Another offseason walk on the beach brought me to Salisbury Beach. I walk for all the reasons you might expect, and I seek out open space to give my mind room to expand. Salisbury in summer is a mess of arcades, pizza joints and go-carts. It’s slowly gentrifying, but it’s no Rye. Salisbury is a working class beach, and it offers no apologies. While I turn my nose up at arcades in middle age, I acknowledge that Salisbury Beach has great sand, crashing waves and in February, elbow room. A receding tide offers even more elbow room, and a chance to look for treasure.
A beach walk generally doesn’t require you look at where you’re walking. None of the tripping hazards that some of my more granite-forward paths take me on. Just beach sand and the occasional sea gull or metal detector swinger. Swingers always fit the same profile; early retirement years, male, work alone and wear a very serious expression on their face. I’ve noted some similarities in my current beach walk and will strive to never purchase a metal detector.
The treasure I seek on a beach is glass. Sure, sea shells and smooth stones are great too, but seasoned beach glass is a rare find indeed. Glass comes in different levels of maturity on a beach. There’s the juvenile, hazardous freshly broken glass, which is every barefoot beach walkers worst nightmare. When I come across this I curse the drinker who it originated from and do my best to safely remove it from the beach. This glass almost always originated right on the beach.
Lightly-seasoned sea glass is a bit more interesting. It originated somewhere out at sea, as indicated by the light buffing that the surf and sand have done to it. Lightly-seasoned glass has the sharpness removed, but it’s still rigid around those edges. It’s also easy to see through. It’s always a tough call whether to keep it, leave it for another stroller or dispose of it. My answer is to pick it up and leave it on a railing near the entrance to the beach as an offering to the retirement gods.
The class of the sea glass is well-seasoned glass. Like a fine wine it’s been aged appropriately, and shows unique characteristics that make finding it special. The edges are smooth and rounded, and the glass itself is opaque, so you can’t really see through it. Well-seasoned glass is tough to find, an usually only available on special beaches.
My favorite beach for finding well-seasoned sea glass is in the Hamptons on Long Island. Millions of tons of trash was dumped in the ocean over the years, and this expensive real estate features some of the best sea glass I’ve come across. Salisbury Beach beach glass is more of the lightly-seasoned variety. Bottles floating down the Merrimack River or dumped in the ocean offshore eventually makes it’s way to the beaches.
Sea glass is the beautiful byproduct of trash. At some point in the not-too-distant past a trash barge or an ignorant boater dumped that bottle overboard. Time battered it into pieces, and the surf action buffed it. Given the appropriate amount of aging, beach glass is charmingly beautiful. Something out of nothing. The environmentalist in me cringes at the origin, but embraces the recycling of the glass into something more than it once was.
Today there just aren’t as many glass bottles being dumped into the ocean. Plastic bottles have taken over the trash, and it’s a horrible addition to the ocean. Much more of an environmental tragedy than adding glass bottles. Plastic is the real enemy on the beach and in the ocean. Thankfully the ocean isn’t the dumping ground that it once was but it will take time to make the oceans clean. I hope we’re up for the task. And over time our friend sea glass will become an endangered species, which makes finding it a real treasure.