By Maureen Wyer
To discover a new passion, beachcombing, at the age of 50 has been nothing short of an unexpected and delightful surprise. Especially considering it came into my life after another unexpected and not-so-delightful surprise: a cancer diagnosis at age 49.
Being thrust into a very sudden and troubling medical journey of surgery and chemotherapy was life changing. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be able to temporarily stop work during treatment. In that time, I decided to concentrate on my health and recovery.
This included the choice to make time to go to the beach. I live in Sydney, Australia, and the nearest beaches are a 30-minute drive away, so I didn’t go very often before my diagnosis. Throughout my treatment, however, I would regularly swim in the ocean and walk barefoot in the sand.
I remember the very first trip to my favorite beach after my treatment was complete. I was walking toward my towel after a swim when I saw an intriguing piece of colored sea glass—green, smooth, and completely gorgeous. Until this point, I knew what sea glass was, but I had never picked up a piece to really appreciate its beauty.
Little did I know that picking up this one single piece would change my life forever.
During my next visit, I brought goggles and found fascinating treasures on the ocean floor. I remember carrying them up to my towel like an excited child to see what I had collected. Almost instinctively, I brought my new finds over to some rocks and took photos of them in the sun.
Photography is a passion passed down to me by my father, who, now in his eighties, still finds great pleasure in capturing nature. I found that the seaside rocks made a beautiful backdrop for photographs. I also loved to get low and capture the glass on the sand, especially at first or last light.
And so my new beach ritual was born. A quick beachcomb to see what the tide had washed up, a swim to see what I could find from snorkeling in the water, and a photo session on the rocks to finish up.
I found the enjoyment continued once I was home. With a cup of tea, I would settle down to edit my best photos of the day. I started to share photos with my friends online, and from the positive response decided to start an Instagram account just for my sea glass photos @seaglass.soul.
It’s here that my world of sea glass opened up. I had unwittingly joined a united tribe of beachcombers from all corners of the world devoted to supporting each other and exchanging fascinating information. As my follower count grew to a few thousand, I met more and more beachcombers and found that they were all similar in the best ways: passionate, positive and encouraging. The comments I saw under my photos, and the comments I began to leave, were supportive. “Well done!!!” “What a beauty!” “Gorgeous capture!”
I ask myself every day: can this hobby get any more fulfilling?
We Aussie sea glass hunters are a little isolated over here, so my dream is to attend one of the many sea glass festivals I often see held in North America or Canada. They look like so much fun, but I know this dream will have to wait a few years now because of the coronavirus.
In a very short time, I have already learned so much. I know about the aging, smoothing, and frosting process of glass when tumbled in the sea. I’ve memorized the rarity of different colors and the funny names given to specific pieces like “kick ups” and “mermaid nipples.” And perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned that there is always more to learn about beachcombing.
As this hobby of mine filled my days and weeks, it made sense for me as a preschool teacher to share my passion with my students. Like me, the children were initially attracted to the sensory aspects and colors of the sea glass. I used some of my sea-glass-stacking photos to inspire them, but the children had their own creative ideas and explored pattern making and other artistic expressions with the sea glass. To experience the joy of sea glass through a preschooler’s eyes has been truly magical.
Many tell me I should make jewelry from my expanding collection of sea glass, and maybe one day I will. But for now, my photography, my teaching, and my new sea glass friends are more than enough. Not to mention the amazing health benefits of being outdoors!
I’m also pleased to say I am cancer-free and my prognosis is excellent. It doesn’t escape me that bowel cancer is what led me to beachcombing. My wise and supportive mother told me during one of the lowest moments of my treatment, “Your best days may yet be ahead of you.”
She was absolutely right.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine November/December 2020 issue.