Beach Treats

A few days ago, I posted a little story on Instagram that went something like this:

Two weeks ago, a woman on the beach in Dubrovnik stopped me and demanded to know why I was “collecting rocks.” I said, “They’re not rocks, they’re sea glass.” And then I showed her what was in my hand. She said, “Well be careful you don’t cut yourself!” And I said, “Oh they’re not sharp, they’re already smooth,” to which she replied “Then why are you picking them up?”

 

I’d like to thank everyone who reached out to say that they not only know what sea glass is, but that they love it too. What a pleasant surprise! I thought I was the only one. For years, I’ve been picking the stuff up and have been forced to explain myself every step of the way.

“So it’s just broken glass?” a lady on the beach in Coney Island once asked.

“Right,” I said.

“And what do you do with it?”

“Whatever you want,” I replied.

“No, what do you do with it?” she insisted.

“Oh me, specifically?” I asked. “I decorate with it… or sometimes I make jewelry out of it.” I also once killed six tetra barbs with it when I put a handful of green into a freshwater aquarium, but I didn’t want to get into that.

“Well that sounds very interesting,” the woman said, slapping her flip flops together. “I wish you good luck.”

She didn’t say come right out and say so, but I knew exactly what she was thinking as she walked away: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I’ve heard that a time or two before.

 

Sea glass is more treasure than trash to me. I’d collect it for the simple fact that I like doing it, but I have to admit that the ridiculous conversations I have in the process are a nice bonus. Like, one time, a lifeguard in Hawaii could not understand why I would waste effort on an empty bottle, much less one that had been broken into a hundred pieces. “Maybe you should get a full one and drink it,” he suggested with a wink. “Maybe you should watch the people in the water,” I winked back.

In Albania, a woman looked straight-up horrified when I picked up a broken bottle from the edge of a dock and threw it as far as I could into the water. I would have given her a quick science lesson on erosion, but I didn’t know if she spoke English so I just wandered away, my nose high in the air. A true artist is rarely understood, I told myself.

Still, the French man in Tenerife was my favorite. I showed him the handful of pebbles I collected and, by way of simple explanation pointed at the ocean and said “Sea. Glass.” He took two steps back, looked at my hands and shook his head. “That is not a sea gull,” he informed me.

I don’t blame people for not understanding my fascination with sea glass. I can hardly explain it myself. I find it oddly therapeutic to pick it all up and all but impossible to put it back. I have very limited space in my suitcase, but that hasn’t stopped me from bottling it up and quietly moving it through 30-something countries. Now that I have a quasi-home in Helsinki, I’ve started sprinkling it in candle holders and potted plants just like I used to do back in my own apartment.

Ice Bath doesn’t get it, but he pretends to like it just to keep the peace. He doesn’t interrupt me when I talk about the energy of the ocean and the beauty of a wave. He nods along when I point out that it’s pretty in an unexpected way. Maybe he’s even a little impressed that it’s trash – broken trash, no less. Garbage that’s been beaten down a hundred times, ground up and spit back as something more beautiful than it ever was in the first place.

Sea glass is a comeback story. A metaphor, I guess. It’s a reminder that even when things seem to be in a million messy pieces with a hundred jagged edges, they can still turn out OK if you just give it time.

I’ll take a bottle of that any day.

 

10 Comments
  1. I can confidently say, it is because of you that I now collect sea glass. I also love it. Being the caregiver for some of your old house plants, I see the layer of sea glass at the bottom of each pot, and I LOVE it. Not only is it beautiful, it’s a little reminder of you!

    • aw – that’s awesome. one day, we will have to go sea glass hunting together. thank you for taking care of my plants. i’m glad they have a good home.

  2. this is so cool. I love the colors. I’d be inclined to put this stuff in a large clear glass container in a window so the light shines through the clear parts.

    people tend to hear what they think, not what they actually hear. you say “glass’ and someone says, ‘don’t cut yourself.”

    I wrote a poem some time ago and posted it, (it had the word ‘rain’ in it, as a kind of metaphor) and one woman said, “oh I hope it stops raining for you soon…”. o-kay

    And if it’s any comfort, on my kitchen table I have a lovely black shiny bowl filled with smooth rocks, all shapes and colors. Just handling them is a joy. So yeah, I really do get this.

    • ha! i hear you. the only thing misunderstood more than art is poetry. (well. that and maybe trump tweets.) anyway, thanks for reading. i’ll be adding little bits of this all over the apartment. sadly, the sun doesn’t make much of an appearance in helsinki, but i’ll put some on the windowsill just the same. :) rock on.

  3. Sea glass, as a therapist I often use it as a metaphor for grief and loss, how over time something as sharp and painful broken glass can slowly turn into something you can hold on to and find the beauty of it. I’ve been collecting it for years and years and still love the surprise when an unusual color or marble appears out of the sand.

  4. I. Get. This. I have sea glass from all over the world too. In fact, I am on my way home to Canada from a month in Scotland and Ireland, and I have a bag of glass from each place in my suitcase. As far as using it – a handful was washed and tossed into the betta tank, where it looks great. I have many jewelry ideas too, I just need to stay home for a while. And, best of all – my husband gets it too!! He is the one that found the elusive red and blue pieces, along with some painted pieces that look Asian.

    • Aw – thanks so much. I know all about those bags you’re lugging around. It seems ridiculous to a lot of people, but if my luggage ever went missing, that’s the only thing I would actually feel bad about losing. I’m glad your husband gets it. I’ve never found any red… sounds like he’s a lucky man.

  5. Sea glass is beautiful and so is your writing about it but I think I would draw the line somewhere before throwing sharp-edged broken bottles into the sea. I mean, doesn’t it take like 30 years for broken glass to become sea glass? It’s not a stretch to imagine that it might injure some marine life.

    • 30 years? So it does… I had no idea! On one hand, it makes me love sea glass more. On the other, I feel bad about chucking that bottle… though I must admit I didn’t really think of the fish at the time, much like I didn’t when I threw some sea glass in a freshwater aquarium. Maybe that should be my new motto: Consider the fish.

      Anyway – thanks for the advice :) No more littering for me, even if someone may appreciate it three decades later.

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