Zen and the Art of Sea Glass Collecting

Combing a pebbled-covered beach is a little like raking a Zen rock garden.

I’ve discovered a new form of meditation: searching for sea glass. I’ve never been able to meditate in the traditional sense. I’ve tried. But my mind soon wanders and starts to churn on all of life’s crud: work stress, family squabbles, financial stresses. The Zen escapes me. But on a recent trip to Maine, I discovered there’s something about hunting for nuggets of glass, buffed soft in the briny waves, that allows my mind to finally go blank.

Our family just spent three weeks on an Island in Penobscot Bay, and on our first jaunt down to the water, I looked down at the pebbly shore and spotted a stone that didn’t look like the rest. It was a nearly square piece of clear glass about the size of a postage stamp, its edges worn from tumbling in the waves against a mix of sand and rock. For how long? A year? Decades? No way to know for sure.

Sorting sea glass by color was also a calming exercise.

Every time I searched the beach, I’d find a few little pieces. A thick hunk of brown, some milky white bits, occasionally a sliver of blue or green, glittering among the grey stones like precious gems. But the scanning was the thing. Walking slowly and staring at the ground a few feet in front of your feet lets you block out everything—most notably the worries of life. If you stare at the bark of a tree long enough you can forget about the forest for a while.

When you’re on vacation, this is a good thing. The kids got into it, too. It gave us a more compelling reason to get outside than simply going for a hike. We weren’t walking for cardiovascular health or to melt off the gallons of ice cream we’d been putting away on a daily basis. We were in search of sea glass. The beach became a giant scavenger hunt.

My favorite piece of sea glass said “Her.”

We’d cradle exceptional finds in our palms and share with one another. We relished pieces with words on them. “Portland,” “No Refil,” the “ola” in Coca-Cola, and my favorite: “Her.” We found bottle bottoms and pale green antique bottle necks. My daughter loved the bits with texture. Pebbled surfaces, wavy bits, diagonal lines. We’d try to guess what the sea glass had been when it was whole. Bottles, of course. But there were also ash trays and soap dishes.

“What if you had Cinderella’s slipper and you threw it in the ocean?” my daughter wondered. “It would be so cool as sea glass.”

My kids said I became a little obsessed by sea glass, but I couldn’t resist this bottle of vino.

I even found a bottle of sauvignon blanc called “Seaglass” (at the grocery story), but sipping wine on a porch while watching the sun set over an 1854 lighthouse is a different kind of meditation.

One day, while we were scouring a beach for sea glass, the kids’ grandfather joined us. Gran said he thought we wouldn’t find much. “I think this beach has been pretty well picked over.” Moments later he reached into the rocks where he was sitting and pulled up a glass bottle stopper from the 1920s. It was the find of the trip. If he could find the bottle—and the original packaging—he could have sold it on E-bay for $145. To me, it was even more valuable treasure as sea glass. For nearly a century, it had been grinding around in the frigid waters of Penobscot Bay, its surface supple from the constant buffing.

Sorting and choosing favorite pieces to put in old jars. We also found marbles that had washed up on the beach. Go figure.

We put the bottle stopper in an old Mason jar along with a collection of other soft shards in pale blues and purples, and left it on the mantelpiece of the family house in Maine. The kids each brought a jar of their sea glass back to Colorado.

Jars of sea glass, large and small.

Since we’ve been home, I keep pulling bits of sea glass from pant pockets, backpacks and the folds of my purse. It’s a happy reminder. Just rubbing the soft glass between my fingers brings me a moment of Zen.

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