Park Happenings: Good Float Hunting

<I<JON SCHMIDT/Washington State Parks</I><BR>The discovery of this glass float on a local beach set Jon Schmidt's imagination whirring. Note the quarter nearby for scale.

The other day I found my first glass float. This simple ball, nine inches in diameter, is covered in an aura. When I stumbled upon it, the ball was also covered in aqua green nylon rope and two-inch long barnacles. Three quarters of the Coke bottle green float was coated in brown slime, no doubt it was the same portion of it that was formerly submerged. An aura transcends mere physical description; it includes the mental and spiritual. More than just a glass ball, floats easily trigger daydreams.

Glass floats transport their finder to all the places that ball may have been. Holding a glass float in your hands sends your imagination to tiny secluded Alaskan island beaches and remote Japanese fishing outposts. Unlike a funky piece of driftwood, the holder knows the ball was made by someone, somewhere. You can assume that after it was made, it was used. Glass floats hold the potent potion of both form and function. With all its former usefulness washed up, the beauty of found floats shines through.

My wife found a four-inch glass ball one of the first winters we lived here. She was walking the beach with our dog, Haida, when she saw it shimmering in the surf. As she made her way down to the water a truck bisected her and the treasure. The driver of the pickup laughed and pointed a few yards up the beach and said, "You get that one, I get this one." In a perfect world there would be enough glass floats for everyone, and yet if everyone had one, they wouldn't be so special. That first glass float is prominently displayed to this day in our living room. I have yet to find a place of honor for the new found specimen.

There are all kinds of floats in this world. Some are wooden; a few are glass and most are foam or plastic. There are many varieties of glass floats as well. They can be almost any color. I've heard that the dark purple ones are former floats of the Imperial Japanese fishing fleet. I've read that the long oblong rollers are much less common than the spherical floats. From my research, the ball I found is likely a Chinese molded float. It has a seam that circles the entire diameter. Likely two glass halves were fused together somewhere, by someone, somehow.

For those of you who aren't habitual beachcombers, here are a few suggestions that may increase your chances of finding your own glass float. The first thing you have to find is a beach; this shouldn't be much of a problem around here. Secondly, you need to get out of your car. I know it sounds crazy, but the less ground you cover may actually increase your odds. Floats are more often found high on the beach, near the dunes, stranded by driftwood, than washing up like my wife's find.

Floats are carried by water but also moved by the wind. If you see those jellyfish, Velella velella, also called "By the Wind Sailors," that's a good sign. Big clumps of bull kelp and random bottles with Asian writing on them are also good indicators that the winds have been right. If you find driftwood with barnacles on it, you can be encouraged that the currents that carry floats are flowing near shore.

Our local state parks offer some great locations for beachcombing and glass-float hunting. The picturesque coves around Beards Hollow, at the base of the peninsula, seem to be magnets for junk. You know what they say about one man's junk. Waikiki Beach, located where the jetty meets the cape collects massive amounts of driftwood in the winter. Even though this beach is one of the most popular in the summertime, you can often have it to yourself for most of the year.

Benson Beach, stretching from the North Jetty to North Head, offers a car free stretch of coastline. This beach, within Cape Disappointment State Park is accessible in the winter from two locations. Although the main North Jetty parking lot is closed seasonally, there is an alternative parking lot close by that connects with the beach via a half-mile hiking trail. There is also a public parking lot in the main campground, just follow the signs for the Benson Beach Amphitheater and then take the very short trail by campsite 17.

Even if you don't necessarily find your own glass fishing float it's likely you'll find something special if you venture out to the beach. It could be simply peace and quiet. You may catch some inspiration from a sunset. You could brush upon your partner's hand. The aura of a glass ball can be found in more objects or places than just around an old fishing float. Happy hunting and maybe I'll see you out there.

Jon Schmidt is an Interpretive Specialist at Cape Disappointment State Park. To contact him, call the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at 642-3029 or e-mail lcic@parks.wa.gov.

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