Sea Glasspassing

crab with sea glass marble

By Mary T. McCarthy

I’m Mary, and I am a sea glass trespasser.

I’d like to share some more personal experiences I’ve had with that ever-so-delicate boundary between private property owner rights and the far more important low tide line.

I’m fortunate to live in Maryland, where it’s fair game to be on the coast up to the high tide line. I’m also a kayaker, which means I can choose Paul Revere’s second option and arrive by sea, or in my case, by Chesapeake Bay. As long as I access the water via a public landing, I can pretty much land on any coastline and it’s fair game.

Coastline ownership issues can be very upsetting to certain private property owners I’ve come across over the years, including marina owners, hunters, and state and Federal governments. But sea glass hunters need to stay focused on what’s important: never getting perfume stoppers or marbles confiscated.

At a certain New Jersey beach that shall remain nameless (but borders a military facility that spells “tresspassing” wrong on their sign), it’s easy to accidentally wander onto an actual live firing range. I’m not sure Meg Carter has covered this in her “Tea By The Sea” column tips, but should you happen to find yourself on a live firing range when uniformed federal agents approach you in a military Jeep and point out where the guns are (the dunes), where the targets are (the ocean) and where you are (between them), it’s best to act innocent and mildly concerned that you should have been allowed by the government to become endangered.

Striking the perfect “mildly apologetic” tone while you search in vain for the trespassing signs they point out as far up in the high tide line while you point down to the low tide, making it clear you couldn’t possibly have seen those signs with your best aw-shucks, mom-whose-kids-are-with-grandma-far-up-the-beach, just-wandered-off smile is very effective. At least I managed to avoid what I assume would’ve been a pretty swanky Federal prison, and they let me keep the clam shells I’d found for my kids to paint.

I have another ongoing battle with a marina that hates it so much when I come anywhere near their tiny stretch of coastline that they actually called the state police on me, even knowing I’d done absolutely nothing wrong. They post hostile signs, located inside the high tide line. I only go there a few times a year during fall or winter or spring low tides when they’re not open, so as to not disturb their summer business (tides are too high in summer anyway, and sea glass hunting on the bay is the worst in summer when people are around from boat traffic), and so that I can always access the coastline by water, which is as legal as can be. But last time I was there (in the water, on a negative low tide) they came screaming up the beach, freaked me out, and I ended up talking on the phone with the Maryland State Police after they’d been called, who agreed with me that if it happened again I should get a video and be the one to call the cops on them.

patterned red sea glass

The thing is, and the cop agreed with me, you can’t get in trouble for trespassing when you aren’t legally trespassing. If I am in the Chesapeake Bay so that my boots are actually wet, (and anyway it’s February and your business is closed), I am not in your business, so stay out of mine. (The milk-glass swirl marble made it safely through the ordeal).

More winter fun has come my way because of hunting season and it’s been totally my fault. I have a hard time remembering to check which duck season is what, and man, there’s always something to hunt around my way. So one time, I was sea glass hunting when I heard a gunshot land about ten feet in front of me on a fallen driftwood tree, and I was terrified. It took me a while (of complete panic) to realize the shot had come from a duck blind on the water, and that I better high-tail (or low tail) it back into my kayak and out of there.

Another time I didn’t check hunting season dates landed me in a water rescue this past winter, and it marked the end of my danger-kayaking career. It was accidental. I thought I’d checked every waterfowl, but the way the hunting season charts are on the website, it’s a bit of a confusing spreadsheet, and I hadn’t seen the one sea duck (it’s one the hunters kill for sport, but don’t eat, incidentally), and I set out on the water on a -0.8 low tide, 70-degree winter day- rare all around. Winds were high, and a small craft advisory I didn’t know had turned serious meant it took me an hour of tough paddling to get to my destination. I was rewarded at first with the great low tide’s bounty: full cobalt Bromo Seltzer bottle, a perfect amberina piece, and lavender glass, too. 

But then, there was a 4-wheel drive hunting vehicle, carrying a camo-wearing hunter. I was asked to leave the property because the hunters had paid to be there. I explained I had paddled too long, I was exhausted, needed rest. He was polite but firm about my departure and ultimately I left sooner than I should have, not knowing the winds had turned to 30-40 knots, a marine warning for real boats now, nothing any kayaker could face. After 45 minutes of paddling, waves rolling in and filling my boat with 35-degree water, I used my phone right before it was drenched to call for help as my boat capsized. I landed on a small abandoned island, thankful the wind pushed me the way it did and not out to the open bay, where I’m positive I would have drowned since (I know, I know) I didn’t have a life jacket.

sea glass from coke bottle and lightbulb insulator

I sat on the tiny island on my upside-down kayak, half frozen. Though the air temp was in the 60s, the water temp was near freezing, I was drenched and the 35 knot wind whipped my face, already stinging with tears of humiliation as I waited for the rescue boat I had never before needed. (When I told author Richard LaMotte this story, he asked the important question: was there any sea glass on the little island? YES! I proudly answered. I’d found a cobalt lightbulb insulator and even got a photo since my phone was still working!)  

I am starting to get older, so I might make some slightly different choices about my sea glass adventures in the future (or maybe not). But I don’t have any regrets. I love the quote “A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

Maybe I just need a bigger boat.  

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This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine September 2017 issue.

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