Sunday, December 21, 2008

First Big Find

Perfect timing...After two days of a west-southwest May storm, the 60-mph winds slowed to a gentle onshore breeze. At 4:34 A.M. high tide would occur tomorrow morning along my favorite beach.
It was hard to fall asleep. Thoughts of Japanese glass fishing floats washing ashore, kept my mind actively conjuring up a great find. There were constant visions of walking along the beach, and seeing glass balls, and saki bottles among the logs and piles of kelp ahead of me. Thoughts of just getting up and walking the beach in the dark passed through my mind. Finally, I fell asleep.
At 4:30 A.M., the clock’s alarm did its job, and woke me. Quickly, I dressed in jeans, warm flannel shirt, socks, knee high boots and storm jacket. Grabbing an apple and a banana, gulping down some water and quietly opening the back door, I left the house. In the darkness my ‘74 Volks Superbeetle waited. Always reliable, she started on the first turn of the key. Shifting into first, I was off.
Driving north for a mile, I took the left turn onto a pullout on the edge of a forested mountain. Hidden from view at the northern end of the pullout, was a dirt road which descended to the bottom of the mountain to Finistere By the Beach. As the road curved left, my car’s headlights illuminated the spot where the old Quinault Indian midden heap was hidden under the drooping branches of old growth conifers. Then over and down the last hill, the road finally leveled out as it went through the meadow. To my left, a tiny and still jewel of a pond reflected the morning’s dim first light. Finally, I was at the start of the sand dunes. Parked, then quickly opened the car’s door and got out.
The feeling of the sand under my boots felt good, and the cymbal-like sound of the waves as they fell onto the sand, greeted me with their wonderful music. The onshore breeze brought the smells of the ocean’s water, the kelp and beached logs to me, and I breathed deeply its invigorating perfume.
First light was still mostly dark. Walking through the dunes and through the passage way between two long-ago beached logs, I reached the beach only to be confronted by a beachcomber’s nightmare. The shadowy form of a person was walking toward me, shoulders rounded over, head and face pointed downward. The body was covered by a knee-length old gray coat, the head wrapped in a scarf and covered with a cap and it was carrying three glass balls. The form turned out to be an old woman–maybe in her 70's. When she looked up from the sand to see me standing there, I think her surprise equaled my own. The words, "You had some luck," passed through my lips.
Perhaps she sensed my disappointment. Kindly, she said, "I only walked a short way,’ ‘The tide’s still coming in." Grateful to her for giving me renewed hope, I congratulated her on her good luck. We spoke for just a moment more, and finished our exchange with wishes for a good day to one another. Then I began walking as quickly as I could over the beach to the drift line.
As if someone had thrown a switch, the morning’s first light brightened, and everything I looked at shone with the light of the coming sunrise. The drift line was filled with surprises. I realized that for the first time, I was looking at an American beach that had been transformed into an Asian beach by the storm’s winds and the high tide.

Everywhere in the drift, there were Japanese-marked milk cartons and boxes, a couple of large blue Saki bottles, pieces of bamboo, piles of kelp, velella (the beautiful blue and tiny jellyfish with its cobalt sail,) logs and pieces of milled lumber and one new-looking royal blue 50 gallon drum with stenciled yellow Japanese characters painted on the top and body of it. I wanted to take it home, but quickly realized that would be impossible.
Dropping that thought, I concentrated on looking closely for a glass float among the debris, as I hunted. The clumps and lines of stranded velella’s blueness contrasted beautifully with the vanilla-colored beach sand. I had heard from the old timers about these little harbingers of glass fishing floats. The velella was one of the best signs that floats could be beachcombed, and this was the first time that I had seen them. Picking one up, I marveled at its delicate ethereal beauty, and realized how the sail-like body functioned to keep it afloat and moving.
Up ahead, between strands of green and brown seaweed, lay a beautiful baseball-sized aqua glass ball. Running to it, I eagerly picked it up, held it to the sky’s light, and gazed at the bubbles floating within the glass. Joyous at my good luck, and thinking of the old woman’s kind words, I smiled, and shoved the ball into my foul weather jacket’s left pocket.
The excitement increased. I walked on, looking intently at everything in the drift in front of me, toward the water, and between. I tried to restrain myself from looking too quickly ahead of me. It would be easy to miss another float hidden in the flotsam and jetsam if I did not concentrate on seeing.
As a young boy growing up in Pennsauken, New Jersey, I had always been good at finding things. I found a tiny Sitting Barber dime in the sand of an old Indian path, as I hiked to a Delaware River meadow. I brought home many old cork stopped bottles, found hidden in the brush, and most likely left by the hobos who rode the trains. The "bums" jumped off the trains as they slowed down on the curve of track that followed the river cove . Their summer camps were among the trees that overlooked that cove.
I had found many Indian arrowheads among the stones in the fields, and a gold wedding band who’s brief glint from among the tall grass, caught my eye. Pennies, dimes quarters, nickels, dollar bills, and once a $20.00 bill enriched my young life.
Thanksgiving Day 1972, along an out-of-the-way Washington State road, two young. Navy sailors were out for a drive, just wanting to get away from the base. Their loneliness was transformed by two pretty girls standing on the edge of the old two lane road.. They had lost their car keys, and couldn’t drive back to their uncle’s house for dinner. I found their keys hiding in a clump of weeds next to a fence post. It was a truly memorable Thanksgiving feast.
Yes, I had always been a hunter and a finder, and it was only moments before another glass ball caught my eyes, then another, then another. My pockets were filling with floats as I worked my way up the tide line.
Rising above the forested coastal mountains, the sun added it’s clear light to the blues and greens of the ocean water. The pointed tip of black rocks from a long ago mountain shined, as they emerged from the ebbing waters. Creamy white of breaking waves’ crests sparkled. Green and brown piles of kelp on the shore were wet, clean and bright, and the light reflected off the saki bottles and glass balls. Everything became a technicolor daydream that is easy to recall . I felt great!
In a short time my jacket hung heavy on my shoulders. The pockets were crammed with floats. So was my shirt. My hands and arms were full of floats as they cradled them against my chest and stomach. Out of necessity, I hid the floats behind a sand dune. Burying them until my return.
No one else was in sight, and the glass ball fever was hot in my blood. I continued onward, and crossed the Iron Springs Creek. Following the bend of the creek where it took a southward turn around the hillside, I was able to look up the beach. A sight that I will never forget greeted me- glass floats, glinting in the sunlight, were lined up on the sand ahead of me. I saw a number of blue floats, and one beautiful amber green float at the end of the line of floats.
Running to the first one, picked it up, and kept running and picking up floats until I arrived at the amber green ball, and just that quickly, it was over. Another beachcomber was headed my way. I could not see another float between us.
Incredible happiness flooded over me as I hiked back. Then the feeling of sadness-my morning of finding floats had ended.. Those feelings were replaced by the thought that maybe another float or two had washed up after I had walked ahead.
The tide had come and gone. Looking out at the gentle sea, calm with only the slightest movement of air to ruffle its surface, the tide at low slack, and the wavelets lightly swishing as they came ashore, made me realize that floats coming ashore was definitely over that morning.
Finding my cache, I filled the jacket’s body, then stuffed my shirt with the floats. Each float that I dug out of the sand, and looked at again, renewed my excitement and elation. Slinging the filled jacket over my shoulder, I finished the hike.
The feeling of ecstacy was my companion during the return trip. I couldn’t wait to show my wife Nancy, and our daughter Chloe, what I had found. Before arriving home, I stopped out our friend’s Lillian and Wes Westby’s home to show them the floats.
They were an older couple who had befriended us when we first arrived in Copalis. They recognized a bit of themselves in the adventures that preceded our coming there, and why we had chosen to live in such an out-of-the-way place. Wes and Lillian told us that they came to Copalis Beach in the 1940's, in their old Model T loaded with all their belongings in the rumble seat, and a cage of squawking chickens tied down and hanging precariously to the back of the car. Like us, they had found a home there, and now we were friends. Wes came to the door, and after looking at my floats, and listening to my story, simply said, " Congratulations.’ ‘ That was your first haul."
Later, as I cleaned the floats behind our cabin, I reflected on the many times that I had walked the beach, and had found nothing. That morning changed everything. As the years passed, Wes was right, there were other mornings when the floats were on the beach waiting for me.


  1. You've transported me back to the beach where I spent so much of my childhood. Beautiful reading.

  2. Anonymous5:17 PM

    Beautiful and very interesting reading.

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  4. I've only started collecting glass floats (I only have one!), but two Japanese glass floats are on their way to me. I just want to say that I love reading your blog. I haven't read all of your posts yet, I'm taking my time reading them.