As beachcombers, we are often alone on the beach searching for treasure. Sometimes, we go with a friend, but this can be weird, because when someone sees that rare piece of purple sea glass in the distance, decisions have to be made. Do you let your friend “see” it first, or do you make a dash for it, dancing around and showing it off to the friend who didn’t make it there first? Do you casually stroll ahead and pick it up, tuck it in your bag, and act like it never happened? Depends on the friendship.
As a writer, kayaker, and social recluse, I’m usually on the beach alone. So last weekend at the North American Sea Glass Festival and again this coming weekend at the Santa Barbara Sea Glass and Ocean Arts Festival and next month at the Northeast Expo in Massachusetts, I get to be surrounded by people who understand the need to search the beach for treasure; the connection it gives us to those from the past. Seeing other collectors, jewelers and artists from other geographic areas I see maybe only once a year is fun but frustrating—there aren’t enough hours in the weekend (and everyone is working at booths or exhibits) to spend time catching up. Maybe next year we should plan a big pancake breakfast (beach bar party?) somewhere so we can all just sit around a table and chill outside the conference centers. It was nice In Ocean City last week to run into vendors on the boardwalk or spend time talking with them at their booths.
The worldwide beachcombing community is large but close, and social media has meant that we have a way of finding each other and staying together. A Ning group called Seaglasslovers was probably the earliest online way that people with this common interest could communicate—and they did. Beach locations, sea glass identification, sharing photos, chatting, and making friends with people around the world all became possible with the Internet. The group is on Facebook and has become very active there, with 12,000 members, frequent posts and an engaged interactive community. Discussions are often lively. Hundreds of other Facebook groups are available for any specific niche community in sea glass, based on geography, specific interest, product or type of beachcombing find.
Beachcombing is at its best when sharing and friendship abound. When my tray of precious sea pottery finds was lost last year at the festival, friends from around the world sent me pieces of pottery to help replace my losses. Each time someone I’d never met would give me a piece of pottery (once, one was a side-by-side match to a lost piece, found on the other side of the Chesapeake, see photo: left is a picture of my iPhone with the Instagram photo showing the lost piece while a photo was taken from another phone of the piece of pottery, right, that I was handed at a sea glass show, lying on the phone), I’d feel connected again to the beauty of the community’s giving nature. The stories that are connected with people and their finds are what make beachcombing come alive.
The longer you are around the community, the more stories you hear: people finding a piece of glass or pottery on the beach the day after the death of a loved one. (I reviewed Richard LaMotte's book The Lure of Sea Glass, filled with some of these stories.) When you meet people at sea glass shows, sometimes they have their one most significant beachcombing find with them, kept in a special pouch, or are wearing it in a necklace. Recently, on an Instagram “beach photo challenge,” sea glass hunters told stories of their first finds, and many of them were nostalgic, the finds kept in safe places to be remembered separately from their collections.
Beachcombing isn’t about stuff; it’s about people. We are connected to one another through our love for nature, walking beaches, appreciating the ever-changing tides and the wave-worn treasures we sometimes find and always appreciate as gifts from the sea, gifts we sometimes are more than happy to share with our beachcombing families.