Most of those who know me at all know that the beach is where I feel most at home. Maybe it comes from the pillaging Viking ancestors, or the hippie mother who used to paint on hunks of driftwood she had picked out of the water.
Maybe it's the rhythm of the water, the feel of the sun on the shoulders. Maybe it's just the escape from ringing phones and beeping computers. Or very possibly, I'm just really, really odd.
I've always said that my hobby was avoiding hobbies, but as of late, I find myself habitually picking seaglass off the beach in my random free moments.
You know seaglass, those little shards of broken bottles or crocks or whatever that eventually wash up in the sand.
Their sharp edges have been worn down by the time and the tumbling - and isn't that also true for most people?
The physical and chemical weathering of glass creates an odd frosting effect - the longer the glass is in the water the more opaque it becomes, until it looks quite like a stone that has been polished at the bottom of some undisturbed stream for a millennia or ten.
Yes, yes, I know that technically, there is nothing "sea" about Storm Lake. Don't get picky on me now, or I won't tell you these stories anymore, captain correction. Besides, "lakeglass" doesn't have the same romance to it. So, it will be seaglass, because this is my column and I say so, so there.
Now, the thing about seaglass is that it comes with a built-in mystery. You don't know where it came from, how it got to be in the water, or usually, how old it might be.
It's just there, a survivor, a fellow traveler, sitting there in the warm sand, keeping its secrets to itself.
Of course, there are people who pick it up and sort it out by color and size and sell it by the pound on eBay, making good money in the process. Clearly, they do not get it at all.
I mean, it's free, in every sense, or it is supposed to be. Cast-offs. Nobody's going to be angry at you for picking it up; in fact, if you've ever cut your foot open while wading at the beach, you know that most beach enthusiasts do not consider glass in any way, shape or form to be a positive element in their weekend.
There are people who make seaglass into expensive jewelry for trophy ladies, using it in place of gemstones. Imagine, a hunk of glass from somebody's 1960s Mountain Dew bottle or some pioneer's discarded dinner plate trumping emeralds and rubies. I've thought about the possibility of using some clear glue and my daughter's artistic style to make the top of some little 50-cent garage sale table into a conversation starter, but for now my "hobby" mostly sits around with some sand in old wine bottles and heap vases, catching the sun.
It's more the finding it, than the possessing of it.
There is an art to it, that you quickly develop. Glass tends to be slighly lighter than stone, so your best bet it to find the "stone line" on the beach - that line where the waves at their strongest tend to toss pebbles. The best glass will be just a bit to the non-water side of that line. The smaller the piece, the farther from the waves it's likely to fall.
It tends to blend in with the sand, so when one bends over to pick up a piece, it is best to look closely around it while your eyes are at that level. The watchful one most always finds some bit better than what they were reaching for in the first place. (Metaphor alert).
The picking at each beach is different. For whatever reason, they each seem to attract a particular size and color or seaglass.
Strangely, at Okoboji and Arnolds Park, there's not much to speak of. Maybe they come and rake it up in the name of civic progress. Communists.
The beach along Chautauqua gives up the most, followed by Frank Starr Park, particularly after the spring melt or a summer storm. Awaysis, too new. Hidden Beach or The Steps have fewer pieces, but prime old ones. The picking get slimmer at Bel Air or ABC Park, but you'll find some. And if you are not familiar with these place names, there's no hope for you.
One thing about beachcombing, it tends to draw plenty of curiosity. Kids and stray dogs will stop and watch you, old people come to investigate. You share a beach, a story, a sunset.
When you tell people you're looking for glass, you usually get an odd look, as if you've just told your prom date you were checking her for warts.
Glass? Why? What are you going to do with it? How long have you been doing this? Is there something wrong with you? What is the meaning of life?
I've had children wander up and insist on helping in the search, at least until their suppertime. They are naturals too, in an age when kids don't go outside - can't leave their air conditioning or video games. It's nice to see that the future of beachcombing is in good hands.
To be technical, the term would be "anthropogenic" glass (I've been waiting since college to have a chance to use that big a word - that $20 grand was totally worth it.)
Clear is the most common color of seaglass, followed by kelly green (7-Up), brown (old beer and medicine bottles), and pale blue (old telephone pole insulators).
Pink (depression area), yellow (soft drink bottles from the Orient), white (early milk bottles), amber (old car taillights) black and orange are the most rare finds. There are even sea glass associations around the world, a newsletter, and a world Sea Glass Festival in Virginia Beach each fall.
Personally, I'm happy to keep the pastime more quietly to myself. Beachcombing shouldn't be a paying career. And next time you go to the local beach and you don't poke your toe on a piece of old bottle... you're welcome.