The Wisdom of Beach Glass

I walk the shore at Compo from end to end every day that my schedule and the weather permit. Even in winter. I walk to meditate and clear my mind. I walk for exercise and vitamin D. I walk for my dose of ever changing but always beautiful nature. But mostly, I walk for sea glass.

I started the hunt for the wave-tumbled and worn shards nearly two decades ago. More recently, I started snapping and posting photos of my daily find. The collection sits, sorted by color, in my apartment in large glass containers on the floor. Friends often ask, “Why do you do that?” or “How do you find so much?” After reflecting (during one of the treasure quests), I have the following answers. They may address different questions, and they may sound trite, but they are from the heart of the sand.

  1. Have a Goal and Stick With It – I go to the beach to look for sea glass. I don’t swim. I don’t sunbathe. I don’t go to Joey’s. I walk from end to end, mostly with my head down, and scan. Sometimes my neck hurts. Sometimes I pause to take in the scenery. I especially love the clouds and the way they change. But I stop, lift my head up, and then resume the search. I walk mostly alone and focus pretty intently. Perhaps the laser focus is what helps with the mind detritus dump, but it also is the only way to have consistent success.
  2. Be Patient – Although the photos may suggest that I find barrels of the stuff daily, they are very close up shots of usually very small amounts of glass. I have never, not even once, found no glass during a visit, but I have often come away with only five or six pieces.  Unlike every other moment of my Type-A life, I don’t feel frustrated and I don’t feel disappointed. I know some days will yield a bounty and some will reveal only a few gems. That’s ok.
  3. Pick a Path and Stick With It – At high tide, the beach chooses for me. It reveals only one ribbon of debris for me to comb. At low tide, though, there are several potential strata of rocks, shells, and algae to sort through. Which to pick? I feel agonized, sometimes, at having to choose, and after 20 years of doing this, I do have some tried and true strategies, but I just select one tier and follow it through to the end and pick another for the return trip. Yes, certainly the opportunity cost of the choice is all that glass I might have missed had I veered in a different direction, but alas, that’s the price I pay. Zig-zagging all over the not-quite-dry sand often results in just frustration.
  4. But Follow Your Heart – or, more precisely, your instinct. I often choose and follow one trajectory and then feel almost pushed to migrate up or down a few feet and recalibrate. Almost inevitably, if I obey that little nudge, a nice nugget will lay in my line of vision.
  5. Appreciate All Gifts – I always get comments when I find a rare piece: deep blue, lavender, or the coveted red. But I love each piece equally. I am genuinely happy with minuscule, mundane brown pieces. I don’t discriminate based on color, shape, or condition. I’m an equal opportunity pilgrim.
  6. Be Generous – Sometimes I walk with my sister or a friend who wants to “learn” how to look. And sometimes they spot a quarter-sized, matte lavender piece before I. I don’t resent them. I don’t wish I’d spotted it first. I don’t try to wrestle them to the sand to wrest it from their sweaty hands or say “hey look at that huge seagull,” while I surreptitiously bump them so they drop it and I can “find” it. I celebrate their success and joy and realize there is plenty more where that came from. Boaters continue to toss Skye vodka bottles overboard for the tides to tumble into my treasures. Every now and then, an inquisitive child will say, “Hey, what are you looking for?” I open my hand and show them, and if they ooh and ah, I’ll ask if they’d like a piece. Sharing is good.

So that’s it for my words of beach glass wisdom. The bottom line is, if you want to find it, just get out there and look for it. I’ll see you at the beach.

Photos courtesy of the author


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