At the Beachcombing Conference, I’m staying in a cottage with three other gals. It felt like I was back in college again, back at the co-op, taking turns in the bathroom, dashing down the hall wearing only a towel, and staying up late talking in the living room in our pajamas. We even had a young guy stay one night – a conference speaker. It reminded me even more of the co-op though some of us changed our towel-dashing habits while he was here.
I’ve never met anyone as dedicated as these beachcombers. I pride myself for being an early riser. But for the past three mornings when I thought I was getting up before everyone else in the cottage, I realized that the other gals were already outside on the beach for their morning stroll. All I wanted was a good cup of coffee and Wi-Fi, found just down the road at Surf House Espresso.
These beachcombers are a tribe unto themselves, with their own language and concerns. The first night at the pre-conference supper, the room was abuzz with a dozen simultaneous conversations, a real trick since only about 18 of us showed up early. People savored lasagna and salad as they compared notes and caught up from last year. Some of these people have been regulars over the six years of this conference, and have come here from Florida, New York, Maryland, California, Georgia, Kauai and elsewhere.
But catching up didn’t mean who got married or divorced; it was what fabulous object they found at the beach. Experts helped practitioners determine the origin and background of their latest finds, or even answered the simple question: “What is it?” I caught snatches of conversation about Cape May diamonds, black lights to check for uranium in sea glass and marbles, Cobb bottles, Chinese and English porcelain shards (or more accurately, sherds), mermaid nipples, clay babies and concretions.
I was surprised at the diversity of objects that people specialize in collecting: glass fishing floats, pottery shards, sea marbles, bones, fossils, rocks, even sea beans. What they collect usually depends on what is available on their local beaches though everyone seems to enjoy beachcombing for sea glass. My whole family used to walk Lake Michigan to find pieces. The one thing no one seemed to talk about was collecting shells, which in my novice mind is the quintessential beach combing object. Deacon explained that most serious combers are highly ethical and know that shells often contain live animals; they don’t want to hurt these creatures, so they typically collect something else.
Having the conference on the West Coast was an experiment for Dr. Beachcomb; all of the others had been in Annapolis, MD or Lewes, DE. One of the concerns having it at Pacific Beach, WA is that these local beaches have very little sea glass, few pottery shards and no sea beans. But they do have petrified wood, agates, jasper, glass floats and stuff from shipwrecks like wax balls and anthracite coal. The Pacific Coast is also a ripe place to find tsunami debris from the 2011 Japanese quake, and of course, driftwood.
Our dinner hosts, local gals, gave a brief show-and-tell on what we could expect to find here during our fieldtrips. One of the cool things they showed us was beaver sticks. Yes, actual branches devoid of bark (eaten by the beaver) and chewed to a point on each end. They get transported on rivers and streams down to the ocean, may spend some time at sea, and get deposited back on the beach.
The next day we were treated to a special tour of the beach at the Quinault Indian Nation Reservation. Just before we headed down to the beach, an eagle soared overhead, a good omen for the conference.
These beaches had been closed to the public back in the 1970s after visitors showed a habit of defacing them. So we were thrilled to be able to join two Quinault Native Americans, Justine and Michael, on this trip. It was near low tide, so the beach was broad and flat. Large boulders jutted out of the water and sand, and several tiny streams ran to the ocean. This beach was so different from the ones back home in Hawai‘i.
Yes, it was cold and overcast, but at least not raining. As I wandered toward some rock formations along a stretch of the beach that at least a dozen people had already traversed, I saw it – could it be a beaver stick? When I hurried over, I could see that yes, it was a beaver stick. OMG, I found a beaver stick! I ran to wash the sand and dirt off in a nearby stream. It was a perfect specimen. Beginner’s luck. I was so excited and happy that I stopped thinking about the weather. I was a kid again. Now how do I get that thing home?
Postscript: Here is my fabulous little collection from the trip, now gracing my lanai. I bought the glass fishing float from the Ocean Shores Coastal Interpretive Center and got the clay baby in the conference goodie bag. The rest I found on the beaches.
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