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Beach Glass: Picking Up the Pieces

20 September 2020
Images of beach glass pieces held in a hand at the beach
Photo by Ellie Thompson

I am lucky to live on one of Chicago's most beautiful beaches. It sits quietly just north of the hustle and bustle of the Lakefront Trail. It is a hidden gem.


I walk through the park most days greeting neighbors and petting dogs on my way to the water's edge. The path I walk upon is different each day; changed by the motion of the waves meeting the sand.  The beach is punctuated by a trail of tumbled, colorful pebbles, left by the constant rhythm of the lake's waves. Some days these stones are barely larger than sand, and other days they are large and plentiful, the size of olives, cherries and apricots. Everyday, mixed with the little rocks, are pieces of tumbled glass.

As a child, I collected beach glass during summer vacations on Cape Cod. I trained my eye to see these treasures from among common pebbles. I mixed and sorted them in buckets and left them in pockets to be tumbled again later in the washing machine at home. My brother and I filled small jars with our finds and set them on window sills, reminding us in winter of the ocean now so far away.

Soon after I moved to the beach on Lake Michigan, I found myself scanning the ground, seeking, and stopping to pick up translucent, tumbled gems. I fell easily into the slow pace of a beachcomber.

I find most pieces easily at the wet edge of the beach, where the water laps over the sand before the dry land. I can walk this path, and on a calm day keep my feet dry.

I have developed a certain connoisseurship in my collecting. I find that the most desirable pieces are the rarest. Rare and adhere to my own made up aesthetic about beach glass. Larger pieces are the best. Even more coveted if the original shape of the glass is recognizable and of a unusual, beautiful color. I readily find, tumbled pebble-like pieces in white, green and a pale blue. I also find a lovely lavender and occasionally a bright cobalt blue. The least desirable are the tiny tumbled shards of green. These beer bottles are remnants from good times long since past, yet so small and plentiful I find I only pick them up on days when more intriguing bits are elusive. I wonder about this rarity. If the beach were littered with large cobalt blue bottle bottoms, would a rarely seen tiny emerald gem be more interesting to me? I don't know. I do know that the act of strolling the beach and filling my pocket with these little gems is the interesting part. I enjoy the thrill of the hunt.

On this beach,  I experience worlds both natural and urban. On a winter day, the chill in the air and the constant rhythm of the waves invigorate the sleepy calm that the low sun and short days have cast upon me. The planes en route to O'hare roar overhead reminding me that there are places to go and people to see!

by Ellie Thompson

Thoughts on “Beach Glass: Picking Up the Pieces”

What would you like to know? Write to me, or comment below. Are you interested in being a guest blogger? Tell us your favorite gem or jewelry story, a grand journey you took, or an everyday adventure that brought you a laugh or a Pearl of wisdom! I’d love to hear your stories.

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