As I sat sipping a warm cup of afternoon tea the other day, my eye was caught by the golden rays of the late day sun as they filtered through our collection of sea glass.
We have several containers of these magical gems of the beach sitting on a table in our den. Kathy has used her talent for decorating to artfully arrange them amongst an array of delicate shells and gnarled driftwood. Every time I see this perfectly balanced display it takes me back over the years to warm summer afternoons spent strolling along both familiar as well as distant beaches. The screech of gulls and the murmuring of gentle waves as they wash the sand come clearly to my ear and the pungent smell of the salt breeze fills my senses.
Who amongst us has not at one time held one of these small, frosted bits of glass in our hand and wondered from where it came and how it found its way to where it was found. What stories can this tiny fragment of the past whisper in our ear?
Collecting sea glass seems to be a quintessential New England pastime. There is something deep in our psyche that compels us to watch the sands at our feet for these salty treasures. Perhaps by holding these softly rounded and frosted bits of glass in our hands, we feel more strongly the connection that all of us have to the oceans around us. Perhaps by slipping this bit of color in our pocket and later depositing it in a jar at home, we hope to, in some small way, keep that connection alive and strong.
Nothing is more exciting than the look in a small child’s eye when they first discover sea glass. To a child these are gems for the taking that may just as well have spilled from some long forgotten pirate’s chest. They run to you with each new find as if it were their first and you promise to bring them home safely to fill a jar in their room. This is how it starts. For the lucky few among us who can keep the excitement alive, it will grow into a lifetime obsession.
Our collection has grown over the years aided by our own children. Muted grays, greens and browns make up the majority but there are a few dark blues, reds, and even lavenders to attest to the fact that wonders still do exist in this otherwise drab world. While the recollection of where each piece was collected has long ago faded, as a whole the collection brings back more happy memories than any photo album. Looking deeply into these mystical containers I can still see two young girls, screaming with delight as they frolic in and out of the dancing surf. I can see August sunsets reflecting off the quiet ripples of a calm sea, while I hold Kathy’s hand as we walk half in and half out of the gentle water. These jars contain not only remnants of long lost bottles, but also memories. And like the sea glass itself, these memories have been smoothed and softened by the relentless sea of time.
Sadly, my young granddaughter, Tana, may never experience the simple joy of collecting sea glass. A short time ago Kathy and I went down to Stratford to see how some of our favorite beaches had faired during the recent storms. It wasn’t until we were getting back into our car that I realized that, for the first time in my recollection, we hadn’t seen a single piece of glass on the beach.
In recent years it has become more and more difficult to find beach glass and some colors are rarely, if ever, seen. The dark blues of old time Noxzema bottles have long ago been replaced by plastic squeeze bottles that contain today’s sunscreens. Likewise the dark green remnants of one time Seven-Up bottles have all but vanished as plastic bottles and aluminum cans have taken their place. Thinking back, when was the last time you saw milk in a glass bottle or a glass bottle of catsup? Even the tail-lights on today’s cars are now plastic eliminating that source of bright red glass.
As time goes by more and more packaging will be made of plastic and aluminum, and less and less of the more expensive and more difficult to recycle glass. Even today the oceans may be churning up the last of their deposits of sea glass. I fear that sometime in the near future my granddaughter will spot our collection of sea glass and ask, “Grampy, what is that?”