I visited California a few months ago and wrote a story about "extreme sea glassing." I mentioned I'd write later about sea glass personalities. I just got back from a second trip California: for business. The first time, I met some people who were talking about selling sea glass online. I was later asked to return, evaluate, sort and sell the 25-year private collection of a collector—a cool opportunity for a sea glass nerd like me who speaks at sea glass conferences, reads books and follows all the online sites. I agreed to do it because I have a second kid going to college this year and thought the earnings would be great income while working at home.
But I angered the Davenport sea glass gods. Yes, they exist. I was blocked and publicly attacked on social media while I was still on the plane ride home by the locals (the "tribe" as they referred to themselves, who don't live locally but consider the beach their own). They don't like the glass to be talked or written about, photographed, or sold unless it's done with their cooperation. They issued a 12-point "Rules and Etiquette of Davenport Beach" post that blasted me for flying in from out of state to profit from sea glass I didn't find myself and criticized others for beach violations in several categories.
I wrote in my previous article about admiring the extreme sea glassers. The beach is incredibly dangerous. People break limbs. They die, because it's a place where powerful waves crash into a cliff. At Davenport Beach, in the parking lot, homeless meth and other drug addicts and alcoholics live in cars. At night they hunt for sea glass and sell what they find to tourists and use the money for more drugs and booze. This is the darker side of Davenport. The (ironic) broken glass from their bottles litters the path to the beach. So this gorgeous sea glass comes from a place where there are also several levels of ugliness going on.
My first day there last week, a woman walked up to me and said "Are you new?" and I replied, "It's my second time here." She sort of huffed and handed me three tiny pieces of glass. She wasn't smiling. She said, "I have to give you something because if I don't, I won't have good karma and find good pieces for myself." And she walked away. I just stood there watching her. I’ve never received such a reluctant, non-gift gift before, but it's a great symbol of what is broken about sea glass at Davenport. There's so much greed and hoarding and mean girl bullshit backstabbing it would take me an entire novel to explain it to you. I know all the characters. You'd have fun reading about them. Like the one who was there, in front of me while I held those pebbles (would it be bad karma for me to drop them back in the ocean?), rolling around in the rocks as she kicked them like a toddler, screaming, "I just want more sea glass!"
A guy walked along the beach, and seeing this behavior, said to me "She shouldn't do that. At Davenport we come to the beach late at night and pee on the glass and it lights up because we own all of it. And we can see the glow of our pee even in the daylight." It was pretty funny, and appropriate. Not everyone’s an asshole at Davenport Beach. There are normal, sweet, kind, funky, quirky people who’d do anything for you. Finding them is just as lovely as finding an epic piece of glass. I’ve made some wonderful friends there who share a love for the hobby. They positively erase the negatives and I'm thankful for that.
But my recent visit to Davenport was the last straw for the mermaid queens and Neptune kings there who had already been angered by my article about the fact that the beach was being seeded. If you want to start a sea glass controversy, talk about people throwing stuff into the ocean. I call it litter, some locals call it "If it's in the ocean and it's frosty it's sea glass" and they went ballistic on Instagram, posting nastygrams and Haterade all over the place basically confirming/defending that they are buying fish tank glass from Walmart and jars of marbles from antique shops and throwing them into the sea. It’s littering, in my (and state law's) opinion, but hey, I'm not law enforcement. I can tell the difference between 1970s art studio glass and a 2005 dollar store vase bead no matter how "frosty" it is, so enjoy your Easter egg hunts, kids. Doesn’t make a difference what you collect on the beach if it makes you happy, though mixing new crap with historic glass on that particular beach makes me cringe.
Here's the thing. We all love sea glass. IT'S BROKEN GLASS. THAT IS TRASH. IN THE OCEAN. Some of it is prettier trash than other trash. Some people buy it and sell it. I didn’t invent selling sea glass. If you bash up your body getting it every day, you're choosing to do that. It doesn't mean you own a beach and make rules and speak for entire "tribes," so stop making people feel unwelcome. You don't own the gate and sell tickets to that circus. Kudos to those folks there who make people feel welcome in an already scary setting.
If I’ve decided to make a little money because I now have two kids in college, I don't need to be judged and ridiculed and talked about in beach rumors (the classic: "she must be sleeping with the collector and that's how she got the glass") and passively aggressively referred to in snarky hashtags. Look, I graduated from high school 30 years ago. I don't care about not sitting at the popular sea glass table at the cafeteria. Those girls have their Regina Georges, just like in the movie, who tell them what color to wear on Wednesday, and I hate pink.
I'm done with sea glass drama; not even watching it happen anymore; blocked it from my social media feeds and my life. It's ridiculous and petty. I'm happy to have a pretty epic collection of beautiful sea glass to sell so that some people can enjoy a piece of beach history without flying to California, endangering themselves, and possibly having to deal with some pretty complicated beach politics in the process.
Beachcombing is about peacefulness and relaxation and a love for nature. At a recent sea glass festival, a collector came up to me and said he’d heard my sea pottery collection had gone missing last year. He handed me a shard of pottery. I looked up the photo of my lost piece, and it happened to be the exact other half of one of the pieces I’d lost. He’d carried it, hoping I’d be at the festival. Stories like these are what beachcombing is about. Giving, not taking. Sharing our love for the beach, caring about each other's stories and each other, and the sense of peacefulness that comes from being near the water. When I was working with the photographer to capture the beauty of the collection, I was watching whales swim by in the Pacific Ocean, and pelicans were roosting nearby as the sun was getting ready to set over the sea. As with anything in life, we can't let a little ugliness ruin the vast gorgeousness of an experience.
I left California where the waves crash violently against the cliffs and brave people are between that ocean and that cliff looking for sea glass and came home to a place where I kayak on calm waters to find my sea glass. I’ve made a decision to block negativity from my sea glass life and feeds. I know how many people reading this are nodding their heads right now. Enough! We know there’s a darker side, but the sea glass always looks best in good lighting.
—Follow Mary McCarthy’s new Facebook sea glass page.