Lake Effect Karma

By Chera Thompson

buffalo beach pottery

Glassing is a meditative experience. My eyes focus on Lake Erie’s pebbly sand to look for a slight glint of color against the background sound of gulls and waves. Sometimes I’ll hum a song that syncs with the day and my mood. Tuesday Afternoon, Early Morning Rain, Autumn Leaves, Blowin’ In the Wind.

Glassing offers simple sensory pleasures: the superb feel of a thick and smooth ordinary white, green, or brown. The exquisite sight of a frosty teal. The wonder over a cat’s eye marble. The satisfaction in pulling a piece of blue from under a pile of slate. The joy in flipping over a plain white ceramic to find an intricate pattern of flowers and birds. And the heart-stopping thrill of grasping a wet and sandy lump to behold a perfect bottle stopper.

My way of giving back to the Lake for these treasures is to pick up trash on my return trip. Sometimes I bring a plastic bag for beer cans, ripped balloons, and other large eyesores. Sometimes I tuck tiny plastic bits and string, inside a pocket.

And over the years, I’ve become aware of Lake Effect Karma. Countless times I’ve bent over to pick up a piece of trash and found a treasure lying next to it. Something I would’ve overlooked if I hadn’t reached down. That’s Lake Effect Karma. 

I also extend the give-back mantra to glassing. If I can see through the glass to my hand, I return it to the water to continue its journey. Many times, after painfully throwing a not-tumbled-enough piece of blue back into the Lake, I would, on that same day, find a piece worthy of becoming a pendant. More Lake Effect Karma. Last summer, I added another give-back ritual. On a chosen day, I would give my finds to the last beachcomber I passed before leaving the beach. Their surprised smiles were as gratifying as a pocketful of blue.

Two years ago, my relationship with the Lake deepened. I had an extended family trip abroad planned for the next day, and my husband had caught some bug and didn’t feel like flying. He was adamant that I should go and he would join me in a couple of days. I was torn.

beach-found necklace

I walked the beach for solace. It was an overcast late September afternoon. Gazing down, I spotted a brown stone with a bit of turquoise color on it submerged in the sand. I reached in and pulled out a wood and glass bead necklace with an elephant-head-shaped pendant.

pendant from lake erie beach

I couldn’t breathe! The worn and faded color of the beads indicated this piece had been on a long journey. I recognized the elephant head as being some kind of Hindu god, and the necklace could be prayer beads. Google came up with Ganesh…the Hindu god of overcoming obstacles. I took it as a sign that I should go on the trip. It turned out to be the right decision.

beach pottery

A few months ago, I narrowed my search and began picking up only pottery. Leaving the glass to others proved hard when pottery finds were few and far between. But within a few days of making good on that ritual, I found my most precious piece. A pitted ivory chunk of ceramic, turned over, revealed a molded pair of walking legs. I had found a beach walker! Google Lens research turned up a similar image on a pitcher made in the 1890s.

During the pandemic, I walk the nearly deserted beach daily. On one particular day, my centering thought was one of gratitude that I wasn’t confined to a landlocked apartment. Although my city has been the butt of Rust Belt jokes, I’ve enjoyed the twenty-some years I’ve lived here and appreciate the lack of crowds and traffic common to other cities I’ve lived in. I felt a surge of love for my adopted city and the lake that stands by it. 

Just as my heart was expressing these feelings, I looked down once again at a plain piece of ceramic. I turned it over to see a faded green stamp of a Buffalo staring back at me. Buffalo Pottery circa the 1920s. Lake Effect Karma is alive and waving.

This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine March/April 2021 issue.

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