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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Frosted Gems

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Tom Montgomery-Fate ponders the sands of time as he collects lake glass along the Lake Michigan beach.


CURWOOD: As winter begins to loosen its grip on the north of the country, the world outdoors becomes increasingly inviting. Commentator Tom Montgomery-Fate loves to comb the beaches of Lake Michigan. And the jewels he finds there remind him that our resilient earth can turn some of our trash into treasure.

MONTGOMERY: Here in the Midwest the Great Lakes are our ocean, our seashore. For me, it’s Lake Michigan, which is about two miles from our farm. Since it’s too cold for swimming now, I'm always looking for another reason, or excuse, to wander the dunes and comb the beaches. My favorite excuse is glass hunting.

When I walk the shoreline I pick up and throw away any sharp jagged pieces I find which might cut some unsuspecting beach stroller. But what I’m really looking for is what this trash becomes – the treasure of lake glass – those shards tumbled into frosted gems by the rhythm of stone and water.

Most of the pieces of lake glass I have found over the years are clear or brown or green; they range in size from a thumb-nail to a half dollar. The most valuable pieces are the most worn, pitted, and opaque. The beauty of lake glass stems from its seasoning, from how rough and rounded and cloudy it is. Each piece is a wordless story read with the palm and fingers.

Glass can be recycled endlessly, from glass to sand to glass and back again. The fragments of a broken bottle or jar are worn down by the hour and day and decade – by rock and sun, by the undertow and rip tides, the lateral tug and pull of the waves. The shards of glass, the garbage carelessly tossed on the ground, slowly re-turns to their origin, to granules of sand; the broken bottle becomes the beach again. In time, if undiscovered by someone like me, even the most beautiful pieces of lake glass will also disintegrate back into the sandy beach.

This is the miracle of lake glass: the gem maker, the mindless lake, teaches the junk maker, the rational human, how to belong to the cycle of nature, how to heal what we have poisoned, how to live in another kind of time, how to see.

CURWOOD: Tom Montgomery-Fate teaches writing at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. He’s the author of “Steady and Trembling: Art, Faith and Family in an Uncertain World.”



Tom Montgomery-Fate, Professor of English

Other writings by Tom Montgomery-Fate


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