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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wintry Mix...

There's not much beach combing around here... during the month of November.

I decided to brave the elements because I wanted to see what had washed up after recent storms, and today offered one of the few tiny windows of opportunity for a beach trip... with a slight dip in the tide level starting around 2:30pm... and continuing till dark, which occurs about 4:30 these days.

It has become rather wintry in the Northwest, over the past couple of weeks. Amazing fall foliage has given way to bare trees, cold rain and high winds. As I made may way to the parking lot by the beach, I didn't realize that it had also snowed a bit, overnight.

There are a lot of "microclimates" at the end of our peninsula. I have often seen it be completely dry at our house, only to find a day of pouring rain-- or snow-- in town, less than three miles away. Today it seemed like the central ridge got 1-2 inches of snow, while nowhere else did.

Being the weekend, there were lots of cars in the parking lot. However, I expect most of them belonged to people taking their dogs to the adjacent state park.

The tide was still very high as I set out-- only a narrow band of large rocks separated me from the waves... and it made going very slow. I think of this as an "ankle breaker" beach, and I did not look forward to making a 3.5 mile trek along that type of footing. And things did not improve. After about 15 minutes of slow going, I realized that the storms had not only "rearranged" the beach... but had also beaten the offshore kelp forests to bits, and now I found myself waking on large rocks covered with a six inch layer of slippery seaweed.

This didn't bode well for my day. Even if the retreating tide were to leave behind a decent expanse of beach, a thick layer of seaweed makes it all but impossible to get to any washed-up treasures. The fact that I was probably the only one beach combing today offered little consolation.

A large vibrant deep turquoise glass bead
Fortunately, my favorite stretch of beach-- which it took me almost two hours to reach-- was not entirely covered by seaweed. Sadly, though, the long time it had taken me to get there also meant that I had less than 90 minutes before I started to lose the light.

As the light fades, the darker colors become invisible first, and eventually the only thing you can make out are the clear pieces, which look a bit like moonstones in the semi-darkness. One exception to this is the fairly rare "vaseline glass," a pale lime green which seems almost "illuminated from within," in low light.

In the end, the findings of the day were fairly modest-- the storms had not turned up large volumes of new treasure, and I'm beginning to think that maybe this piece of beach has simply been "picked clean," largely as a result of the repeated "exposure" from newspaper articles. A "secret" doesn't remain a secret for very long if everyone knows about it-- if you know what I mean.

A few highlights of the day included a large bright turquoise oval bead (pictured above) in perfect condition-- with the hole intact and free of sand-- a nice find, and in a rare color. I also found a nice aquamarine "cat's eye" glass marble, a larger piece of pastel yellow (the only "rare" colored piece of the day) and a large (about 1 1/2" long) clear "egg" piece. I can only speculate as to its origins-- perhaps a finial or "knop" from some kind of glass serving dish? It was perfectly symmetrical, and in lovely frosted condition. Who says clear sea glass can't be interesting?!?!

The remainder of the day's finding were quite "ordinary" and now await sorting, at some future date. I had hoped to find more large pieces-- often the case after a storm-- but most pieces I saw were quite small, and uncommon colors were few and far between. There also seems to be a lot of damaged/chipped pieces-- which I always throw back, so they can "cook fully."

Of course, there is more to beach combing than merely "finding sea glass." I go for the exercise and fresh air, as well as for the cathartic and meditative qualities of being on the beach for several hours. As I turned around to head back home (around 4:00pm), I was treated to a beautiful winter sunset, and the sound of bald eagles in the treetops, settling in for the night.

It was quite dark by the time I made it back to the parking lot at 5:45. The last half hour was very slow going, not only because my legs were tired, but because the footing on softball sized rocks covered in wet seaweed-- in the dark-- was treacherous.

This will probably be the last (and only!) time I get to beach comb, this month. The tide/daylight combination is about at its most unfavorable for beach combing, at the moment. There will be a very small window of opportunity again at the beginning of December... and unless the weather is absolutely horrible, I will be out there, looking to sea what new treasures the ocean has washed up!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Home!

I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone, but moving is stressful!

To say that we "have moved" is certainly correct in the strictest interpretation of the word, but in reality we are a long long way from having "moved in."

I'm grateful to have a dedicated room for my sea glass and businesses that will eventually graduate to being called "my office." For the moment, it looks more like a bomb hit, with boxes, bags and packing materials everywhere.

The view from the deck of our new house
We love the house, however! We've moved from living seven blocks from the beach, to living two "rows" back from the waterfront. Previously, we couldn't actually see the water; now it's right in front of us! It gives me great comfort to be able to see the water, and I realized today that even though I have lived all over the world, I have rarely been more than a hop, skip and a jump from the beach.

In Denmark, when I was little, we were a five-minute walk from the beach. When I was little (also) our house in France was on a bay in the Mediterranean. In the UK, we were either a short walk from the Atlantic coast in Devon, or a short walk from the beach, in the Bournemouth/Poole area. As a teenager in Spain, I could see the sun set into the Mediterranean from our terrace, with the Rif mountains in Morocco as a backdrop.

The only time I did not live by the sea shore was during my years in Texas. However, there was lake (formed my a flood control dam on a creek) at the end of my yard-- for some time, "beach combing" was replaced by "fossil hunting." Although it wasn't perfect, I am almost as much of a "rockhound" as I am a beach comber, and I would make regular pilgrimages to the Texas Gulf coast to get on the beach.

It has been a long time since we last "owned our own piece of dirt." There is something very comforting about that... a sense of "permanence" you just can't get while you are renting.

Friday, October 28, 2011


We are moving.

Pretty much everything is turned upside down, and my office is largely disassembled. Within a few days, we will be at our new house, and hopefully we'll not have to move again. Ever. Period.

I suppose preparing to move has been a good exercise. I have come to realize that I am not nearly as well organized as I'd like to think. I have also come to realize that I have made lots of attempts at "getting organized," and each time I have failed to do so... the "problem" seems to mostly have been about me, overengineering "how organized" I need to be.

In other words, my "systems" take more effort to keep organized than it took me to waste time looking for things I couldn't find.

I have a lot of sea glass. In bins, in boxes, in bags, in jars. Problem is, I have basically "the same thing" duplicated over and over.

It's a small wonder I have felt challenged when someone has written to me to ask if I could help them out with some specific piece of glass for a project... and been unable to locate something I knew I had.

At the new house, I will have a much larger office space, as well as plenty of shelving to use for all the glass. It will probably take me a few months to get everything unpacked and organized... this time with the difference that the organization will be much simpler...

Sometimes, less is more...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

First Beach Trip of Fall

Beach combing in the fall is seldom easy. I thought I'd share a bit of a "log" of today's outing, to explain a bit more what I mean by this time of the year being the "least friendly" time of the year to gather sea glass, around here.

Bright green marble from today's trip
I've been wanting to go on a beach combing trip, ever since the first couple of "good blows" have come through. During the summer, we ("we" being the regular beach combers around here and hundreds of tourists) sift through whatever can be found in the top couple of inches of material on the beach. Most days here are still, and there is very little wave action to churn up rocks and sand. As we approach mid-September, the pickings become extremely slim, as we all continue to look for "treasure" on an extremely overpicked beach.

Then-- by late September or early October-- the weather breaks. And for the first time in probably four months, the beach is pounded by some serious waves... serious enough that the entire topography of the beach changes, and sand, pebbles and glass that have been buried two feet deep are brought to the surface.

Alas, October also means that low tide occurs at 5:00 in the morning, when it's pitch black outside. So... what's a beach comber to do?

The alarm rings at 5:00am. I make coffee, and get myself ready to go. Outside, the sky is heavy with low clouds, but the rain of last night seems to have abated. Still, I'm not counting on a dry day.

At 5:50am, I'm out the door. Five minutes later, I'm at the parking lot by the beach. It is still completely dark.

Beach combing is almost a "competitive sport" around these parts. As I walk across the parking lot, I see a car that has just pulled up and a couple of people with flashlights are getting ready for their day. There's another car already parked, and I wonder if it was left overnight-- but a quick touch of the hood, which is warm, tells me it was driven recently. Whomever it belongs to is already out there, ahead of me. At 5:50 in the morning...

A good day at the beach!
It's about a four mile walk across rocky uneven terrain, loose rocks up to the size of basketballs and piles of seaweed to just get to "the good bits" where I like to beach comb. For most people, that means a two hour trek... in broad daylight, in favorable conditions. In darkness...

... I make it in about 50 minutes, and thank my background as a former competitive distance runner and sometime race walker for being able to move fast. A few times I almost lose my footing, skidding on seaweed on wet rocks; not seeing a log; bumping into a boulder in the darkness. About two-thirds of the way out, I pass the fellow with the "other car" in the parking lot... one of the "usual suspects" on this stretch of beach.

The tide is already on its way in. It will only be a dark gray pre-dawn by the time I reach my favorite stretch of beach... and I will have to turn around within just a couple of hours and almost run the four miles back in order to not get caught by the rising tide. There is no "land access" from the beach I go to; no place where you can "park the car above" and hike to... only a vertical wall of banks, some 200-400 feet high... so keeping an eye on tides and time is essential for safety's sake. Sure, there are places where you can wait out a high tide (and I have done that) but sitting for six hours on a cold wet rock is not my idea of how to spend a Thursday evening.

In low light, clear is the first color you can see. Other colors require full daylight before they gradually become visible. By about 7:45, it is finally daylight and I can begin searching in earnest. It looks like it will be a good day! Not only does the beach have a nice cover of pea-sized gravel mixed with small rocks, it is very clear that the recent storms have turned over the "stale" leftovers of summer... I can tell because the scattering of small mostly chipped pieces of glass I've been looking at for the past couple of months have been replaced with more smooth-- and larger-- pieces of sea glass. And that makes this mad-dash-out-and-home a worthwhile endeavor.

A large and thick nugget of red-- find of the day!
I never stop moving, because time is scant. The glass is good, although it turns out to be one of those days where I seem to find a lot, but no "great rarities." The best finds of the day are four sea glass marbles-- on most days I'd be fortunate to fine one or two-- and an exceptional "nugget" of bright red. Whereas I do find red seaglass, the pieces are usually fairly small and thin-- this piece is larger (about 7/8" long) and quite thick and rounded, like a large jellybean or gum drop. I wonder what it was once part of, since red was rarely used for objects that required "a lot of glass." Art glass, perhaps?

In the end, I get in just over two hours of fairly intense beach combing before the tide reaches a point where I--reluctantly-- have to leave. Not a moment too soon... I make it back to the parking lot with dry feet... just. There have been a number of major slides in the past year, and in some places I have to climb over fallen trees and large piles of ancient clay.

I once wore a GPS device, while going beach combing. On a day like today-- counting the hikes in and out, as well as all the criss-crossing that goes with beach combing-- I probably covered about 13-14 miles (21-22km) in total. Tired legs are the order of the remainder of the afternoon. On the whole, it's not the distance that's exhausting, but the extensive traversing piles of gravel (a bit like walking in deep snow) or soccer ball sized rocks covered with fresh wet seaweed (incredibly slippery) that takes it out of my legs.

From here until mid-December, the tides here will only get "shorter." In another month or so, there will barely be a couple of hours of semi-low tide during daylight hours.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Waning Tides of Fall

It seems almost funny, to be speaking of fall, already.

It's September 15th, and we hardly had any summer in the Northwest, this year. A little bit of dry weather and sunshine started in August, and seemed to run out a few days ago.

A large shard of milk glass from a recent trip
Fall is the least "friendly" season for beach combers around here, at least as far as favorable tides go. As we progress towards October and November, low tide opportunities during daylight hours become few and far between. This is not only due to the shorter days and the (eventual) arrival of Daylight Saving time... but also due to the moon's annual migration in our skies.

Just like the best tides-- in terms of low tides during the day-- occur in late spring and very early summer, so the worst tides occur in late fall. Typically, November beach combing involves a mad dash down the high water line at a couple of hours before sunset, to enjoy maybe 90 minutes where the water level drops slightly... followed by an hour long trudge home in darkness.

Of course, this assumes beaches like the ones I frequent, where it takes up to 90 minutes to even get to the "good spots."

Still, I don't let it put me off. Being on the beach is a form of therapy and meditation for me, even when time is short. And-- of course-- the waning tides of fall just represent the turning of the year... and serves as a reminder that there will be longer days ahead. By the end of January, it will once again be possible to spend a couple of hours at my favorite spots...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

When the Beach Gets Picked Over

The nice thing about beach combing in the summer is that the weather is typically nice-- even here in the Pacific Northwest. The not-so-nice thing is that the beaches around here are frequented considerably by the tourist trade, and by mid-August (where we are now) the beach is pretty picked over. Add to that that it has been months and months since there last was a good storm to churn things up, and you end up with long trips to the beach yielding not very impressive results.

Sea Glass marbles from today's beach trip
Today, we spent 6 1/2 hours out there, trudging some 12 miles, all in all. Apart from three fairly nice marbles (better than "usual"), there was really not much to write home about.

It always gives me a bit of a sinking feeling to go to the beach and have a day like this one. It makes me think of the way genuine sea glass is a "dwindling resource," and I wonder whether the winter storms will really "refresh" the beach, this coming year-- or "has it all been found," already? Of course, I have wondered that for years and years...

I did manage to pick up a pretty stout sunburn on the back of my neck-- sleeping will be less than comfortable tonight! Reminds me a bit of my childhood-- my parents were eternal "sun chasers" and I had very fair skin (still do) that would burn to a crisp. So they would be out in the sun on some tropical beach, baking, while I'd sit-- fully clothed and sweating-- under the nearest shade tree I could find.

I expect I will not be going a lot onto the beach till late fall. Since we will be moving in September, I will have other things to occupy my time. Still, if I can squeeze in a few shorter trips I will-- since walking on the beach largely serves as a meditation for me.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Always Organizing Sea Glass

I am home in the Pacific Northwest, after 3+ weeks in Europe.

Before we went on vacation, I'd been working on organizing my stock/accumulation/collection of sea glass. It has been a major project, since I have been keeping 40-odd years' worth of glass in about six separate locations, according to six previous ideas of what the "best way" to organize would be.

The result?


Since I don't just collect sea glass for myself, but also sell glass to artists and collectors, at least a minimal degree of organization has become important.

This recent organizational effort arose because I grew increasingly impatient with myself when people would send me email and ask me things like: "since you sell sea glass, do you have any such-and-such glass?" and my only real answer would be "I am really not sure, I'll have to check my stock."

Maybe that's a fair enough response, but "checking my stock" had become a major project.

Many moons ago, I had a gift shop. Whenever we got a request and were not sure if we had the item in stock-- and had to spend time searching-- we used to joke that we'd "started the black hole clock." Time counted off on the black hole clock was the wasted time we spent, looking for something we should have been able to find, right away. Sometimes the "clock" would run for just a few minutes... at other times, it would run for days, as several people wasted their time looking for something "we all remembered" to be somewhere in the stock room.

My black hole clock has been running far too often.

Hence the need to reorganize.

Maybe I will never be perfectly organized, and maybe such a thing is not even possible. But at least I would like to be able to respond to inquiries with some degree of confidence and promptness.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sea Glass in Denmark

This June, I have been visiting my native Denmark, for the first time in seven years.

Although I didn't exactly start my interest in beach combing on these shores, Denmark is the place where I had most access to the beach, for the greatest number of years.

Sea glass is relatively uncommon in Denmark, at least in the areas where I have looked. Denmark's social policy of environmental awareness is quite old, so it has been a long time since much glass was discarded on the shores, here. In addition, most glass bottles in Denmark have had a hefty deposit for more than 50 years (when I was little, one of the ways we'd make extra money was to search the side of the road and garbage cans for empties), further discouraging the trashing of glass containers.

Most Danish sea glass is either clear, brown, or a shade of olive that has been used for beer bottles here for almost a century. What we think of as common ("Heineken") green is relatively scarce here. Seafoam is also scarce. Any other colors are extremely difficult to find.

Surprisingly, sea glass is not very common (or very nice) around Copenhagen, even though it's a major population center. Copenhagen sits on a narrow strait and the beaches are generally a very fine powdery sand (few rocks) as a result of which there is neither enough wave action or good abrading material to create nicely rounded sea glass.

All that said, I have enjoyed walking along the shores of my childhood, thinking about days gone by. As a testament to the relative scarcity of sea glass in Denmark, the picture above is all the glass I have found on three trips to the beach.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Two Years Later

It has been a couple of years since Memorial Day 2009.

I remember that day because it was the first major holiday weekend following a large article in the Seattle Times about sea glass. Of course, I had no objections to an article about sea glass... I just had objections to a couple of people's decisions to openly disclose the best beaches on which to look for sea glass to the newspaper readership in a metro area with some 3 1/2 million people.

Those who so openly shared this information should have known better, although I suspect they simply did so in service of being "open and forthcoming" about our wonderful hobby... but forgetting the possible impact of their words.

I could also blame the reporter for writing about the way "people make money on eBay" from selling sea glass... but people of the press are generally about telling the story and rarely possess the ethical fibre necessary to think through to the lasting impact of their words. The typical argument is that "today's paper will line tomorrow's bird cage." Whereas I personally see that as an "abdication of accountability," I don't care to get into a deeper philosophical debate about it.

I was interviewed for that same article, but I very carefully chose to speak only of sea glass and its origins... and in spite of being "prodded," staunchly declined to share where I'd found anything. I ran a retail business for 13 years... I've dealt with the press, in the past.

Any resource that is "overharvested" (be it the clear cutting of old-growth forests, strip mining or telling millions of people where to find sea glass) suffers lasting damage, and we ALL lose.

Two years have passed.

The crowds that descended on the beach-- in large numbers-- during that summer (and to a lesser degree for another 18 months) have mostly disappeared.

Sadly, so has most of the sea glass.

Of course, there is still glass there, but I'd estimate about a quarter the amount that used to be there. The rare colors seem more affected; the common browns and clears are still there... although a higher proportion are chipped-- the "common rejects" that were thrown back.

I definitely still enjoy my walks on the beach, but makes me a little sad. I know for a fact that this particular stretch of beach was frequented by collectors since the 1960's, and all was well, for almost 50 years. Then, in less than two years, the "resource" was decimated.

What makes me sad is less the lack of glass to be found, than the manifestation of human greed.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sea Glass Photo Albums

I have been considering how to create a kind of online encyclopedia of sea glass, based on the many photographs of sea glass I have accumulated over the years. I've been sharing photos with collectors for a very long time, and have often heard things like "Oh, you should publish those!" or "why don't you create a book?"

Truth is, it would be nice to have an online reference of different sea glass colors and unusual pieces. There have been times when I could have used a reference, myself, when I have found something unusual.

For the moment, Flickr seems like the most useful option, as a lot of people already have accounts, and it would be relatively easy to organize the photos by color. In addition, people can view basic Flickr photo collections without having to have a Yahoo or Flickr membership.

I currently have more than 10,000 photographs of sea glass, most of them close-ups of individual pieces, in almost every color imaginable. These include a lot unusual rarities and unique pieces, including my collection of sea glass marbles.

Of course, this will very much be a "labor of love" and will probably take months-- if not years-- to complete. I just doing what often helps me get a project rolling: making a public commitment to the idea.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A Fresh Start

This past year has not lent itself much to beach combing. The seemingly endless travel, tumultuous personal situation and various other things seemed to largely relegate "fun stuff" to a back seat role.

This is not exactly a "New Year's Resolution," but I am hoping that 2011 will be a calmer year... a year in which my own path forward will be less entangled in "Other People's Issues."

Of course, there are not so many good tides for beach combing, in the winter... but come mid-January, there might be a few late afternoons I can get out there.

About Me

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1960 vintage Danish national now living in the Pacific Northwest... active in the global HSP community; active beach comber and sea glass collector; lifetime collector of postage stamps from Scandinavia; writer and consultant, primarily to the metaphysics and self-help industries, writer at OM Times magazine; artist who doodles on rocks; eBay & Etsy entrepreneur and studio and production assistant at Radio Nahmaste.

Diverse enough for you?