T hat sounds awful doesn’t it? I mean, any kind of littering is bad, right? It is, but there is one kind of littering I don’t mind as much: throwing glass bottles in the water. I’ve never actually seen anyone do this (thank goodness) but obviously at some point, people did all the time. Because all those bottles tossed overboard or thrown in the lake after a beach party are what eventually becomes beach glass. I’ve noticed that a lot of people call it sea glass, but here we’re on Lake Michigan so that wouldn’t exactly work. In either case, it is those small bits of glass with wonderfully dull, rounded edges that you find laying on the water’s edge. Beware, though, in recent years beach glass has become a big deal, and there are a lot of people selling “sea glass” that is really just chunks of glass mechanically tumbled. The pieces are uniform in size in and color, and lack all of the personality of true beach glass.
As a kid we would collect beach glass like crazy. On a 20-minute beach walk we’d fill our pockets with pieces. Usually they were brown, green or white but occasionally we’d hit the jackpot and snag a big piece or a brilliant blue piece. These days, though, beach glass is not easy to come by. On the beach by our house, which is where I usually walk, I maybe find one piece every other walk or so. That’s partly because we’re farther from a city center (the closer to a city, the more littering, as sad as that may be). But even on the beach we walked as kids, beach glass is a rare find. Not only is there less glass being thrown in the lake to make beach glass, there are a lot more people collecting it these days, so the early bird gets the worm.
My dad walks or runs on the beach probably 200 days a year, and he has the beach glass collection to prove it. He is not a collector; he’s much too practical for that, but his beach glass collection is a matter of great pride for him (I suspect that’s more because it is a visual measure of the miles he’s walked or run). My parents display the collection in huge glass containers of different sizes and shapes in the family room, with the best pieces (a two-inch red piece, an amber irridescent piece from a decorative bowl, a doughnut-shaped blue piece) on top. Our whole family is so obsessed with beach glass that when my nephews were younger they were caught filling their pockets from their grandparents’ collection every once in a while.
There are rules to beach glass collecting, at least in our family.
1. If two people spot a piece of beach glass at the same time, the person who picks it up first gets it.
2. If the corners are still sharp enough to be an actual point or possible cut someone, it has to be thrown back in the water. The exception to this rule is with a very special piece, like the aforementioned amber piece in my parents’ collection. You only get one shot at a piece like that and you better not pass it up.
So what do you do with all this beach glass? In college I used to make jewelry out of it by wrapping pieces with silver wire. My great aunt, a well-known local artist, used to make incredible mosiacs out of beach glass. Several are hanging in her beach house, and they are real treasures. That just shows how much beach glass used to be around. These days it would take years of serious collecting to have enough to make a mosiac.
So, enjoy beach glass (but don’t buy the fake stuff thinking it’s real), but please, leave some for me. And if a gorgeous blue bottle happens to fall end up in the lake someday, I won’t tell anyone, just so long as decades from now I find some of that glass.