Bucket List: Nome, Alaska

By Megan T. Lierman

beachcomber in nome alaska

Growing up in Southcentral Alaska, my sisters and I spent lots of time on the shores of Homer with our mom, searching for “treasures” of ocean-polished, perfectly shaped skipping stones, heart shaped rocks, clam shells, mussel shells, and driftwood while on family camping trips.

Most of our treasures were agates or rocks that I tirelessly tried to smash on the pavement when I got home, with the hopes of discovering that the rock was hiding a glittering geode inside. I never got a geode, but as an adult, I’ve always continued to look for the next treasure the sea has to offer as I walk the ocean shores in my boots, the salty wind messing my top-knotted bun.

My mom introduced me to scouring beaches for sea glass after reading the novel Sea Glass by Anita Shreve. Since then, every beach we visit, we walk and poke and look for the wave-tumbled, “fully cooked,” frosted pieces of glass. A little over a year ago, Mom told me in passing that going to Nome, Alaska, was on her Bucket List, after a friend of hers had mentioned finding all sorts of glass and rusted metal objects on the beach that were left behind from the gold rush in the early 1900s. Since fall was quickly approaching, I booked a bed & breakfast and got tickets for us to take a 24-hour trip to Nome so we could see for ourselves if the beaches had glass before the beaches got covered in snow for the winter. You should have heard the squeal of delight when I told my mom to pack her bag and dress warmly because we were going to Nome to search for glass in 40-degree weather. Her excitement was contagious, and as we boarded the 1.5 hour flight to Nome, we couldn’t sit still in our seats. I told my mom that my dream would be to find a Japanese glass float…would we find one? Would we find anything?!

sea glass beach in alaska

From the one boarding gate airport, we took a cab to the car rental location which was actually a quirky, antiquated hotel. We collected our rusty, 4-wheel drive jalopy that had zip ties holding the door hinges together, fired it up with a rumble, and headed to find our bed & breakfast. After driving down the narrow streets, stopping to take a touristy shot by the giant gold pan in the village center, we found our B&B on the edge of town, facing the Bering Sea. We checked in, dropped our luggage off, and headed out; we were on a timeline with a mission to find glass! The directions my mom’s friend had given us were shady at best, and in Nome there is very little cell reception, where I could have checked my email to verify we were headed the right way. So we drove out of town until there was a pull-out where we could park our car off the dirt road. My mom, with her neon green plastic rake sticking out of her backpack, gave me a big smile and we headed to the shoreline.

At first glance, there were rocks. Tons of rocks, mingled with starfish and bird feathers. Sure, there were agates, but we weren’t there for agates. My heart sank a little in fear that we wouldn’t find anything, not wanting my mom to be disappointed. I knew we’d have fun with each other as I had packed a Bota Brick of Cabernet Sauvignon in my suitcase for that night (nothing but the classiest of boxed wine for our trip!), but I silently prayed that she’d find something…even if it was just brown glass.

beach glass collecting in nome alaska

We walked a ways apart, subconsciously thinking we could cover more ground that way, and that’s when I saw it. In the middle of the sand, not hidden by rocks, was our first piece of glass. It was an aquamarine beacon of hope and I freaked out! I took a photo of it and yelled for my mom to come see it. She came over, not fast enough, and I remember her saying, “Oh, MAN! That’s a good one and it is perfectly cooked!” I plucked my first piece of glass up and stuck it in the pocket of my jacket just as my mom yelled that she found glass. For eight straight hours, we bent over to pick up glass that had been discarded from gold dredges along with piles of rocks, we scraped mounds of sand with her rake to expose the glass mixed with rocks, and we grinned as the sun hit our faces and the brisk fall ocean air blew our hair.

That night at our B&B, we cleaned and laid all of our glass out on a towel that was draped over the cooktop, smiling and laughing at the day’s events. I poured us each a mug of wine, while my mom moved the furniture so that we could face the ocean and prop our feet up on the window sill. We sat and talked and planned the next morning’s adventure until we saw the moon on one side of the ocean and the glow of the rising sun on the other. I may not have found a Japanese glass float during the trip, but the ocean offered me the treasure of this experience with my mom…and just like that, an item is crossed off the Bucket List.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine January/February 2020 issue.

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