Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sea Glass: Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

While waiting for the thermal fuse to arrive at the local appliance store, the family prepared to jump in the car and go to the beach. Harkness in Waterford is our favorite haunt. My wife, Beth, made delicious tuna fish sandwiches and my son, Adam, grabbed a box of frozen Capri Sun lemonades.

Upon arrival, we grabbed our chairs, books, towels and trusty beach umbrella and trekked down to the sand. The wind clipped past my ears at a good rate. The usual calm waters of the Sound were peaked with white caps.

One thing I've noticed whenever we go the beach is that we, as a family, generally follow the same routine. I set up the chairs and attempt to drill the umbrella into the sand (which is nearly impossible because the little plastic pointy thing at the end is long gone). Beth and Adam head for the edge of the beach to hunt for sea glass. Beth is really good at finding it. Sometimes I join her and trail along and I may find a few pieces here and there (mostly brown from discarded beer bottles) but she consistently hands me piece after piece to fill my pocket. Yes, it's safe to say that Beth is the Indiana Jones of sea glass hunters.

Sea glass hunting is very popular. There's even an organization with a code of ethics for sea glass hunters. Some glass is even considered valuable. Since littering is now discouraged, it's a bit more difficult to come by. Certain colors come from different sources, some dating back as early as the 1800's. Brown, kelly green, and white are the most common. Some rare ones include purple, gray, teal, black, yellow, red, and orange. Interesting, no?

So, off they went to treasure hunt and I plopped down to read some Douglas Adams.

That's when I noticed the twenty-something couple to my right.

The man stood ankle deep in the water scooping sand and pebbles with a plastic sifter. He then marched over to his female companion and she leaned in to pick through the contents.

I didn't think too much of it at the time. I returned to my book, following Zaphod Beeblebrox into the Total Perspective Vortex. Occasionally the couple would get excited and I would hear little gasps of "oh, that's a nice one" and "go scoop some more."

Beth and Adam continued their quest up and down the beach. On their return trip, they paused a few moments to speak to the sand-sifting couple. The man, checking left, then right, continued stuffing pieces of something into the pocket of his shorts.

As Beth briefly listened to the woman, I could see her face change. Something was wrong. She seemed a bit upset. Beth grabbed Adam's hand and walked crisply to my side.

"You know what they're doing?" she whispered.

"No, what?"

"Sifting for beach glass! The woman said they found over fifty pieces! Look at that guy, he's stuffing his pockets like he's hording gold or something."

"Sifting?" I asked incredulously. "That's cheating. Like steroids in baseball. Or strip mining. Like reading Spark Notes for Gatsby. It's a syndicate. It's the assembly line mentality reaching down and stripping away the last bastion for honest sea glass hunters!"

"Huntresses," Beth corrected.

"Yeah, huntresses."

"I know."

I held my wife close. The wind carrying my words of invective away from the couple.

"Should I say something to them. Do something about it. Break his sifter?"

"No, let's go."

We packed everything and left the beach, defeated, with our meager twelve pieces of sea glass.

But at least it was honest glass.

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