Every summer, the beaches of this nation are scattered with people who wander slowly, look quite seriously down at their feet, and bend over frequently. Despite appearances, they are actually not contemplating the prognoses of their bunions, admiring their arches, or watching their toenails grow.
For some reason, these people are compelled to search the beach for a particular type of trash — namely, broken glass.
No, they are not environmentalists, members of a chain gang from the local jailhouse, or clean freaks. These strolling trash collectors don’t poke around in the swale’s flotsam and jetsam for any philanthropic, court-ordered, or psychiatric purpose. Believe it or not, they are placing broken glass in their pockets for the sheer pleasure of it.
What in Heaven’s name is wrong with these people, one might ask?
Strangely, not a thing. They’re simply on vacation.
You see, when we humans take a step away from the rat race for a summer vacation, we suddenly become curious about the world. We stop, smell the roses, hear the birds, sift the sands, and notice the beauty all around us.
And interestingly, while on vacation, we find beauty in the shattered remnants of long-abandoned beer bottles, mayonnaise jars, wine jugs, and other broken bits of glass that have been tossed about on the sea floor long enough to become what is known as sea glass.
Shades of white, brown, green and blue, it lures us on long, slow strolls along the shoreline, where we forget about the stresses of life and concentrate on seeing a glint of color among the infinite grains of sand. We don’t like to think about the fact that our prized hunk of sea glass most likely had its start as a fisherman’s bottle of Budweiser, probably accompanied by a pack of smokes and a bag of greasy chips.
All we see is the beautiful juxtaposition of the sun-catching brown, green and blue against the neutral hues of nature. When we are lucky enough to spot one of these rough gems of the beach, we squirrel it away so we can take it home and plop it in a jar or trinket box, to be displayed and cherished like some kind of poor man’s Hope Diamond.
As a Navy family, we have been stationed all over the world, enabling me to collect my beloved sea glass from a variety of beaches both home and abroad.
I have jars and bottles of sea glass from Spain, Ireland, Italy, England, Florida, Mexico, Virginia, California, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Rhode Island. My husband, Francis, thinks my extensive sea glass collection is evidence of some kind of clinical compulsive disorder, but I see it as a glimmering memento of our family vacations and tours of duty.
I must admit, however, that leisurely sea glass hunting can become obsessive. While other beach vacationers lollygag in beach chairs over their latest novels, I am often intensely scouring the shoreline for sea glass. When I do find a particularly beautiful piece of the elusive stuff, I don’t just slip it into my pocket. I prefer to high tail it back to the beach umbrella and flaunt my discovery to my family while making obnoxious “Nana-nana-na-hah!” sounds.
This behavior might seem over-the-top if the sea glass is of the common variety, but it is an unwritten rule that, if one is fortunate enough to find a rare color of sea glass such as cobalt blue, lilac or pink, flagrant bragging is mandatory.
Ethics and tact aside, sea glass hunting is a most relaxing summer pastime. It belies common sense that collecting trash would make one see beauty in the world, but perhaps finding the edgeless remains of broken glass signifies that, the jagged, cracked, wrecked things in life can be smoothed, polished and mollified with time.
Regardless of the symbolic qualities of this accidental paragon, sea glass hunting forces vacationers to forget their troubles and open their eyes to beauty – an elusive glint of color, a reflective sparkle, a luminous, watery glow in the sandy swale.