Rainy Day Beachcombing


Rainy Day Beachcombing

How our bad day at the beach ended in sea glass

Establishing shot: I had been bugging Cole to go to the beach all morning. I was dead set on convincing him that the rain didn’t matter and wouldn’t dampen our experience whatsoever. We shouldn’t postpone our excursion until tomorrow because we were sure to find huge frosty pieces of aqua sea glass, giant fully intact conch shells and perfect starfish skeletons if we just pushed through and showed up to the beach. I reasoned that the rain would have brought the best treasures to the shore today, and anyway it was low tide, so practically a sign. Or,  the closest to a sign that I get as an atheist. So off we went.

sand pits

When we arrived at the beach it was super sandy, not rocky like we generally prefer. Still, there’s something about beach combing in the rain that always makes me feel nostalgic for childhood vacations in Maine, spent under piers or atop rocky spits on “perfect fishing days” waiting for my dad to be done, trolling for treasure in bare feet and a hoodie.

Avoiding severe sunburn was definitely a plus on these days. My parents always got hot and resented the beach on sunny days. So maybe my stay time was extended with the rain and that's why I remember those times more than others. Same for Cole and I now; we were ready for the long haul. So we bent over and got to it. I was thinking the sun might still shine through the clouds and light up some wet chunks of glass, but nothing. Not even shells. I was pretty bummed and starting to regret everything in life. That’s when we got far enough along to come upon some different terrain.

rock piles

A sloped mound of smooth stones is the ideal place to find sea glass, as I think has been identified by many far more experienced sources than us. The larger the rocks are in a surrounding area, the more potential for larger chunks of glass? Not sure if this is entirely true yet, but definitely a theory I am testing out. I always seem to find the largest chunks in places where the average stone size is also on the larger end of the scale. In juxtaposition to this potential pattern, I feel like piles containing smaller stones often harbor more small jewels of glass (and are therefore also more likely to contain the rare colors. All of my most vibrant purple pieces are on the tiny side, and were found while digging through small stones). 

Still, as far as successful sea glass searching is concerned, any rock pile is a good rock pile. Cole and I descended on the pile in question with vigor, practically mauling it in our haste to peel back layers of stones and reveal glass. It wasn’t long before the glass began to present itself, if only in modest slivers. And with this turn of events, our whole day peaked. I became content and calm and even tickled to be spending time at the beach, where I had been just moments ago lamenting our luck and damning my own haste to go out combing that day. I guess that speaks to my history of problematic substance use, always trying to find a high and stay on it. Not able to make the best of a bad situation until after at least a small score. 

But in terms of addictions, sea glass and coastal treasure is a good one to have. Especially if you don’t take too much, always return what you don’t want or need, and care for the community and coastal immune system by picking up trash (which we sometimes jokingly refer to as "sea plastic").

bottle deposits

There’s this mythical place close to where we live called Spectacle Island that I don’t allow myself to even dream of visiting. If I'm remembering correctly, it is located next to an old dumping site for a factory of some sort. So, in other words, chock full of perfectly frosted glass. But it also has a distinctly stated rule prohibiting visitors from removing anything off the island upon boarding the return ferry home. I know this rule is there for a reason, and I also know this rule was created specifically for people like me, who can’t leave well enough alone and insist on pocketing every ground score in sight, regardless of whether the item in question might be only controversially considered a “score” at all. 

So although I’ve read several pieces referencing this place, I still have yet to visit. I’m too scared of the letdown that would accompany laying eyes on so many pieces of delicious sea glass and then having to leave them all behind. To be fair, I can't think about Spectacle Island without instantly being reminded of Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA, which Cole and I visited during one of our adventures while living on the west coast. However, Glass Beach is much more well-known and much more well-scavenged than Spectacle seems to be. Like many Northern California attractions, it was poorly marked, difficult to find, and involved a precarious journey down some landforms typically referred to as “cliffs” by the average human and lovingly referred to as “rocks” by the average local. 

Us transplants were breathless, and then also slightly suspicious. Of course the scenery was sheer-drop gorgeous, but where was all the sea glass? There were a lot of rocks, but upon further inspection, there were also tiny pearls of evenly distributed glass. The color selections appeared limited to amber, green, white, and the occasional sea foam. Obviously the “don’t take any sea glass” rule only slid from "suggestion" to "non-negotiable" in more recent, environmentally-aware times. Only after decades of road-trippers had already scoured the place. But I can't really hold it against them, because I would have wanted to do the same thing in their day! After all, this was the land of giant redwoods hollowed-out into “drive-thru trees” and tourist traps screaming about Bigfoot and intentional communities and carved cliff drop-off roads without any guard rails. So illegal sea glass trapping just seemed to fit the aesthetic. Vegan hunting, if you will?

shell skeletons

Turning back to our current coastal adventure, I’m also always thrilled to find fully intact shells that are not currently housing any residents. Cole and I always make sure to check inside every moon snail, dog whelk, conch, or periwinkle shell we find to make sure there isn’t a snail or a crab hiding. Telltale signs are wet little suction cup feet, and whiskery little curled-up legs, respectively. 

Broken shells are less likely to be playing host, having less desirable property values. But it’s always still important to check! Also, I tend to be fairly picky about which shell skeletons are desirable even for our varied purposes. The ones with perfect holes of any kind always implicate the possibility of stringing, of course. So I’m a sucker for those. In terms of moon snail shells, a flat and broken spiral is still nice even without its whole body, as long as the vortex of the spiral is not chipped or otherwise compromised. Periwinkle shells, on the other hand, are so common that I require them to be either perfectly whole, or perfectly “holed,” to qualify for collection. 

One of the shells I found on this particular day, the one that I referred to as a “shelleton,” was desirable for the second reason, perfectly “holed.” It was a smooth but still well-articulated cross-section of a mid-size conch shell. It did have at least two opportunities for stringing. But it also provided a highly educational look at the internal structure of the shell type, if it were to be made out of butter and you had gone ahead and cut a thin slice from the very middle of the widest part of its body. It had been bleached out nicely to a smooth off-white. I was thinking of its potential use as a preschool teacher too, if I’m being truthful. A tool to help satisfy some of their endlessly fascinated pursuits of the question, “But what’s inside? Can we open it?” 

My day job in early childhood education is also one of the reasons I love collecting things like crab exoskeletons and lobster claws. Items like these follow their own special set of rules, invented both to optimize my professional success, and to optimize the smell of our apartment! Any “animal bodies,” as Cole endearingly refers to them, must be completely dried-out and free of any lingering “meat” or “flesh” attachments. No slime. No guts. No perishable components of any kind. And of course, the animal in question must be long extinguished. This last point is particularly relevant in regards to collecting things like starfish. A starfish body needs to be stiff and purple, not red, and without any reactivity in its suction-cup underbelly of legs. This one is tricky sometimes. And theoretically, this emphasis on stiffness and hollowness would be an important consideration for sea urchins as well. I have never been so lucky as to encounter any of those in the wild, alive or dead! If you have, definitely let us know! 

Anyway, these types of items can be the best teaching tools. Kids love being able to see and touch anything that was once alive. Where were its eyes? Can we hold it now, finally? I am still working on the best way to include these friendly specimens in the classroom environment, however. Using them during teacher-guided activities is great and all, but what about independent exploration? They always seem to get smashed when left to roam the science area shelves on their own. I want to find the perfect viscous substance to suspend them in for use in sensory bottles or jars! Hand sanitizer is almost perfect. Anything out there thicker, while still staying relatively nontoxic and perfectly clear? I want to try shower gel next. Or pure clear glue, although that gets expensive almost instantly. But imitating the suspension qualities of a specimen jar is a definite goal. 

bonus finds

Just moments after the rain had picked up and Cole had stashed his camera safely away, I naturally found the biggest chunk of the day.  I hustled him into pulling it back out, shrouding it back in its plastic bag, and turning it back on for a few seconds to capture the perfection. Things were, needless to say, very tense as we attempted to prevent any errant raindrops from ruining the precious Canon EOS M50. 

Then, of course, there are the two even bigger chunks that we decided weren’t worth risking it for at all. Hence their inclusion in this week’s thumbnail. How could two enormous pieces of blue-green possibly be so camera shy? Cole found the first one, easily the largest piece of seafoam across both of our entire collections, which he’s holding up between thumb and forefinger in the thumbnail. My jealousy-driven need to achieve followed shortly, with the fat turquoise bauble that’s pictured as a cut-out in the top-middle of the thumbnail frame. Both of these finds were found sandwiched in the centers of large rock piles, stuck in a geometrical slant agreed upon by the surrounding stones and shells. These formations are like mathematically imperfect tessellations, with each stone laid overlapping the next; all arranged at the same angle as the wave that swept them there and left them there. 

I often wonder about the patterns created by waves, and how they fit in with the other patterns of nature. Fractals, spirals, meanders...all seem to have their place in the larger body of understanding of nature’s mathematical formulas. Where do waves fit in? I am almost certain that I’m just missing some knowledge in this area and need to do a bit more light research. Any thoughts? 

story lines

Having such a bad day turn into such a good one created a perfect story line around which to frame this video. Notably, the badness of the day was as genuine as the striations in our sea glass; I really was in an utterly miserable mood during the first half of what we filmed. As always, through rain came sun.