Essay-Pebble pickers

 Beach pebbles and ice crystals


Some people walk labyrinths. I walk beaches. It may appear that I’m merely beach combing, but, in fact, the treasure  I seek is that of tranquility. And then there are all those pretty stones underfoot.


I’m not the only one who stoops to pick up a pretty beach stone. Pebble picking is a popular pastime along my native shorelines in upstate NY. Not to be confused with rock raiders who load up (illegally) on large stones for landscaping purposes, or with the even more egregious individuals who back  their pick up trucks to the beach and shovel in the gravel, the pebble picker is a gentle soul. As with those who look for four leaf clovers in the summer, the experience is as important as the acquisition  to the pebble picker. The seeker of small stones wanders along slowly, eyes downcast until just The Right Stone appears. Then he or she scoops it up for close examination.


Perhaps rich oranges and pinks streaked  and speckled with black tell of a nice bit of billion year old gneiss. Or a sparkling white quartzite rock as round and smooth as a billiard ball comes to hand. Or on a sunny day the flash of mica flaked schist  catches the eye. Some pebble pickers seek shape and form rather than color. One woman I know looks for heart shaped rocks. Another seeks egg shaped stones. A neighbor showed me a sandstone rock proudly displayed in her flower garden that was a perfect image of the Man In The Moon as portrayed on Proctor &Gamble’s trademark.


 Along Lake Ontario where I live, shape seekers often go home with specimens of  sandstone, for the native bedrock  here is a  layered reddish or green-gray sedimentary rock that frequently splits and fractures to produce scads of small “skippers” or flattened pebbles.


My own particular delight is a rock penetrated by a hole, said to be an amulet for good fortune by Cayuga Lake pebble pickers. Along Lake Ontario, we seek another  lucky rock. Our  pebble of good fortune is jet black circled by an unbroken band of crystalline white calcite.


Perhaps the most wonderous rock I’ve yet seen was the rock within a rock that my husband spotted. He picked up a four inch cobble with a hole in it only to discover a tiny water rounded pebble lodged within the hole. No matter how we shook the stone, we couldn’t dislodge its inner being.


Some pebble pickers take their treasures home and fashion objects of utility or oddity from them. I suspect there are a number of glass jars out there filled with pebbles and water. I’ve seen castles and other sculptures made of glued up pebbles and I’ve seen small cobbles used to adorn a set of masonry steps and an out door barbecue pit chimney. My neighbor makes beach pebbles  into drawer pulls and sells them on line as “lake stone knobs”. Most of mine after being admired for a spell, end up in our gravel driveway.


When I was younger I envied those beach walkers who had hard packed sand to stride easily upon. I despised the awkward clambering and stumbling associated with trying to walk over our native beaches. A lovely tidal flat with sand dollars on it would be just the thing I thought. But as I age I slow down. I begin to see the variety and intricacy of our stony shores. Now I delight in finding the occasional water polished crystal of quartz, identical to the Cape May diamonds I saw for sale as souvenirs  during a visit to a Delaware Bay souvenir shop. I marvel at the bird and wildlife that I   see on and by the freshwater beach. And when I sit down in the summer sun on the stones, no sand ever gets in my underwear.


Commercial note- visit some pebble products!