Adventures in Beach-Combing on Lake Erie

Saturday, July 25, 2020

My mom & I started beach-combing entirely by accident. We were walking together along the beach in Port Clinton when she asked, "Have you ever found beach glass?" 

"No," I told her, "but apparently there's a ton of it in Lake Erie."

I knew from reading The Dainty Squid & just doing some general research into beach-combing that Lake Erie is the source of a veritable bounty of beach glass, more so than the other Great Lakes. It's shallower & therefore rockier, which means the waves tumble & smooth the glass within - glass that comes from the lake's 2,000+ shipwrecks (yes, shipwrecks!) as well as from litter from boaters, Put-In-Bay partiers, etc. 

Lots of beer bottles turned into treasure! 

One of the reasons I like beach-combing so much is because it's so relaxing. I'm prone to multi-tasking - & by "prone" I mean "cannot stop" - but when you're beach-combing, you can't do anything except beach-comb. Maybe you can listen to a podcast or some music; maybe you can carry on a conversation with someone. But you can't check social media or read the news. It's just you & the beach & your eagle eyes. It's a way to completely zone out.

I also like it because, let's be real, I don't go outside much, for for the most part. Sure, I'll go for walks, or I'll eat lunch in the park, or I'll sit on my front porch with a book, but I'm not particularly outdoorsy. I don't go to the beach to swim or to kayak or to play Frisbee. I don't go to the beach at all, for the most part - but now I have an excuse for it, an excuse I like.

Once your eyes adjust, it's not so hard to spot beach glass, if you're in a spot where there's a decent amount of it. 

The color I seem to find most often is brown, probably because there's a lot of it out there (again, beer bottles) & because it's easier to spot than white/clear glass. It glints in the sunlight & stands out against pebbles, rocks, & shells.

Green glass is fairly common but seems to appear in smaller pieces - teeny-tiny tumbled stones that speckle the shore if you look reaaaally closely or dig around a little.

My favorite pieces to find are blue ones, but they're much less common. (What kind of glass is blue, anyway?!) I've also found grey, purple, & red, though only one or two apiece. 

There are other treasures to be found in the Great Lakes, too, some of which I've found & others that remain on my beach-combing bucket list:
  • Uranium glass: Green glass decor (like vases & candlesticks) used to be made with uranium for coloring, which resulted in a bright, almost neon green color that glows under a blacklight. It's also called "Vaseline glass" because the slick color sort of resembles the color of Vaseline.
  • Marbles: Nobody's entirely sure why there are so many marbles in the lake: They might be from the ballasts of ships, or from an Akron marble manufacturer that dumped its stock in the river, or from Euclid Beach Amusement Park. But they're an exciting, rare find, & I've yet to encounter one.
  • Lucky stones: Adorable though the name sounds, lucky stones are actually bones - the otolith (ear bone) of a freshwater drum, to be exact. These smooth, matte white stones (errr, bones) are identifiable by their small, L-shaped grooves & bumpy backsides. I've found just two so far. 
  • Pottery & ceramics: I've yet to find explanations for these shards, but as with glass, they're tumbled smooth, & they're a less common, just-as-exciting find. They can be brightly colored, beautifully decorated, & even textured, depending on what they originally were. We've found just a few so far. 
  • Bones: OK, OK, some people aren't going to be excited by weird bones, but I am! I found a strange spinal column & a spiky vertebrae-looking bone, neither of which I kept. What I did hang onto is the pharyngeal (tooth) plate of a freshwater drum, seen below. Sorry, typophobes. 

I'm still trying to figure out how best to display my findings. A lot of people turn their beach glass into jewelry, though truth be told, I always think the jewelry is sort of ugly? It's just not my jam... so I'm left with a bunch of pretty, shiny, colorful pebbles, & not much to do with them. 

So far, I'm keeping some of it in my bathroom in what was in tended to be a cotton ball holder. When I feel comfortable going back to thrift stores, I'd love to find some mismatched glass vases & jars in various sizes & display my glass in those, lined up along a window ledge. They're prettiest when you can see the sun shining behind them.

I'm also thinking about making a mosaic of some sort, but that seems slightly beyond my artistic abilities for right now.

Have you ever been beach-combing? What are your favorite finds? And if you're local, shoot me an email or a DM & we can swap spots. I'm keeping mine close to the vest for now! 

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