As an inveterate, sometimes professional, forager, scanning wet sand and gravel for colorful fragments of glass is routine stuff. As far as that goes, I grew up pawing through heaps of sea glass, at Fort Bragg's Glass Beach. As far as that goes, I took a small hand in creating the rubbish pile that was perhaps miraculously transformed, by the ocean's mighty waters, from refuse into a landmark now known as Glass Beach.
Gathering glass is forbidden there now. The property above the beach is part of the mill holdings. Heavy-duty No Trespassing signs line the fences. There was still lumber air-drying out there although the last logs were run in 2002.
We were always impressed with what we found on Glass Beach, as kids, in those early days, when the dump was first outlawed. Auto frames, motors, all manner of metal appliances were stuck between the rocks, on the beach, half-buried or half-absorbed by drifts of gritty sand. We sifted through for favorite colors, but could have gathered pure heaps of green, root beer brown, and white glass with a shovel.
Most of the metal has corroded in the fifty years or so since. I dove for abalone there in the 1980s and can remember seeing a lot of frames, auto drivetrains and large batteries in the colorful gravel. The abalone were not hard to find either.
Plenty of Beaches
I have been on Glass Beach in Fort Bragg within the past ten years and there is still quite a bit of glass there. What I had not, and probably should have, realized, is how many other places along California's coastline are also favorite spots for sea glass collectors.
The way this game is played is much like gathering agates at Dry Lagoon in Humboldt county. On a falling tide, with an afternoon sun hopefully shining through whatever overcast or cloudiness there may be, colorful bits of stone are readily spotted when waves withdraw. I've gathered my share of agates there as well as other beaches in California and Oregon, so the general technique is familiar.
The adrenaline rush of discovery, finding some shining treasure among the multitudes of common stones, is almost exactly the same.
My first stab at sea glass gathering the way it's being done now happened at Brighton beach, south of Santa Cruz. Among the people who keep track of sea glass, this beach is famous for the productive gravel beds easily found in front of the one percenters' beach front houses. There are probably a mile of gravel beds with no dangerous rocks or troublesome creeks as one often finds at the best agate beaches.
I spotted the fist green fragment just as I reached the first real gravel bed. The beds were about twenty yards apart, each a little hummock of rounded and oval stones, mostly dun-colored. When the waves broke close at hand they created a good deal of foam and sometimes ran up the beach, but I didn't mind getting wet. In fact, that may have been the point of the whole thing.
Ironic may not be the most accurate word, but it was at least amusing to me that I was as excited to find an ordinary fragment of green soda bottle glass on this beach, where I really had to make an effort to find anything, as i would have been to find a nice piece of china among the ubiquitous green glass in Fort Bragg.
People who do this all the time have a kit of tools not much different from a passionate agate collector. I've seen golf clubs used to reach and trap objects, but that guy was skilled. Most people go with a four to five foot shaft attached to some sort of wire screen or mesh basket. Some have simpler, shorter gadgets. Most have the common sense to wear protective footwear.
I always go barefoot and barehanded, at least in the summer. I've had trips along Oregon beaches in the winter that required a leather jacket zipped up tight. But in the California summer you can go in streetclothes with rolled up pantlegs and have a great time. I spent a lot of time about knee deep at Brighton, but when that happened right on top of a gravel bed I got pummeled with wave-driven stones. It also was not the best place to be barefoot. I envied a couple with rubber, but modern-looking, boots on over bare feet. They carried sticks with baskets and acted like they took the whole thing seriously.
Some people do. You can always tell. They won't look up, unless they happen to discover a sweet pure red chip of glass, or a marble, or maybe a shark tooth, that you were about to step on. Then they have plenty to say.
I ended up with my jeans pockets crammed full of green, white and a few blue chips, along with some nice chunks of crockery.
This isn't something a person does to make money. The value comes in the experience of collecting, which is not something most of us can find the time for every day.
Brighton Beach is a pretty stretch of sand with very mild surf kind of sagging toward a very welcoming strand. There were lots of pelicans crashing down offshore, a pod of dolphins first humping along, then leaping clear of the water, in pursuit of whatever the pelicans were hunting farther out. I suppose that alone was worth the trip.