Beachcombing Etiquette

By Rebecca Ruger-Wightman

Why, yes! There is such a thing. Glassers are in general, I think, a fairly amiable bunch. But mess with their hunting grounds — and in particular, their sea glass —  and you’re likely to meet the beachcombers’ version of Dr. Jeckyl. Ask any glasser, or even general beach-goers, and they might be quick to point out a few pet peeves about sharing the beach with other people. Yet, it’s a rare occasion when we are lucky enough to have the beach to ourselves.

It’s true. Ten years ago, when I’d begun seriously searching for beach glass along Lake Erie, I’d be the only person on the beach at seven in the morning. Most days, I wouldn’t see another soul until several hours had passed. Those days are long gone. As sea glass, and sea glass searching, become more popular, it’s a rare day to be alone on the beach at any time. Actually, getting to the beach at 7 am is to late; in my neck of the woods, there might already be 3-4 people there at that time.

Personally, I’ve had very infrequent run-ins with persons on the beach who made me not want to be there, though one in particular does stand out. Many years ago, after several hours of hunting beach glass, I sat to dig for a while. I was at the very far end of the beach. A woman approached. And while there was plenty of beach all around, she chose to sit literally within three feet of me. She harrumphed, and said she’d been planning to dig exactly here today. She reached and grabbed my cup o’ glass (without asking permission) and began rifling through it. She was disdainful of the white beach glass I’d found, took issue with the good colors in the cup (they should have been hers, she said, this was her spot), and generally had me thinking of other uses for the undone, sharper pieces within my reach. She tried to lecture me about the glass but even back then, with so much less knowledge of the origins of beach glass upon Lake Erie, I knew she didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about. I wanted to leave, yet obstinately didn’t want to relinquish any possible finds to her. Perhaps I lasted only about 15 minutes in her company while she talked incessantly (she had three children, two of whom weren’t speaking to her; her home had been flooded the previous spring; and she was quite sure someone was following her) but it felt like eons. My head hurt. She’d scooched closer. She kept reaching almost directly in front of me to run her hands through the small stones I’d been sifting through. I’d had enough and stood up, dusting off my bottom. I bid her a terse goodbye and avoided that beach for months, so fearful of having my peaceful beach time spoiled again.

A similar story told to me just this spring prompted me, via Glassing Magazine, to pose a very informal question on social media, asking readers to comment with some of their own etiquette suggestions for beachcombing and sea glass hunting, and also to mention some notable discourtesies and annoyances that should be avoided. (Don’t be that woman!) Mostly, people replied with reminders to have fun, enjoy the hobby or habit, and basically employ the same courtesies you would in any circumstance, in any location. The responses which included warnings or reproaches of bad behavior should not have been surprising to any person who regularly employs basic common sense. If you are a perpetrator of any of the following offenses, we hope you’ll make note of any and all behaviors that might be considered a no-no while combing the beaches.

Surprisingly, the most commented criticism hadn’t anything to do with people in your personal space, so to speak, but was a request that you leave the beach as you found it (leave only footprints); take your trash with you when you leave. It’s sad that this even needs to be mentioned in this day and age, but there you have it. In a similar vein, others suggested that it would be wonderful if all sea glassers made a point to collect trash from the beach as well, even what is not their own. Of course this is commendable! I believe that many of us already do this. Yay us!

An email was sent to the magazine suggesting that as sea glass pickers, we not take every piece we find. The original suggeston was rooted in a ‘make sure there is enough for everyone’ stance. Previously, I’ve heard opposition that challenged with a "I’m running a business and I need it" defense. I humbly suggest that we practice what many sea glass business persons  and hobbyists already do, and take only what you need. If you cannot make use of white or brown, then leave it for for those who can. Unfortunately, it would be a rare sea glass artist who couldn’t find something to do with a red or teal piece.

Curiously, I’d also heard a comment once that we shouldn’t take any glass off the beach. We should instead save it for future generations. I cannot begin to tell you how that boggled my mind (I’m making the same scrunchy face now even thinking about it as I did when I’d first heard that.) Which generation would that be? And who decides this? And, more importantly, why can’t we be that generation?

“Don’t hover” and “Stay in your lane!” were suggested, in reference to searching too close to other beachcombers. I think we all, at one time or another, have foraged on the beach with that person who will jump in front of you to steal the piece in your foot path.

Next, there was discussion about the glass we find that isn’t quite cooked. Several reminded us that it is wise to be careful what you leave or toss back into the water, depending on your location. If you’re on a crowded beach, please don’t leave undone (sharp) glass lying around; add it to your trash bag.

Be considerate of others on the beach, whether they’re hunting or not. Again, seems like straightforward common sense, but was mentioned enough I’d wondered if people were regularly running into inconsiderate persons on the beach. Being friendly was suggested often; chat with the people you meet, explain to them what you’re looking for, about sea glass, what you do with it. We’ve all met people on the beach who’ve now been friends of ours for years. Some great friendships have started with strangers who were beachcombing just like you.

Other comments included being respectful of private beach property and remembering to look up once in a while to enjoy the view (and give your neck a break!). Share some of your finds with the people you meet; you don’t have to give up the good stuff, but will you really miss a few greens and sea foams? 

One person following the social media post asked, “Why does there have to be rules?” There certainly does not. And there are not. But there are common courtesies we’d like to give and receive. Better practices and experiences on the beach while hunting make for greater sea glass love and a kinder sea glass community.

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine November/December 2018 issue.

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