Monday, July 19, 2010

Sea glass, mermaid tears & sea shell mirrors...

During our trip to Penzance I made the most of early morning walks to go beach-combing, going to the usual old haunts around the town beaches and then those of St Ives and Porthcurno. There is a real pleasure to be had in walking on virgin sand in the morning when the day is new and fresh  (regardless of the weather!). It didn't take long, however, to notice that sea glass, namely those lovely 'pebbles' formed of old discarded glass, pounded by the waves and rocks and ground by sand to be finally washed up onto the shore is less and less common. While I used to scoff at tourists coveting these smooth yet frosted pieces of coloured glass as if they were some magical finds from the oceans deep, these days sea glass is indeed becoming a veritable treasure to be sought after!

 I suppose this must be a consequence of the recycling of glass, and perhaps people's reluctance to throw glass bottles and containers directly into the sea or to smash them on rocks (a very satisfying sensation, I have to admit!), either way the amount and variety of these beautiful little glass 'pebbles' has been dramatically reduced.

I did persevere and found several pieces of green and colourless glass, but there now seems to be little chance of finding blue, green, red or amber nowadays. And so for years of taking this sea glass for a relative banality of beach-combing life, I've now come to realise that it really is something precious and out of pure sentimentality even prefer the other name originally given to these pieces of glass - mermaids' tears. Just goes to show that as Joni Mitchel sang "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't what you've got till it's gone...". I'll keep my treasure of mermaids' tears for my daughter so that she can pass them on in turn.

Sea glass is romantically called mermaids' tears due to old legend or folklore which would have it that mermaids, forbidden to change the course of nature by Nepture, the God of Sea, nevertheless defied this by trying to save sailors in peril at sea and were consequently banished to live in the depths of the oceans, banned from surfacing or swimming near fishermen or sailors again. In their distress the mermaids would cry tears that turned into crystalline drops, reminders of their shattered sentiments and their inability to rescue those lost at sea. Other lore stated that mermaids could only come on shore in the light of the full moon, and as dawn broke they shed tears as they were obliged to return to the seas were transformed into rainbow coloured glass...

While mermaids were said to sing to the sailors and fishermen either to lure them or aid them, in the legend of the Mermaid of Zennor, it is the lover of Morveren the mermaid who sings to the local fishermen to warn them of peril at sea. The 600 year-old wooden bench end of the Mermaid can be seen at St Senara, the church of Zennor, and shows Morveren holding her mirror and it gave me the idea of creating a mermaid mirror - here shown in the photo taken in the garden.

I also like picking up nicely rounded pebbles and stones - some look like mottled seagull eggs, others like striped sweets (these came from Devon) and they all are very comforting to hold in the palm of your hand. The little seal pictured is an earthenware creature that has captured the exact expression of the basking seals that you see during boat trips around St Ives.

Sadly I came upon the second meaning of  'mermaids' tears', and unlike the rest of the flotsam that drifts up onto the shores having been buffetted by the seas, there is very little to find romantic or beautiful therein. The dire situation brought about by this variety of mermaid tears would truly make any sea-lover weep. Indeed, these tears refer to plastic pellets, also known as 'nurdles', which is the modern un-biodegrable debris that is ground down yet never leaves the seas, being ingested by sea creatures and so entering the marine food chain representing a threat to man and animal life alike.We may well laugh at quaint naïve folklore, but don't seem to take hard reality seriously either....

I also enjoy collecting driftwood, but seem to have less skill finding it around Penzance - this came from the South of France where the Mediterranean washes up interesting shapes of pale water-worn wood...


  1. I love your blog, it's very interesting , You have a beautiful collection of interesting findings . I too enjoy beach combing along the North Devon coast where my family and I live. I collect drift wood ( love the interesting pale colours, shapes and textures of the wood ), shells,glass, whatever happens to catch my eye really!. I love your mermaid mirror, it's beautiful !!. Bests wishes, G

  2. This is a new blog to me & one I will subscribe to for the serenity of the photographs while at the same time these images are also catalystic for artful thoughts & ideas. Brava!

  3. I love your blog...
    My name is Lia from Indonesia.
    Since I read the manga (Japan's Comic)the title is Sky Blue Beach (Author name's Nanpei Yamada) Since then I interested, especially about sea glass handicraft and... your blog talk about driftwood. I like driftwood... so thank you for your nice blog. I love it really... especially talk about sea and the folklore (Mermaid) I want to be A Mermaid !

  4. I've just found your blog and I love it already - your photos are amazing. I'm a fellow magpie and hopelessly in love with seaglass. Amanda

  5. Thank you for your kind comments. Since writing that post a few years ago, my collection of seaglass (and other 'treasures') has grown quite a bit.... Seaglass is precious today since it is getting a little harder to find due to the use of all those plastic bottles that have replaced the glass ones. I suppose one day it will disappear totally. Tumbling machines do exist which enable people to make their own 'sea' glass and I am quite tempted to get one because I would love to use some dark blue glass bottles that I have stashed away.... and I've seen many sites with really beautiful jewellery and wind chimes made from seaglass. All of this brings out the compulsive magpie streak in me!


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