A Long, Slow Obedience

I was watching Bono and Edge from U2 being interviewed by Elvis Costello a couple of nights ago. Bono quoted Friedrich Nietzche:

“The essential thing in ‘heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.”

He applied the quote to his own life as a musician. He said he probably could have written better songs if he had more obedience to his craft and not been distracted by the many causes etc. that have required his time and energy.

Now, I’m no Bono, but I could relate entirely. I often wonder how much better my writing would be if I devoted myself entirely to it, instead of dabbling in so many other things. I also wonder how far I could have gone as a visual artist if I would have stayed in art school and ran with it.

I am not obedient to one thing. Not writing. Not painting. Not photography. Not jewelry making.

But I do obey my heart. And it tells me that those long, slow walks on the beach in search of sea glass also make life worth living.

Photo: Collected on the shores of Lake Erie near Colchester, ON

Hearts in Hands: We Heart Sea Glass

I always drag my camera equipment to the beach. It’s not just a point and click I carry with me – it’s a big, honking Lowepro backpack carrying my Nikon D70s and two lenses. After a few miles of walking, it feels like a burden.  Oftentimes I bring the camera and don’t end up taking any photos. Today I snapped a few during the last few minutes of our trip to the beach. The kids were tired and aching to get back into the car. The dog was soggy and sandy. And my legs were tired and not in the mood for doing squats (which is the norm when I take photos. ) Somehow I  rounded up my girls and my husband, filled their hands with sea glass and snapped a few photos. I’m glad I made the effort.  This is one of my favourite sea glass shots. I love how my husband’s hand forms a heart around the glass, and my little girls’ hands form an upside down heart. And I love the colours. I am going to have this one enlarged and framed to remind me of a perfect Easter day at the beach.

The Joy of Sea Glass

Winter sea glassing on Lake Erie

This is an essay I wrote a back in November. We’ve only been out once since then. Waiting for the ice and snow to reveal the jewels beneath.

By Christina Friedrichsen

The sky is a diluted grey.  On the horizon there are spindly trees reaching upwards, offering nothing but a place for tired birds to land. I roll down my window and the wind is cold and raw and it carries the heavy scent of burning brush. We are heading to the beach.

Who goes to the beach on a Sunday morning when it’s two degrees celcius and overcast? Who leaves the warm cocoon of home when the air bites mercilessly at fingertips and toes? Who bundles up their little ones, when they are content to snuggle pajama-clad in front of cartoons?

If you’ve ever seen a piece of wet sea glass on the beach when the sun hits it just right, you might understand why we are compelled to leave the comfort of our home, even on the not-so-nice days.

It all started with a single piece of emerald green found at a local beach. I was instantly dazzled: It looked like a gem.

I put the sea glass in my pocket and kept on walking. And pretty soon that piece of sea glass was a distant memory.

That is, until this summer when we took our two daughters on a picnic to that same beach and discovered sea glass in almost every colour of the rainbow. Soft blue. Citron. Jade. Lavender. In one hour our buckets were full. From that point on, there was no turning back.

Since then it’s been like a full blown Easter egg hunt every weekend. Even as the wind off Lake Erie gets cruel, and the water turns frigid we’re still playing “I spy” out there on that same beach.  I’m sure the nearby waterfront residents who have caught sight of the four of us (five if you include the border collie) in our thermal rubber boots and our winter woolies must shake their heads in bewilderment. Especially when Lake Erie looks like an album cover for Gordon Lightfoot’s marine anthem The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. But this is the highlight of our weekend. And I suspect it will be this way until the lake freezes over. (We’re hoping that won’t happen for awhile.)

Most people don’t understand. Most people are confused, the same way I am confused by people who collect shoes. Or purses. Or who watch Dancing with the Stars. What is so compelling about a few shards of broken glass?

But some get it. They understand that there is delight to be found out there on that beach – even if the wind is bitter and threatening. Even if there are more important things to do. Especially when there are more important things to do.

Because really, is there anything more important than getting our soft, nature-deprived suburban arces back into nature? To reconnect. To reunite. To replenish.

And it’s just so much fun. I’m positive that the thrill of the hunt is no different than that of a hunter, a fisherman, a storm chaser, an astronomer in search of a brand new star. That’s why my kids dig it so much.

Finding a perfectly frosted piece of sea glass in a rare shade – like red or turquoise is a soul-satisfying experience.

It’s a big time buzz to hold in your hands a piece of sea glass that you know is more than a century old. Where did it come from? Did someone so very long ago smash a bottle during a lover’s quarrel, or did it come from a shipwreck miles away? (There were hundreds of shipwrecks on Lake Erie.)

Which is why I have a sudden interest in bottles. In fact, just a few weeks ago I was at a flea market and I spent half an hour rooting through a cardboard box covered in cobwebs and what looked like mouse poop in search of a cobalt blue Milk of Magnesia bottle. I was in luck; not only did I find one, I also found an old Javex bottle. How exciting!

If that weren’t enough, I’ve suddenly been scouring the library for books on glass. You know you’re in deep when you forgo the latest hot novel for a book entitled Glass: A World History.

Next thing you know, I’ll be hanging out with 80-year old men at bottle shows, having serious discussions about antique mason jars and milk bottles. Yes, I can see it in my future. (I also see a kayak in my future, but we won’t get into that.)

Although the thrill of the hunt is what captivates me, there is something deeper going on: Something quiet, peaceful, meditative.

I’ve never been one to meditate. I’ve tried the breathing thing. I’ve tried the dim lights and the soft Zamfir-like-music-with-waves-in-the-background. It’s just not me.  But I can’t imagine anything more meditative than walking the beach in search of sea glass.

It’s like my mind has found its way off a 12-lane highway onto a quiet sandy, path.

A path with small footprints leading to the water’s edge.

And it is there that I have found joy.

Sea Glass in Winter

Lake Erie, Colchester, ON. Jan. 2010.

We headed to the beach on January 17. It was mild. Silent. And a flippen blast. My birthday is this Saturday. All I want is to walk the beach.

Always ready to go to the beach. Always.

Collecting Sea Glass in the C-C-C-old


So, there I was vaccuuming the house  today and daydreaming about the beach. Sure it’s November and the sky is battleship grey and the temperature makes my fingertips feel like icicles and the wind is raw and stinging. Sure, I have more sea glass than I know what to do with. Just get me to the damn beach.

I went yesterday with my mother and my four year old. My mom was getting over a cold and my little one’s hands were frozen, so we only stayed for half an hour. I felt like I was being pulled away from really great book – just at the part where it gets extra good. But sometimes selfish wants are trumped my more important things … like keeping the peace (not the piece…hahaha).

As the weather gets increasingly cold, I’m wondering if my kids will find our little outings miserable. If so, should I abandon the outings until spring, or do I help them overcome the cold and find joy in our winter adventures? I shall take the latter approach and see where it takes us. Really, it’s all about having fun. I want my kids to have pleasant memories of our trips to the beach. To me, that’s the most important thing of all.

Photo: Christina Friedrichsen (that’s the fam!)

Sea Glass Rocks!: The North American Sea Glass Festival in Erie, PA

I’ve never physically met anyone else who collects sea glass (other than my two kids and my husband and a few brief encounters with strangers on the beach.) Sure, I’ve connected online with dozens of other sea glass collectors, but I’ve yet to have a face to face conversation with another sea glass collector. In fact, many people in these parts barely know what sea glass is.

Them: “What are your plans this weekend?”

Me: “I’m going to the North American Sea Glass Festival in Erie, PA.”

Them: “Sea glass?”

Me: “Ya, sea glass. You know. Glass you find on a beach.”

Them: “Oh. Okay. Ya. Glass you find on a beach.”

Me: “But it’s not sharp. It’s been smoothed by the sand and waves and the good stuff is decades old.”

Them: Blank look. Eyes slightly glazed over.

Usually the conversation ends there or changes to another topic.

But things were a bit different this weekend: I was in the company of thousands of sea glass collectors at the North American Sea Glass Festival in Erie, PA.

As one sea glasser put it: “It looks like sea glass is the new buzz word.”

Four years ago, the first North American Sea Glass Festival attracted 1,000 people. This year 6,000 + came through the doors. I think this is only the beginning of the sea glass phenomenon.

An entire industry of jewelers and artisans has blossomed around the sea glass movement. And consumers are loving it. I couldn’t even get near many of the sea glass jewelry booths at the festival because of the crowds.

I am so damn inspired!

(I shot the video above at the North American Sea Glass Festival. Okay, so it’s not award winning footage, but it will give you an idea on how very crazy-busy it was!)

Lake Erie in October

lake erie beach

This is how Lake Erie looked last weekend when I was looking for sea glass. Menacing.

The good thing about all this wave action is that it brought up some nice pieces of glass.

Facts about Lake Erie: (From here)

LENGTH:  241 miles / 388 km
BREADTH:  57 miles / 92 km
AVERAGE DEPTH:  62 ft. / 19 m.
MAXIMUM DEPTH:  210 ft. / 64 m.
VOLUME:  116 cubic miles / 484 cubic km.
WATER SURFACE AREA:  9,910 sq. miles / 25,700 sq. km.
TOTAL DRAINAGE BASIN AREA:  30,140 sq. miles / 78,000 sq. km.


    Indiana: 1300 sq mi; 3300 sq km
    Michigan: 5800 sq mi; 15,100 sq km
    New York: 1600 sq mi; 4200 sq km
    Ohio: 11,700 sq mi; 30,400 sq km
    Ontario: 8800 sq mi; 22,800 sq km
    Pennsylvania: 500 sq mi; 1400 sq km

SHORELINE LENGTH (including islands):  871 miles / 1,402 km.
ELEVATION:  569 ft. / 173 m.
OUTLET:  Niagara River and Welland Canal
RETENTION/REPLACEMENT TIME:  2.6 years (shortest of the Great Lakes)
NAME:  The greater part of its southern shore was at one time occupied by a nation known to the Iroquois League as the “Erielhonan,” or the “long-tails,” a tribe of Indians from which the lake derived its name. This name is always mentioned by the early French writers as meaning “cat”; Lac du Chat means “Lake of the Cat.” Many attribute this reference to the wild cat or panther.
References: Great Lakes Atlas, Environment Canada and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1995

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