Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Looking vs. Seeing

2017. A whole new year of beachcombing ahead!

As I sit at my desk facing Gabarus Bay I am watching a nice nor'easter tear away at the beach behind the house. All summer long we have had calm seas and constructive waves. Now we are into the season of wildly destructive wave action. Always a little frightening if you live 30 yards from the north atlantic, but a thrilling time if you are a beachcomber. Pickins have been slim the last few months. Treasures few. We needed a good churn.

Lately my reading and t.v. watching has been decidedly Anglo-centric. Historical London seems to be a theme. I re-read an excellent book about the sewers of London:

 Did someone once say you could tell things about a culture by the things they throw away? If not, I have just made that clever observation. The sheer amount of crap (literally and figuratively) that either flowed or was tossed into the Thames is mind boggling, and a little disgusting. To a beachcomber, hundreds of years of human presence along this river makes the banks of this famous tidal river a dream destination. I must go.

Mudlarking, as it was called, was traditionally done by the poor - either children or the elderly - who scavenged for trinkets to sell. It was nasty work, dragging around through muck and raw sewage and occasionally encountering human and cat and dog carcasses.

Today, mudlarking in London is a hobby, a tourist activity and very carefully regulated. The things people find are amazing. This is an excellent book that has just been released about mudlarking finds.

My little beach has seen only 300 years of "official" continuous occupation (the Mi'kmaq presence would predate this considerably, hence the " " ). Much of what might have been thrown into the ocean has either rusted into oblivion or broken into smithereens by the relentless ocean. Some days I am happy for a single sad sliver of beach glass. One cannot be too goal directed in beachcombing I think. The more one hopes and wants to find something, the less likely it is to appear. A kind of Murphy's law of beachcombing. Still, amazement sometimes happens.

Object lesson. Over the years I'd been collecting these tiny white tubes from a beach that was once the location of a number of fishing wharves and a lobster factory. I hadn't given much thought to what these white tubes were, assuming they were likely part of some kind of electrical wiring system. I don't remember the moment of revelation when I discovered they were actually clay pipe stems at least a century old. And I had dozens of them.

They fascinate me. They are a direct link with people who would have worked, fished and smoked in the very place I now walk and swim. It seems just a little magical that these fragile things would have survived time and tide. But here's the thing. While I've found stems, I've never found a pipe bowl. Never. Likely being more fragile they would break apart quicker. Stems, stems stems....

Some of my collection of pipe stems on a seal clavicle

 And then.

This morning I was walking by the cabinet that is littered with my daily haul of beach stuff and was rooting around for shells when I came upon this:

about an inch high and .75 wide

I don't remember where and when I picked it up but on closer inspection I thought it looked unlike all the pottery shards I've found. More archaic. A little bit of research confirmed that, YES, it is a fragment of a pipe bowl! Take a look:

Mine looks like # 21


 Have the caps and fancy font convinced you? Well, it was exciting enough to revive my moribund blog in order to share this with you. Coincidentally, this discovery dovetails with my resolution this year to be just a little bit more mindful in my travels in this beachy world I inhabit.

2017. Look closer. Take more time. Ask more questions.
Find more answers. Share.

Stay tuned for a year of finding and sharing, my friends.


  1. Wonderful post!!! I too have found pipe stems and only one fragment of a bowl but NOTHING like the fancy one you luckily found. Glad you're back posting, LPHS! You posts are always interesting and beautifully written!

  2. Gabarus Seashore Menagerie4 January 2017 at 19:44

    So thankful that I came across your blog, enjoyed it tremendously. As you know, I love "Mudlarking" also and have found some interesting things. Love these storms that turn over the next treasure in our bay. Keep posting your blog, can hardly wait for the next one.

  3. Hi! This is Kara from down the road! Was thinking about you guys and thought I'd wrassle up your blog. I can't believe you found clay pipes here! That is so cool. I spent a few weeks in the south of England forever ago and there were so many clay pipes the little museums along the coast gave them away as souvenirs. I was like.. but this is better than gold why are you just giving them away! I haven't had much luck with the beachcombing either. We found a tooth I think must be from a whale. A shark egg sac nice and dry. And that's about it. Always on the lookout though. I love your blog and your writing! How is the big project coming along? We will have our truck next month you guys should come by for lunch. Xx--kara

  4. PS the museums had practically no pipe bowls so you found something super rare!