Jadite gems, opalescent glass, and a piece of turquoise-glazed pottery
top off this wonderful gathering of time-worn treasures.
Last week was one of great sadness, intense anticipation and overwhelming thankfulness. Each year, the date of the lowest low tide has slipped past us with out celebration... until this year. This time, my friends and I planned a trip to Glass Beach - an irresistible draw to artist-hunter-gatherer-scroungers like ourselves. I could barely contain my excitement amidst thoughts of hunting for beach glass in an area that used to be a town dump a century ago. The scenery there is heart-wrenchingly beautiful... a quiet, soul-reaching kind of beautiful. A memorable day surely lay ahead - magnificent vistas combined with the allure of collecting trash, sea-tumbled through the last century into tiny jewels rivaling the loveliest of gems.
The beach area at Point Wilson Lighthouse in Port Townsend, looking West toward North Beach at Fort Flagler, which is the "by foot" starting point to Glass Beach
What is it about beach glass that is so captivating? Perhaps it's the soulful metaphor of embracing something that was tossed aside, appreciating the subtle beauty that emerges through decades of daily turmoil... a beauty that can only be realized through time and wear and cannot be replicated any other way... revealing a weathered patina, luminous from within. Perhaps it is the meandering hunt itself that is so enticing, providing a reason to be outdoors, allowing oneself the luxury of being wrapped in a panorama of cliffs, waves, sand, pebbles, driftwood and revitalizing sea air. Or, perhaps it is one's own "collector gene" kicking in... the thrill of unseating each rock or pebble with the hope of unearthing a treasure that has remained hidden for decades. Whatever the reason or source of the passion, holding a fragment of beach-worn glass is an enchanting encounter. A reserved radiance emanates from these charming relics; what were once broken and cast aside utilitarian objects have been transformed into cherished, time-worn jewels.
An amazing pottery shard with seawater-colored glaze.
It's so interesting how the pottery wears at the edges, but glaze on flat surfaces is left intact.
The downside of going to Glass Beach is the two to three mile hike in each direction, and I began to have serious doubts as to whether I could navigate the path during the allotted time between tides. Knowing how much I was looking forward to the trip, G offered to shuttle me to the cove by boat. I hardly slept the night before, envisioning sifting and digging through the sand and pebbles for pottery shards, discarded toys and colorful glass. Like hunting for sharks' teeth at Venice Beach, shelling on Sanibel and Captiva Islands, digging up a trilobite or vacationing in a hummingbird nesting area, this foray was for me pure "bucket-list item" bliss. My anticipation of filled scavenging bags and fulfilled dreams, combined with the sorrow of losing a friend to an accident the week before, elevated this little outing into an emotionally significant trip.
Some of these glass pieces are actually shaped like tears, appropriately also called Mermaid Tears.
Beautiful examples of opaque and opalescent as well as transparent beach glass.
G and I got an early start on the day, although dubious about the weather predictions; our supposed first seventy five degree day of the year looked a bit doubtful that morning. As we loaded up and made our way into Port Townsend, the cloud cover seemed a bit too thick for the predicted noontime sunshine. During breakfast at the local waterfront diner, we blithely watched a seal as it scrutinized nearby kayakers and rowers, savoring what would unknowingly be our last bit of warmth for the remainder of the day. We departed the restaurant with our waitress' perky comments about the supposedly imminent cloud burn-off still agreeably ringing in our ears.
The Marine Science Center lagoon on a calm day; the boat launch is off view to the left.
From the Marine Science Center pier looking South, on a calmer, sunnier day
Launching at the Marine Science Center on the East side of Port Townsend was no easy accomplishment. The tidal action was extreme, slamming the boat repeatedly as we readied the bumpers and unloaded from the trailer. Due to the extremely low tide, it was apparent why no larger boats were launching on the East side, but with our boat's extremely low draft and G's piloting skills we were soon on our way. The open water away from the dock was calm, and we set our sights toward the point and Glass Beach with only a half hour of water to be navigated along our way. Only thirty short minutes standing between me and Beach Glass Nirvana.
From the launch site, looking North toward Point Wilson Lighthouse.
We need to continue around the point, then West for several miles.
Although windy and chilly, it was a pleasant ride... until we rounded the point. As soon as we skirted Point Wilson Lighthouse, the once-pleasant waters took a decidedly unpleasant turn, becoming swirling and choppy, topped with brisk, breath-snatching wind.
In spite of the wind, I think we would have remained undaunted toward our destination had it not been for the immense labyrinth of kelp. Kelp... everywhere... masses of it. In order to navigate the kelp rafts, we had to throttle the motor back, which then made us more vulnerable to the wind and swirling currents. The energy of the Strait along with our kelp-monitoring motor speed resulted in a very laborious, rambling course toward Glass Beach cove. Waves continually pummeled us, soaking us from head to toe. Actually, we were only soaked waist to toe since we were wearing marine jackets. But trust me - we were wet. And cold.
Currents on another day, in the Straight near shore.
Somewhere in a very cynical corner of my mind, as I was contemplating the taste differences between Atlantic and Pacific seawater, I kept hearing the foreboding theme song from the old Gilligan's Island television show playing over and over again. Also going through my mind were the blogs I had perused in prior weeks, which had painted a tranquil picture of reaching Glass Beach by kayak. I wondered if their kayaks had been airlifted into place.
Seagull feather, beach at Point Wilson Lighthouse.
Jadite glass along with what I believe to be a worn marble. Judging from its size, it must have been a shooter in its former life. In its new life, it will be incorporated into a piece of jewelry.
At this point, while gazing upon a seemingly endless kelp maze and imagining our motor becoming entangled in meters of golden-green seaweed, we began to discuss turning back. As we saw our destination still far off in the haze, I began to prepare myself for the shattering of my dream of "puttering around the little cove with the sea glass floor." I couldn't help but appreciate the irony of sea glass' lesser-known name, Mermaid Tears.
Nereocystis luetkeana, or Bull Kelp, prolific in the Strait. Ironically, Nereocystis is Greek for "mermaid's bladder." I'm sensing a theme here...
Photo by Scott Gabara, courtesy of PISCO image gallery
(Just in case you're curious, this is what a maniacal, laughing sea lion looks like.)
(Photo credit: SeaWorld, Japan)
(Photo credit: SeaWorld, Japan)
After exchanging a few astonished words (which included G muttering something about Davy Jones' Locker), and taking one last look at the still-distant Glass Beach, we turned back toward our starting point. Upon reaching the dock, we were soaked, exhausted, chilled and extremely thankful. And I, also severely disappointed. After calling our friends to let them know we wouldn't be joining them at the cove, I spilled a few mermaid-worthy tears.
A Mermaid's Obi, washed up on Point Wilson beach.
Our friends Lyneen, Kris and Beth, and best canine pal Pixie, made it all the way to Glass Beach by foot and were rewarded for their efforts by bags filled with glass, pottery shards and rocks. Their journey is a story in itself; their trip took over three hours of walking time - all the while enduring bone-chilling winds, slippery rocks, unstable driftwood and shifting sands. What an adventure!
Typical scene at Port Townsend's beaches. On the North side, looking West.
Isn't this the loveliest thing? I wonder who once owned this gorgeous piece of turquoise-glazed pottery and what it was used for a century ago ... did great-grandmother mix cookie or bread dough in this turquoise bowl, or display violets in this planter or roses in this vase... did she pour milk from this pitcher or lovingly serve sandwiches on this plate?
I love the way the glaze has a matrix of dark lines now - just like real turquoise...
except much more precious.
I was able to meet up with Lyneen a couple of days later to relive the day and see her beach treasures first-hand. After dinner, she deeply touched me by giving me a huge portion of her finds from that day... glass and pottery she had unearthed from Glass Beach and carried for three miles in her backpack. With still-sore muscles and raw fingers days later, she cheerfully and generously scooped up handfuls of these gems and handed them to me, along with a fabulous egg-shaped rock. (How many people do you know who would carry a rock for three miles... just because they know you will absolutely love it?)
The beautiful array of treasures that were a gift from Lyneen.
My dream of going to Glass Beach turned out to be so much more than I could have envisioned. As I look at these beautiful pieces of weathered glass and pottery, they mean so much more to me than anything I could have found on the beach myself. They represent the gift of friendship and self-sacrifice. It is a blessed life to possess such true treasure.