Thursday, November 14, 2013

Beachcombing

If you, like me, are interested in everything and have a tendency to focus on little details that the common man routinely misses, you probably, also like me, love beachcombing. With every passing moment, the ocean waves bring new fragments of flotsam and jetsam ashore from the sea, and you never know what you'll find.

Shells, of course, are the most common treasures. It never ceases to amaze me how many seaside locations have stores selling bags of seashells, not even especially dazzling ones. I just want to shake both the vendors and the customers and shout, "You're at the freaking OCEAN! You don't have to BUY SEASHELLS!!"

Sea glass is particularly fun to collect, for both ornamental and historic value. As broken glass finds its way into the ocean, what was the pollution of our ancestors becomes, over time, perfectly polished and frosted smooth nuggets of color. You can easily identify the source of many pieces - the recognizable "Coke bottle green" from old Coca-Cola bottles, for instance, and the tell-tale cobalt blue that almost always means Milk of Magnesia. Extremely rare colors include pink (often from Depression-era glass like Carnival Glass), teal (often from Mateus wine bottles), yellow (often from old Vaseline containers), and red (often from old beer bottles or nautical lights.) Orange is the rarest color of all, reportedly showing up only once per 10,000 pieces. Black sea glass is usually from very ancient pirate-era bottles that had iron slag added during production.

I haven't heard of anyone fetishizing "sea plastic" in same manner, but while surveying the area approaching the North Atlantic Garbage Gyre, I retrieved a staggering amount of tiny bits of colorful plastic, similarly buffeted by the elements.

Pottery shards are more common than you'd expect, and it's awe-inspiring to gaze on a piece of an ornate china plate and imagine the events that transpired on the track of time that led it to be held in your hand, right where you are sitting now.

And naturally, pirate treasure is what we all really want to find accidentally while walking our schnauzers, don't we? It really does happen. Spanish doubloons, antique buttons and bullets, and ancient salt-encrusted nautical bric-a-brac frequently washes up along Florida's "Treasure Coast". Some define the "Treasure Coast" as being Indian River, St. Lucie, and Martin, and Palm Beach counties, but I would logically extend the definition all the way up the coast to include St. Augustine.

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