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Home for the Summer: Love of beach glass

Tucked into a corner of one of the shelves in our cabin is a covered, triangular, clear glass container. It seems to be pretty old — it came with the cabin, as did so many things. On the bottom I can barely see the words "SHURLOCK KONTANERETTE," and "Made in the USA." There seems to be some patent information there, too, but it's mostly worn off. It's about 4-by-4-by-6 and it's 3 inches high. And, it's filled with beach glass.

I love beach glass, especially the cobalt blue variety, so there's lots of that color, along with clear and amber and green and aqua and brown. The pieces are small, with the largest being about the size of a half dollar coin. There's not much that can be done with it, but I enjoy just the collecting of it.

Some of you must be wondering how I got all that beach glass. Well, we live on a beach, but I'm happy to say that none of it came from our beach. Or from any other beach on Lake Superior. That's something I've always been proud to tell visitors who like to pick up agates and interesting stones, and would like to pick up beach glass, too. Even on the beaches that have a lot of traffic, I've never found more than a piece or two in the many years that we've come up here.

So, what does that mean, no beach glass? It means that people aren't tossing bottles on the beaches or into the water or anywhere that will cause them to break and get ground into smoothed-out pieces of glass. What a great thing. It fits right in with the way most residents and visitors feel about being kind to the environment on the North Shore.

Where then does my beach glass come from?

My dad was a rock hound. He cut rocks and made jewelry. He mounted uncut rocks, especially agates, for all sorts of interesting things. And he tumbled a lot of rocks. His tumbler was a little round drum-like thing rotated by a small motor. In it he put grit of various sizes, water and rocks. Then he switched it on to do what sand and small rocks and waves do on a beach.

He's been gone for a long time, and although I gave away most of his equipment to his rock hound friends, I kept the tumbler. We have it up here in one of our little sheds.

I began by collecting bottles and other glass items in the colors I liked. Plenty of brown and green beer bottles were available, as were clear glass bottles and jars. I bought stray tumblers and mugs in the other colors I wanted, including the blue. Most red glass is clear glass with a red coating on it. The color, of course, is tumbled off. So I don't have any red beach glass.

Tumbling the glass wasn't hard, but I discovered that breaking the various bottles, plates, etc. into the size I wanted wasn't easy. I finally developed a technique that involves the glass wrapped in old towels, a big hammer, and a lot of huffing and puffing.

If you live up here on the North Shore and you covet beach glass, you, too, might have to make your own.

Jan Kent spends her summers in a log cabin on Lake Superior and her winters in a suburb northwest of Chicago. Her column, Home for the Summer, first appeared in the News-Chronicle in 1993.