I literally plan to write about beach combing every single day I am on the beach and then I am distracted. I have superstitions (if I touch a stone, I should take it or stack it.) and good luck finding agates and a front yard nearly paved with my finds. We also attended an event this week and reconnected with dear friends, including one I was worried about. All good!

It is the sky that I watch all day at the coast.

Several weeks ago, one of our neighbors commented that it was “agate season.” His wife had said the same thing the month before. I know what they mean, but they were both wrong. Agate season began with high tides and stormy weather in December this year, which is late. What the news now calls “king tides” have finally clawed up into the rocky edges of our shore and begun bringing down buried treasure. [That term, king tide, is new, apparently an introduced surfer term from Australia. The local weather uses it to refer to ten foot tides, which are high, but not so high as a storm-driven tide can be.) And even so, there is more sand than we generally have this time of year.

So, about agate season: We find agates every single day we look, even though agates are not what we are looking for.

What Gary and I are looking for is seaglass. It is usually colorless but also many shades of green and glue and sometimes dark orange (brown). We have found yellow and palest pink and I have found glass from fishers’ red lightbulbs and once a piece of opaque red that must once have been bead. I hope for purple but so far haven’t found any. If there were any black glass I have never seen it, and likely would not see it even if it were right there in front of me. Our rocky shore is mostly basalt, mostly gray but sometimes smooth and black. A sand-polished piece of opaque glass would look like stone.

That bit of blue-green glass at right is my favorite color.

This is not to say we find everything that is there. We are good beachcombers who gather, aside from rare glass, several kinds of shells and any sort of agate, and I look specifically for bi-laterally-symmetrical-flat-smooth stones (BLSFS). I like agates best, but also jasper and granite. Ideally, these flat-smooth would be agates (semi-transparent), round and butter-smooth—so smooth that they would rub over silk stockings without any friction at all. I call rare round BLSFS agates “moons” and they are sometimes cream and gray. If they are oval and multi-colored agate, I call them “Easter eggs.” BLSFS agates that are green are so rare, that I have only three of them. I keep some of my favorite stone finds in a little Japanese tea bowl which still has a barnacle, because it is itself a beach find.

About agates: a visitor once walked over to ask if what she held in her palm were agates. She threw back the ones I said I would not call agates. I thought that was sad. If you like the color or shape of a stone, what does it matter that it’s granite or something we call agate? Wikipedia reports: “Agate is a common rock formation, consisting of chalcedony and quartz as its primary components, with a wide variety of colors.” Most of the agates we find are amber or orange, or what is gem quality (which it isn’t) might be called citrine or carnelian. The green and pink and gray are also quartz called chalcedony. The rare purple is amethyst. The red and green opaque jasper are quartz too but not “agates.” If the stone is clear and colorless like glass, it’s rock crystal, but it’s all still basically the same mineral, “hard, crystalline mineral composed of silica (silicon dioxide).” Six sided, all quartz, with a Mohs of 7. Druzy is a field of tiny quartz crystals. Milky quartz is not uncommon, but never BLSFS. For years, I didn’t bother to collect the white translucent stones because they are either rough or tiny. It was Gary finding and valuing rough agate, who encouraged me to look past my smooth preference.

The sand is still high this December, and usually by this time, as winter is just a week or so away, much sand has been pulled offshore. Another local assured us that sand is carried out by rain and the reason there was sand was because we hadn’t had rain all summer. Every winter, the tides carry our beach sand offshore. She hasn’t lived here long enough to recall January 1999 when a single tide drove under the sand, carrying it out and thrusting the underlying basalt into a ridge that was up to ten feet above the shore.

This seasonal shift as “beaches undergo dramatic seasonal change due to a shift in wave energy. High-energy winter storm waves pull sand offshore, creating more narrow, cobbled beaches. Lower, gentle summer waves carry sand onshore, widening beaches.”


It used to be that sand came all the way up to our hedge by late summer and then washed away, revealing a strip of basalt stones in winter. For the past twenty-odd years, the dark rocks are never concealed. We have never quite regained the full in-and-out sand movement from before that storm-driven tide, but we still see a tide-driven shift in sand throughout the year. Just this morning I could still see sand between the rocks even at the base of our huge.

Over Thanksgiving, Gary and I were exposed on two successive days to people who tested positive for covid the next day. After three tests, I feel safe saying that we did not catch it. A few days ago, we attended, only masked part of the time, a social event in our condo building. I will test on Thursday.

This morning I ran 2.5 miles onshore and found three bits of seaglass during the last mile on my way home. The pockets on the sides of my running leggings were so overloaded with pebbles, they swung back and forth as I walked. I finally had to unload stones to my Polartec top and still ended with some more in my hands by the time I got home.

When I got home, I made sourdough waffles because our friend Jim is here. He and Gary are chatting in the living room as I type.

More important, I located a Russian friend yesterday. Marina and I have never met, but we have exchanged art, and I had looked for her since… well, since so much has happened. No luck. Then yesterday on Pinterest, I found new work by her—no mistaking that it was hers—and a little detective work led me to discover recent postings on another site. I messaged her through that website and she wrote back immediately: “Something terrible is going on in Russia, it was impossible to stay there.” Though she finds separation from her home and country “infinitely painful,” she and her husband are safe and working and it is a gift to learn that.

Nothing so dramatic has happened here. We are well. I made paper chains with the children over Thanksgiving. I have revised and submitted stories and have been working on holiday cards. Envelopes are addressed, most of what goes inside (the harder part) is done, and I hope to get them out later this week. I finished reading two wonderful essay collections: Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit and These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. They are both among my favorite authors and these essays each had clear focus: Solnit on how Orwell is more than gloomy political diatribes and Patchett on love and kindness and how we cannot know the beginnings and endings in our lives because that notion of beginning-middle-end is about fiction, not real life.

Bull kelp on the basalt last winter. It is edible, but I don’t.

One thought on “BEACHCOMBING

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