One thing you can say about the attendees at the 2015 International Beachcombing Conference is that they are passionate. They talk about getting up at 3 am to head to the beach because it’s low tide and that’s when the most stuff is exposed. They use headlamps to keep both hands free as they search for treasure in the dark. Or they’ll barely wait until a storm is over to be the first one on the beach to see what the big waves have tossed ashore. And bad weather? What bad weather?
Most are passionate about coastal and ocean conservation, taking bags with them to remove garbage off the beach. Some, like Kalli, turn the junk into art as a way to educate people about the dangers of plastic to marine life.
They proudly wear their battle scars: “I got this one climbing over jetty rocks; slid my shin against them and they sliced it like cheese against a grater.” And,” there’s a small cove I like to comb for sea glass. But there’s about 100 yards of slimy wet boulders I have to cross first. Last year I hurt my back falling on them.”
They tell great stories. One gal found an 18-inch diameter glass float on the beach. She was six months pregnant, but carried that heavy float all the way back to her home, a 1.5-mile walk. Another walked out into chest-high ocean water fully clothed to retrieve a fishing float.
Many beachcomb every day, rain or shine. They happily spread their enthusiasm to their children, some of whom are now grown with children of their own – children who have also caught the beachcombing bug. And far from greedy about their treasures, they have a genuine generosity of spirit, readily sharing their methods for finding treasure.
This was no fair or sea glass festival, though in the evenings, we could take beach art and jewelry classes, and purchase treasure from other participants. And then there was the Swap Table, where people brought and left cool stuff. We could take anything we wanted!
But the main focus was educational. It was all about learning and sharing – a real conference with talks from experts. It felt like college again, taking notes as fast as I could write. And if the participants were passionate, the speakers were more so.
We learned about the Quinault Indian Nation from Larry Workman who has worked with them for 41 years, currently as manager of their communications program. Justine, one of our guides from the QIN beach excursion, joined us for a discussion about Indian archaeology and a debate on whether it’s better to leave American Indian artifacts intact as a sign of respect or to remove them to learn about the history.
Gene Woodwick lectured on the “Beach Treasures of Damon Point,” starting her talk back at the ice age(s). Currents and gyres, volcanoes and landslides, and the tectonic plates all conspire to bring cool stuff to this coast, not to mention shipwrecks and settlements. Her passion is education. She is the founder of the Ocean Shores Coastal Interpretive Center.
Jake Rankin is an expert on agates who gave us the science behind their formation. Jake combs riverbeds and discussed how that differs from beachcombing. He shared the USGS Current Water Data as the best source for river conditions and, therefore, when to hunt agates.
Archaeologist Scott Williams has been working on a 1693 shipwreck for nine years, the Beeswax Wreck Project. They haven’t found it yet because hunting on the wild Pacific Coast is dangerous. But chunks of the cargo, beeswax from China, have been showing up along the Oregon and Washington Coast for centuries. Five elements have to come together in order for them to dive. This past summer those five conditions only came together on one day. And even when they find the ship, the treasure goes to the State of Oregon. So why does he volunteer all his time on this project? Passion for the history; passion for the science; passion for the hunt.
Kalli Ostner presented “Beach Treasures of Puget Sound,” focusing on concretions known as Clay Babies. She secured a clay baby for each IBC participant in our goodie bags. These are found only on Fox Island and Puget Sound and along the Connecticut River in Vermont.
Mary McCarthy taught us how to “think like a marble.” I had no idea that sea-marble collecting was so popular! Besides being a toy, marbles were used to move B&O Railroad cargo in the Midwest in the late 1800s.
Author, Mary Beth Beuke, shared “The Sea Glass Journey.” She ranked the rarity of sea glass colors and red is very high on the list because even today it requires the addition of gold to create it. The picture of her red sea glass is mainly pre-1950 glass tail light fragments – look at those great patterns! Other rare colors include deep violet and orange. (See West Coast Sea Glass.com.) Mary Beth beachcombs near surf that spits rocks out of the water, hitting her on the shins. Seems that passion = battle scars with this bunch.
Kudos to Dr. Beachcomb, Deacon Ritterbush, for assembling such a fantastic roster of speakers. She gave a mini-tutorial on determining the difference between shards of hard-paste and soft-paste beach pottery, and a lecture on glass fishing floats. I urge you to read one of the most poignant stories in her book, A Beachcomber’s Odyssey, where she talks about finding a fishing float soon after her mother died.
Beachcombing, like any other passion, can be a metaphor for life: treasure you find, treasure you lose, life-long learning, perseverance in all kinds of circumstances, and joy and excitement in the moment. As Deacon says, “the beach gives you what you need, when you need it.” The conference was like that for me, too: new friends, great stories, camaraderie under challenging conditions, and now, anticipation for next year’s conference. I hope it will be on the Big Island, but that will be up to Dr. Beachcomb.
For more on the 2015 IBC see also, I have reservations…, Be a kid again and Blown Away – Damon Point and Ruby Beach. To enjoy a beachcombing trip with Dr. Beachcomb in Hawaii, see Beachcombing with Dr. Beachcomb.
If you like my blog, you’ll enjoy my book, Manifesting Paradise, available on Amazon. Receive my posts automatically by filling in your email address in the “follow” box at the top of the right column. And please join my mailing list.