Summer beach combing


I went beachcombing along the lakeshore the other day.  Beach combing is something like garage sale-ing only cheaper. You never know what you'll find, as you search among nature and man's detritus, cast up in a line along the high water mark. That's a lot of its appeal- its sort of like bargain hunting as you pick through the dregs of an estate sale.


On the beach you also find remains and reminders of mortality. Fish bones, bird feathers, empty shells. Where once there was life, now only husks and leavings remain. And among the dried wisps of seaweed, gray and brown pebbles, and the silver gray drift wood, small quick footed jumping spiders hurry about foraging for food.


I think our fascination with the water's edge goes way back perhaps  2 or 3 million years ago when our ancestors, human and hominid, first walked upright on beaches in search of food. Archaeologists have found ample evidence of seaside foraging by our long ago forbearers in a number of coastal locations. Today we come here to forage for novelties instead of food. We nourish our curiosity instead of our bodies at the beach.


Fall walks, after a good blow, often turn up interesting finds. I wondered last November, how a work boot ended up on our beach. What happened to the man wearing it? Did he go overboard and kick off his boots to save himself? Once  a small steel navigation buoy washed up on our beach. It was unmarked. We never did find out where it came from. It still sits where we dragged it- a mystery unsolved.


Summer beach combing, when the winds and waves are less violent, is apt to turn up less exciting finds. On my summer walk, I found a few clam shells and  fragile zebra mussel halves, the usual selection of plastic and Styrofoam objects- bottle caps, straws, a deflated balloon with a Canadian flag on it, bait cups, fishing lures, and a battered base ball cap. There was a little aggregation of four sun dried bass also lying along one stretch of the beach. They were hollowed right out, just scales and skin and bones. They didn't even smell too bad anymore. Why were there four fish? Did some creature collect them? Were they on a stringer when they washed ashore? If so, where did the hooks go?


On this July afternoon the beach was very quiet. I passed a sizeable water snake, sun bathing in its gleaming dark beauty at the water's edge, but no one else was using the beach on this calm sun washed mid summer day. Heat waves shimmered off the stone beach. Wavelets rolled tiny pebbles back and forth, grinding them into sand grains.


This beach can shift its shape in an hour. A strong wind and pounding waves, and after one day it is completely re-made. Yesterday's patch of sand vanishes. A whole new crop of skipping stones and lucky rocks and driftwood is turned over, shifted, cast up, and exposed. So if today's beach combing turns up nothing of  interest, come back next week. The lake will have remade this landscape into something different again.