By Mary T. McCarthy
Last fall, I found a pink Depression ware perfume stopper in New York, and, convinced I’d never find anything cooler, announced half-jokingly on Instagram that I was “retiring from sea glass hunting.” After exhibiting at the Santa Cruz Sea Glass and Ocean Arts Festival in November, I went sea glass hunting with friends at a beach in Northern California, and that all changed.
My new favorite way to hunt is micro-beachcombing. I love to look for small finds: the tiniest shells, beads, or a gemstone that might be hiding on the beach. To do this, you really have to search closely along the wrack line, where the tide leaves the shore when it departs—and where, of course, the tide will sweep away treasures when it comes back in a few short hours.
So on this sunny California day, I got down in the sand and found what I thought was a button. I gasped when I saw the face, and the reverse side confirmed it was no button. It was some sort of cameo, I thought at first, and I was reminded of my grandmother’s slide bracelets. I saw the groove around the outer edge and figured it was once set in jewelry. My search for marbles or stoppers was over that day. I knew I couldn’t fall in love with something more, and my new retirement day had arrived.
I spent the plane ride home researching the find. Spotting a crescent moon above the head helped identify the figure as Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon. I looked up “intaglio,” which is an engraving or etching technique used to cut a design into a surface. I found beautiful images of intaglio jewelry, giving me a sense of what she may have looked like long ago before the waves frosted her surface and gave her a new patina of beauty from the sea. But the piece seemed heavier than glass so I took it to a gemologist at a shop that specializes in vintage jewelry.
Sharon Fletcher, owner of Kent Island jewelry, placed the carving under her microscope and examined it with a machine that tests gemstone hardness, and she told me it’s a hand-carved Victorian garnet gemstone. I couldn’t believe it! We agreed that the Goddess of the Hunt looked pretty fabulous for her age.
I may joke about retiring, and I don’t know if I will ever find anything more special than the very symbol of what we love doing: hunting, by tides that are ruled by the moon. But like Artemis, it’s all about the love of the hunt for me, so every morning I’ll still wake up with only one question on my mind: When’s low tide?
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2019 issue