning with a sense that something wonderful will happen… and it does.
    Also, the car still breaks down and I still have a mysterious rash and the dogs have fleas no matter what I put on them… but that keeps it interesting.

    1. That was beautiful Toby. Thanks.

  20. I would look for sand dollars along the Florida coast. Any shell big or small would be in my collection!

  21. Thanks for this post! It’s something I needed to hear and to apply to my own writing.

    My husband and I love to comb the beaches – Siesta, Sanibel, etc – for all kinds of beach debris and shells, but especially sand dollars.

    Loved the WOOL Omnibus, have the SHIFT Omnibus in my TBR pile, and can’t wait for DUST. :)

  22. I love this, Hugh! You find shark teeth, I find heart rocks… I have a whole collection, mostly from the beach along Long Island Sound where I used to live.

    When I first started writing novels, I wrote one sentence and then another until I had a paragraph. I showed it to a friend, and she said, “That’s a really good paragraph!”

    So I wrote more until they turned into a page, and then I had enough pages for a chapter, and eventually I had enough chapters for a book. And eventually I published that one plus the next book and the next. And now I’m a writer, which is a dream I’ve had my whole life.

    Life is amazing! Just reach out and grab what you want before it goes by.

  23. Bill Lefler (@blefler) Avatar
    Bill Lefler (@blefler)

    Take a trip over to Venice Beach (gulf coast) and revel in the handfuls of shark teeth you’ll find there. Caspersen Beach is my favorite and my boys begged me to stop there again on our way home from our last vacation in Cape Coral.

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