By Mary T. McCarthy
Put aside the jewelry and the festivals and the hashtags and the Facebook groups for a second. What is it that people really love about beach treasure? For so many, it is quite simply the thrill of the hunt. The joy of finding something rare or unusual is what brings beachcombers to the beach in the first place, and for most people, the peace that comes from just being on the beach is treasure enough. For a true beachcomber, sitting on a blanket and getting a suntan or getting cozy in a favorite beach chair, reading a book is a tough thing to do at the beach when there are treasures to be had. Unexplored shorelines, laid before the curious beachcomber, are an invitation to explore, begging the question: high tide line or low? When’s low tide? The perpetual question that for many has already been answered by a schedule in a local print publication or a phone app, checked daily.
What kind of sea glass hunter are you? Do you plan your hunting days or weeks in advance, charting the full moon, to take advantage of the lowest tides? Or do you hop in the car and go to the beach when it’s convenient, without a care for what the shoreline might bring that day? (Sometimes even when you get stuck hunting only the high tide line, you can find amazing bits and pieces you might never have noticed before because you were spending all your time in the low tide line!). Just as there are so many different ways to say I love you, or cook an egg, or tie a knot, sea glass hunters have different styles of hunting. Walk that shore line, sit and dig in a great sea gravel bed, or maybe plop your low beach chair into the coming small waves—knowing your own style will help you find beachcombing buddies and locations that are right for you.
You don’t want to let the details get in the way of your sea glass hunt and slow you down. Having your gear packed up can help get you ready for a spur-of-the-moment low tide adventure. Some things to consider: where will you be heading? What are the beach conditions like? Whether it’s a wetsuit or some flip flops and a towel, having your beach essentials packed up in a reusable, dedicated “beachcombing bag” will help you stay organized and ready for the hunt. A smaller bag packed with snacks, water, sunscreen, bug spray, band aids, gallon Ziploc (rinse and reuse!) or other sea glass collecting bags, and any other items you like to have with you on the beach mean if a great low tide comes calling on a free afternoon, you’ll be ready to roll.
Identifying Your Finds
You found something amazing and unusual on the beach. Now what the heck is it? You turn it over in your hands, marveling at its unique shape or color. How old is it? What did it come from? Dating and identifying sea glass can be tricky, but for some enthusiasts it can be an exciting part of the thrill of the hunt. Starting with books like Richard LaMotte’s Pure Sea Glass is essential, as this book offers the “101 course” on sea glass identification: colors, sources, and historical information that help hunters discover the origins of their finds. Social media can help as well. Using the #seaglass hash tag, often hunters post photos of their finds and other collectors will recognize a pottery pattern, figural find or bottle bottom from their own collection and can help with identification in this crowd-sourced database manner. Visiting glass museums in different parts of the country, like the Corning Glass Museum in New York. American Glass Museum in Weston, West Virginia and many others is another great way hunters can learn about their finds. Museums have so much original source glass, you’re sure to find historical vases, unusual glass containers you never knew existed and other resources such as libraries and gift shops selling historical glass books to help you find answers to your sea glass mysteries. Do an Internet search on “glass museums” and see if one is nearby that you can visit.
Time spent on the beach is a treasure in itself. While any ‘cool find’ is a bonus, it’s really secondary to the experience of enjoying nature—the opportunity to recharge your internal batteries; the fresh air and sounds of nature available to experience while on the beach. Looking for sea glass allows you to clear your mind, perhaps freeing yourself to process other things that need attention. To some, picking up pieces of broken glass might seem like a frivolous way to spend time, but to those who enjoy it as a hobby, they see the metaphor in the wave-worn pieces smoothed over by the ocean, perfected with time. This “hunting space” you enter when you are on the beach gives you not only a thrill when you discover a new or exciting color or well-finished shard of glass, but at the same time brings you an inner calm as well. If too much time goes by between hunts, you—like many—may find yourself missing the beach more and more; nothing really replaces that thrill within your spirit that only the beach can replenish.
The online beachcombing community is a great place to find your tribe. There are dozens upon dozens of Facebook groups where you can connect with others who share common interests. Whether you’re passionate about shark teeth, vintage marbles, sea pottery, or any other niche beachcombing classifications, you can find communities online to share your joy and find new friends. Instagram, through hash tags like #seaglass and #mudlarking and activities like #beachphotochallenge and #2minutebeachclean, brings communities together to share not only their finds, but their friendship with one another. It’s easy though to get too bogged down in spending too much time with screens in front of you. Keep in mind it’s a lot more fun to be out on the beach if you have access to it! While it’s always fun to go with a friend, it’s doubtful there are many more activities in the world more peaceful than spending time alone on the beach searching for treasure. Vitamin Sea may be a cure for just about anything that ails you, but it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps us coming back for more.
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This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine July 2017 issue.