The Meat and Potatoes of Life: Sea glass hunting is a treasure for trash collectors

| August 30, 2013 | 0 Comments
Lisa Smith Molinari

Lisa Smith Molinari

Every summer, the beaches of this nation are scattered with people who wander slowly, look quite seriously down at their feet and bend over frequently.

Despite appearances, they are actually not contemplating the prognoses of their bunions, admiring their arches or watching their toenails grow.

For some reason, these people are compelled to search the beach for trash.

No, they are not environmentalists helping to keep our beaches clean. They are not members of a chain gang from the local jailhouse. They are not clean freaks who incessantly wash their hands and flip light switches.

These strolling garbage collectors don’t poke around in the swale’s flotsam and jetsam for any philanthropic, psychiatric or court-ordered purpose. Believe it or not, they are placing trash in their pockets for the sheer pleasure of it.

Wacky, I know, right?

Well then, what in Heaven’s name is wrong with these people, one might ask?

Strangely, not a thing. They’re just on vacation.

One man's trash is another's treasure — in this case, what once may have been a discarded beer bottle or wine jug finds new life as prized pieces of sea glass. (Photo from Lisa Smith Molinari)

One man’s trash is another’s treasure — in this case, what once may have been a discarded beer bottle or wine jug finds new life as prized pieces of sea glass. (Photo from Lisa Smith Molinari)

You see, when we humans take a step away from the rat race for a summer vacation, we suddenly become curious about the world. We stop, smell the roses, hear the birds, sift the sands and notice the beauty all around us.

And interestingly, while on vacation, we find beauty in the remnants of long-abandoned beer bottles, mayonnaise jars, wine jugs and other broken bits of glass that have been tossed about on the sea floor long enough to become what is known as sea glass.

Shades of white, brown, green and blue, it lures us on long, slow strolls along the shoreline, where we forget about the stresses of life and concentrate on seeing a glint of color amongst the infinite grains of sand. We don’t like to think about the fact that our prized hunk of sea glass most likely had its start as a fisherman’s bottle of beer, probably accompanied by a pack of smokes and a bag of greasy chips.

All we see is the beautiful juxtaposition of the sun-catching brown, green and blue against the neutral hues of nature. When we are lucky enough to spot one of these rough gems of the beach, we squirrel it away, so we can take it home and plop it in a jar or trinket box, to be displayed and cherished like some kind of poor man’s Hope diamond.

As a Navy family, we have been stationed all over the world, enabling me to collect my beloved sea glass from a variety of beaches, both home and abroad. I have jars and bottles of sea glass from Spain, Ireland, Italy, England, Florida, Mexico, Virginia, California, New Jersey, North Carolina and — since our last permanent change of station move to Newport — Rhode Island.

My husband thinks my extensive sea glass collection is evidence of some kind of clinical compulsive disorder, but I see it as a glimmering memento of our family vacations.

I must admit, however, that sometimes otherwise leisurely sea glass hunting becomes obsessive, like on our annual beach vacations with my extended family. While other families lounge on beach chairs, lollygagging over their latest novel, my relatives and I are intensely scouring the shoreline in ruthless competition for sea glass.

When we find a piece, we could discretely slip it into our pocket to admire later at home, but what fun would that be?

We prefer to high tail it back to the beach umbrella and flaunt our discovery shamelessly to our rivals, preferably while making obnoxious “Nana-nana-na-nah!” sounds and performing a pompous victory dance.

This behavior might seem over the top if the sea glass is of the common variety. However, it is an unwritten rule of sea glass hunting that, if one is fortunate enough to find a rare color of sea glass, such as cobalt blue, flagrant bragging is mandatory.

And, like my sister-in-law who found a never-before-heard-of shard of red sea glass last summer, one is well within her rights to never shut up about it.

Ethics and tact aside, it is undisputed that sea glass hunting is a most relaxing summer pastime. Perhaps finding the edgeless remains of broken glass signifies that the jagged, cracked, wrecked things in life can be smoothed, polished and mollified with time.

Regardless of the symbolic qualities of this accidental paragon, sea glass hunting forces vacationers to forget their troubles and open their eyes to beauty — an elusive glint of color, a reflective sparkle, a luminous, watery glow amongst the sandy swale.

(A 20-year Navy spouse and mother of three, Lisa has plenty of humor to share in her column, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life,” which appears in military and civilian newspapers and on “Stripes Military Moms” website, at and follow @MolinariWrites.)

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Category: Community, Standing Columns

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