Talking of Sea Glass

Sketchbooking, gathering up our small visual moments for safekeeping, taps in to the tremendous desire to collect. Whether the physical or the visual, the photography hoard or the Victorian catch-all curio museum, this desire is fascinating.

And the value placed on the collection can be equally curious.

There was a discussion in my house the other day on the meaning of the word 'opaque.'

To be cloudy, misty or hazy. Not see-through, but letting in light.  

And we decided this was best illustrated by sea glass. Then we got talking about how sea glass is made.

They say it takes twenty years or more of tumbling and salt water soaking to achieve true sea glass. There is nothing instant about it. The whole endeavor speaks of slow.The slow food version of found art.

Sea Glass on Sand, Chris Howells

What's the Fascination with Sea Glass?

Located in the wild beauty of Puget Sound, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, Seaglass Beach is a remote trudge from the nearest road. You start out from North Beach near Port Townsend at high tide and begin the long trek that brings you to Seaglass Beach by the time the tide is low. There you'll find the scattered remains of a Victorian clifftop trash dump. Once buried deep, but now exposed by relentless storms, the contents long ago tumbled into the sea. Thrown out bottles were smashed in abundance, along with the leftovers from a glass marble factory; round children's toys turned art by the ocean. Seaglass Beach used to be the richest source of sea glass in the world, by virtue of the volume of the trash and the remoteness of the site. But now word is out and the pickings are slimmer. Though I hear the walk is worth it for sheer beauty and grandeur.

We can explain the chemical reaction of salt water on vitreous glass that clouds and modifies the color and pits the surface. We understand the action of the ocean that tumbles and smooths, changing the jagged edges from dangerous and something to avoid, into a delight to the hands, a magnet for touch. But that doesn't account for the fascination.

One collector comments, "We have met people on the beach who've been collecting sea glass for over thirty years. There's something so alluring about walking on the shore and finding a piece of sea glass. For some, collecting it is closely tied up with fond memories of childhood, family visits to the beach, solitary walks alone. For others, it's trying to figure out where the glass came from - what's the history of that particular piece of sea glass - how old is it. For them, that's half the fun of it." 

Sea Glass 1, Akuppa John Wigham

Wealthy Trash

In a Yacht Club Commodore's house on Cape Ann in Massachusetts, clear across the continent, I was dropping off my son for a few days; a kind, last minute host opening their home so our scruffy inner city sailing club could participate in the Junior Olympics. There I saw elegance, trophies, art, beauty, and, in pride of place amid the spoils of wealth, a huge bowl of sea glass. Ocean trash! But that great bowl of gleanings spoke of leisure and privilege. The leisure to walk and look and collect. The privilege of an ocean-side home that afforded the luxury of such walks.

There's a trend I've seen to collect sea glass and attach it to the glass of a reclaimed window frame. They are for sale in our local 'lovely things store' and I've considered buying one, being acquisitive by nature and attracted to sea glass but lacking the time to look ceaselessly for it. However I keep thinking that in this case, half the beauty of ownership lies in remembering. The place, the walk, the company one kept. Does sea glass purchased revert to trash?

Beauty in the End

One can own buckets of pebbles from ocean walks, so many that they lose their meaning. But sea glass is rare and more easily recalled, a reminder that beauty can even come from trash.

Just so, even a few gleanings in your sketchbook that you would consider inconsequential can take on new meaning after years, and glow with a joy and light that illuminates your life perhaps to someone not yet born. It's worth immersing the leftovers of your day in a humble effort at a sketchbook and letting them tumble about in the ocean of time.

Some humble things are worth collecting.

My first collection of sea glass. I love how the large white piece feels.