A Birder Discovers Glassing

wisconsin beach glass

By Kathie Solie, Racine, WI

With camera and binoculars in hand, I was a frequent visitor to Samuel Myers Park on the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, WI. I loved the early mornings spent searching for unusual shorebirds and songbirds lurking in the nearby trees. My eyes were glued to the treetops and sky. Little did I know what treasures were to be found under my feet.

I had never even heard the terms “sea glass” or “beach glass.” However, my life was about to change. And I am forever grateful for the beach friends who brought about that change. As I wandered the beach, I often saw a couple also walking the beach every morning. While I was looking up, they were staring down at the sand. They did not have the metal detectors one often sees being used by beachcombers. My curiosity was aroused. I finally asked them what they were looking for. Certainly, there were not enough lost coins in the sand to merit their searching so diligently.

beach glass squad

“Sea glass” was the answer. They explained what it was and why they collected it. And so my passion was born! When I asked if there really was that much to be found, Steve shook the large pocket of his cargo shorts. The resounding tinkle of glass caught my attention. He said that he had many tubs of glass at home. I could only imagine what that could be like.

Soon, I was going to the beach earlier and earlier. I wanted to be there to discover the treasures left by the night’s waves. I quickly learned that pebbles would be better for glass deposits than plain sand. I discovered which areas of the beach were the best spots for searching and what kind of weather was most productive.

My eyes still looked for birds, and I carried my camera, but now glass was premier. I would tell my skeptical birding friends, “Some days are good birding days and some days are good glassing days. But, every day at the beach is good for something.”

I soon discovered the variety of colors of glass that can be found. I can’t begin to express my excitement at the discovery of a large, cobalt blue piece. I was hooked!

My pockets were often filled as I brought my treasures home. I soon was searching for the perfect container. I found pails, no matter the size, were in danger of spilling while reaching for a piece of glass. I tried cloth bags and plastic bags. After extensive research, I settle on a plastic jug with a lid.

Other tools for the search were added. I discovered that my camera monopod was perfect for safe beach walking and my plastic jug could be attached to it. After a fall resulted in bruised ribs and the inability to bend for several weeks, a grabber was the next addition. Not only could I avoid painful bending, I soon realized that I could now also move faster in collecting and extend my reach.

wisconsin beachcombing

New beaches in the area were added to my searching spots. I encountered other people on the beach who kindly shared their favorite spots. One new “beach friend” told me about Internet sites that provided a guide to beaches all around the world. I was quick to utilize that information in planning for vacations. During a recent visit to the Washington and Oregon Coast, I knew exactly where to look for glass!

I soon learned about a Facebook group of collectors. Lake Michigan Sea Glass Collectors is now a regular spot for information and sharing of treasures. I can check the status of my favorite spots…sandy vs. pebbly, deep water vs. open beach, presence of others vs. lonely beaches.

beach squad hat

I have made many new and treasured friends through this group. I have been able to share certain types of glass with a friend who does not live as close to the lake as I do. He rewarded me with two rings made from some of the glass I sent. Pottery pieces have been shared with another friend who is doing a project using them. At Christmas one friend surprised me with a gift that used sea glass as a feature.

Unlike the beaches of Hawaii or California, Lake Michigan beaches can be a real challenge in winter. You might wonder if we collectors have to take the winter off. Not a chance! It is a year round adventure for those who are serious about collecting, as I now realize I am. I have been on the beach in a snowstorm, pushing through knee-deep snow to reach the open water. Ice grippers on boots and walking sticks have allowed me to traverse ice-covered mounds of snow. Is it worth getting one’s snow boots filled with icy water? Can one continue when sleet is bouncing off one’s glasses? For a nice piece of sea glass? Absolutely! 

It has been suggested that collecting sea glass is an addiction. I would not disagree. One member of our group suggested we needed a 12-step program. I thought this was a good idea and suggested that we should hold our meetings on the beach.

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine November 2017 issue

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