The idea for a beachcombing article in this edition began as a ripple and quickly became a wave of enthusiasm, ideas and inspiration. Beachcombing, we quickly learned, is a worldwide phenomenon and done all over the planet – the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Thames River, the Bay of Fundy…you name it and there is a beachcomber finding treasures that are buried in sand and nestled amongst rocks. People of all ages enjoy beachcombing and it is never more evident than right here on the Mid Shore.
In fact, St. Michaels is home to the largest annual sea glass festival in the country. A number of other popular events take place close by in Lewes, Delaware, Annapolis and Wye Mills, to name a few. Beachcombing is more than just about finding colorful sea glass, however. It includes artifacts such as pipes and arrowheads, marbles, sea beans, bottles, shells, pottery, porcelain doll parts, and driftwood.
One of the wonderful things about beachcombing is that it’s “open season” all year long. This time of year is perfect, says Maggie C. Gowe, because there are no snakes. Kidding aside, give her a sunny 45-degree winter morning for beachcombing any day of the year. Maggie’s first memories include beachcombing at just three years old with her mother. “I’ve always been wandering on a beach or marsh,” she admits. Initially she loved finding driftwood but began collecting sea glass about 10 years ago. She loves to make crafts with her little treasures and gift them to friends and family. Is she ever disappointed when she doesn’t find a treasure while beachcombing? Never, she says. “Sometimes I don’t find anything, but the real treasure is just in the looking.”
Kim Hannon echoes that sentiment. “Beachcombing, particularly with all we have been going through with the pandemic, is a great way to get outside to get fresh air, exercise and unwind!” She adds, “I think people love beachcombing for several reasons, but the main reason would be the thrill of finding something unique! Sea glass hunting in particular has gained more popularity over the past 10 years.”
Kim owns Ophiuroidea (known locally as “The O”) in St. Michaels and Kent Narrows in Queen Anne’s County. Currently the president of the North American Sea Glass Association, Kim founded the Eastern Shore Sea Glass & Coastal Arts Festival 10 years ago in St. Michaels. It started with just four artists and has grown, making it the largest sea glass festival in the country.
For Kim, beachcombing is time well spent. “I love looking for shells and driftwood but finding beach glass is always a great treasure!”
Many beachcombers on the Mid Shore will be familiar with Mary T. McCarthy of Tilghman. In addition to being an author, lecturer, journalist and beachcomber, she started The Beachcombing Center, an educational nonprofit organization. The center was on the cusp of opening in 2020 on Tilghman Island when COVID hit, putting the launch on hold. It is now slated to open this year in Queen Anne’s County.
Meanwhile, Mary has taken this “extended pause” to catalog her collection for the Center, along with plenty of writing and a healthy dose of beachcombing. Mary, who was recently elected to serve as vice president of the North American Sea Glass Association, also launched When’s Low Tide, an online ocean arts shop that helps raise funds for the Beachcombing Center. Education will be a large part of the center’s mission, educating people on their beachcombing treasures and about such things as soil erosion. Mary feels that beachcombing offers solace and provides a sense of peace.
For Lori Julian, of Tilghman, searching for beach treasures is spiritual and creating crafts is therapeutic. Her love of the outdoors, and being on the water, comes from her father. Growing up, her father instilled that love for the outdoors in her. Lori’s mother was an artist and is where Lori gets her artistic ability. She turns her beachcombing treasures into works of art. Both beachcombing and crafting allow her to hold onto her parents’ memories.
When Lori returned to Tilghman in 2000, she continued crafting with her found items at her Chicken Point Studio. She started making windchimes, then branched out into mosaics depicting water scenes with schooners. Today, she also paints furniture, creates signs and makes driftwood candle holders. She sells them on Facebook and Instagram as well as rents space at The Brush Factory in Lewes, Delaware.
Lori loves to sort sea glass in her studio. “It’s just so much fun to sort and look at. They’re just like little treasures. It’s something that was somebody’s trash and it has been turned into a treasure over time. It’s special when you’re walking along and pick up something; it’s just a special feeling you get.”
Sorting through the sea glass for a project is like putting a puzzle together, Lori explains. When that perfect piece is found, it’s a wonderful feeling when it fits. Find Lori @ChickenPointStudio on Instagram and Facebook.
A lifelong Tilghman Islander and waterwoman, Elaine Crow would discover glass bottles while tonguing for oysters. Thirty years later she has amassed a large collection, which brings her a lot of joy. Over the years, she would keep the things that interested her. “If it was something that caught my eye, I would keep it. That’s what got me started.” Elaine has loved beachcombing for 50 years, which has further added to her collection. Today, she estimates that she has over a 1,000 glass bottles. Some of her treasures were recently in a collection at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, including such oddities as bison teeth, a Baltimore police officer button, and beads. She also has a collection of uranium glass, which glows in the dark when using a black light. Her favorite find of all may be the beautiful piece of sea glass that is in the shape of a whale.
What is Elaine’s trick for finding treasures on the beach? “Be patient and enjoy the walk. Just get your mind set on what you’re looking for. Go real slow and scan left to right and you’ll just get caught up in it. When you find that first piece it’s like you got the fever! You got the fever and want to go back and do it again. It’s just nice therapy and there’s the great excitement of what I’m going to find the next time.”
Beachcombers may utilize their beach finds for different purposes, whether the items are for a collection or a craft, but they all have a love for lost and found treasures and the healing effects of searching for them along the water’s edge.
Popular Places to Beachcomb on the Shore
Betterton Beach, Betterton, Kent County
Terrapin Beach, Stevensville, Queen Anne’s County
Matapeake State Park, Stevensville, Queen Anne’s County
Smith Island, Somerset County. 12 miles west of Crisfield. Accessible by boat and ferry.
Tangier Island, Accomack County, Virginia. Accessible by boat and ferry.
Hoopers Island, Dorchester County
Deale Island, Somerset County
Woodland Beach, Smyrna, Delaware
“I Want to Age Like Sea Glass”
A poem by Bernadette Noll
“I want to age like sea glass. Smoothed by tides, not broken.
I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean.
I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass – made not weak but supple.
I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.
When I am thrown against the shore and caught between the rocks and a hard place, I want to rest there until I can find the strength to do what is next. Not stuck – just waiting, pondering, feeling what it feels like to pause. And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me along to the next place that I am supposed to be.
I want to be picked up on occasion by an unsuspected soul and carried along – just for the connection, just for the sake of appreciation and wonder. And with each encounter, new possibilities of collaboration are presented, and new ideas are born.
I want to age like sea glass so that when people see the old woman I’ll become, they’ll embrace all that I am. They’ll marvel at my exquisite nature, hold me gently in their hands and be awed by my well-earned patina.
Neither flashy nor dull, just a perfect luster. And they’ll wonder, if just for a second, what it is exactly I am made of and how I got to this very here and now. And we’ll both feel lucky to be in that perfectly right place at that profoundly right time.
I want to age like sea glass. I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts of life, but because of them.”
Bernadette Noll is a writer, speaker, thrifter and lover of all things reuse. She is the author of three books: Slow Family Living, Make Stuff Together and Look At Us Now. She is a New Jersey native, living in Austin, Texas for the past 30 years. She is the mother of four humans, two of whom are still at home with her, along with her 95-year-old mom who is a pandemic refugee from New Jersey.
Bernadette wrote “I Want to Age Like Sea Glass” as a tribute to her older sister who died suddenly in 2010. Taking a beach walk in 2014, Bernadette found a piece of blue sea glass, which reminded her of Alma, who loved sea glass. Bernadette carried that piece of sea glass in her pocket for a long time and thought of her sister whenever she touched it.
Bernadette published the poem on her website initially and then on Huffington Post in 2014. From there it went viral after a shop owner posted an edited version of it inside a fitting room door on Sanibel Island. Bernadette receives many heartfelt messages from around the world on how the poem has helped folks deal with grief, loss, illness or solitude.
To purchase a poster of the poem, visit www.beachcombingmagazine.com/collections/beachcombing/products/i-want-to-age-like-sea-glass-poster-tc.
Sea Glass Festivals
Many of last year’s sea glass festivals were cancelled due to the pandemic, but it is hoped that many will forge ahead in 2021. Here is a list of festivals in the area but check ahead in the event they have changed their schedule.
The International Beachcombing Conference (IBC) is slated to happen in Annapolis on May 10 through 16. For more information, visit Facebook @ IBC’21 Beachcombing Conference (IBC).
The Mid-Atlantic Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival will be held on June 5 and 6 at the Lewes Historical Society campus, located at 110 Shipcarpenter Street. Visit historiclewes.org for more information.
The North American Sea Glass Association will host a Virtual North American Sea Glass Festival on August 21 and 22 featuring live sales, tutorial videos and more. For more information, visit seaglassassociation.org.
Plans are under way for the Chesapeake Sea Glass Festival at Chesapeake College in Wye Mills. Watch for details on Facebook @chesapeakeseaglassfestival.
The Eastern Shore Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival will tentatively take place on November 19 through 21 at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels. For more information, visit Facebook @Eastern Shore Sea Glass and Coastal Arts Festival.
Sea Glass: Did You Know?
Rare sea glass: purple, red, orange
Most common sea glass: clear, green, brown, white
Sea glass is found at the ocean while beach glass is located in fresh water.
Sea and beach glass won’t have any sharp edges and will have a frosted appearance.
Years it takes to become true sea glass: 20? 50? 100?
According to sea glass expert, Mary T. McCarthy, “How long it takes glass to become sea glass varies on a number of factors, including ph level of the water and gravel versus sand in the environment in which the glass is moving between the water and the shoreline, but the most important factor is wave action.”
How to Search for Treasures
Beachcombing tips from the pros:
Keep the sun behind you
Wear a hat, but not sunglasses
Dress in layers
Continually scan just a foot or two ahead
Walk the high tide line first
Go slowly and be patient
Don’t walk in a straight line
Go one hour before or after low tide
Search areas with lots of pebbles for hidden goodies
Beaches with wave action are great
More treasures may be found after a storm
Don’t beachcomb on private property without permission
Leave behind any inhabited shells
Carry a bag for collecting
A kitty litter scoop sifts through sand
Don’t be afraid to get wet
Pick up trash along the way
Enjoy the search!