By Suzanne Davis

We’ve all heard the saying Christmas in July—for many crafters, this is when gift-making begins. This year, my Christmas started in August, when I began planning a present for my 60-year-old sister Deb. She lives in the Colorado Rockies and has had a love for the ocean and everything to do with the ocean for as long as I can remember. 

It must run in our blood as my mother is a native Hawaiian born in Oahu 80 years ago. 

arenophile gift

My sister has a dresser loaded with turtles, dolphins, lighthouses, and sand—lots of sand. Because of her love for sand, I decided that her gift this year would be sand from all around the world. I originally went to the craft store to get ten apothecary jars—I thought I’d fill them and be done with it. 

In August, I posted an offer on an international sea glass lovers page to trade some of my Lake Michigan glass for a bit of sand from beaches located near to wherever the members lived. After two hours, I had to remove the post due to the overwhelming response—I was afraid I’d run out of sea glass!

world sands

After I received sand from 30 different areas around the world, I purchased 100 30ml glass vials online and got ready for a second Facebook post. When I posted to the Facebook group again in September, I thanked those who had already sent sand and revealed that their gifts were part of a Christmas present for my sister. 

500 likes and endless private messages later, I was overwhelmed (in the best way) by so many people with offers to send sand, contribute shells and glass and sand dollars, and many beach postcards addressed to Deb. I received offers from Iceland, Finland, Japan, Australia, Korea, Denmark, Holland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Guam, and many other places! 

sand from beaches around the world

A selection of Suzanne’s collection of sand samples from around the world. The full collection consists of sand from Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, California, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, New Jersey, Ohio, South Carolina, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Idaho, Hawaii, Virginia, Washington, Utah, Morocco, Germany, France, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Iceland, Netherlands, South Korea, Portugal, Canada, Turkey, Czech Republic, Thailand, Mexico, Bahamas, Bermuda, Jamaica, USVI, BVI, Cancun, New Zealand, Finland, Greece, Cuba, Guam, Aruba, and more! 

Meanwhile, I discovered the International Sand Collecting Society online, and signed up myself and my sister. I also learned that sand collectors call themselves arenophiles, meaning “one who collects sand samples.” 

Through this group, I learned of a fellow member who lost his sand collection in a fire, and I sent him a small box filled with 30 different sands. I also received 30 samples of sand from a retired geologist, 20 samples from a retired geology teacher, and 10 samples from a woman who simply had spare sand. Using the connections from the group, I started trading Lake Michigan sand for samples from around the world—this is how I got the famously sought-after star sand, which has to be my favorite, along with garnet purple sand and black magnetite sand, which is magnetic. 

One almost becomes a geologist while collecting sand as one learns about the vast differences, ranging from baby fine white powder island sand to rocky and pebbled west coast sand to soft, fine taupe-colored east coast sand. 

gift for sand collector

Okay, back to the gift. I found a wooden treasure chest in a hobby store and purchased wooden letters to glue on the top spelling “Sands of the World.” I’ve labeled all the vials of sand and will mail my sister’s gift to her. Though I am flying out to Colorado in November to spend my mom’s 80th birthday with my sister and could give her the gift in person then, I am worried airport security won’t allow me to bring many vials of sand onto a plane. I’ll have to rely on my family members in Colorado to snap a pic of my sister opening the present. v

Suzanne grew up in an Air Force family and spent kindergarten through fourth grade in Kenai, Alaska. She fondly remembers walking on the peninsula of Kenai with her family and black dachshund, Fritz, in his yellow knit coat, collecting rocks with her sister while her my mother dragged home driftwood. Her family was stationed in Colorado through high school and family vacations were spent camping in national parks, and her mother got her into rock collecting. She now has a rock from every country and every state.

She has been a barber for over 30 years, so she jokes, “I comb hair during the work week and comb the beach on weekends.” She and her husband live in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, 22 miles away from Lake Michigan. 

“My husband is a triathlete and four years ago when he was training for a half Ironman, he had to swim in Lake Michigan, and I tagged along to look for rocks and fossils and found my first piece of beach glass,” says Suzanne. “Blue. It caught my eye and I instantly knew what it was. Beautiful beach glass.” She has now collected 26,764 pieces of glass. “Yes, I count them,” she laughs. She has given away more than half of them. 

You can find her at the beach every weekend—rain, sleet, snow, or hail—in pursuit of her passion for beach glass. “Lots of sand there, too!” she adds. 

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

Learn more about sand

View macro and micro views of Dania Beach, Florida in this short video

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