Fetching Sea-Born Treasures Home

Cape Cod Life  /  June 2020 / ,

Writer: Elizabeth Shaw

Photo by Elizabeth Shaw
For generations, people have fled to the beach in times of joy and in times of crisis. The waves and hidden treasures continue to call adventurers and newcomers alike like a siren’s song.

Seasons change, people change, even the beaches themselves change with every gust of wind or rolling wave. But the one constant is the way we feel when we take a walk on the beach. The waves will always crash, the sand will always move beneath our feet and the salty, briny air will always clear our heads. Whether you are alone, with friends, with family or with an ever-loyal pup, the beach is there, an endless expanse to explore. In times of uncertainty, or crisis or fear, a walk on the beach can provide you with the chance to breathe, to think and to take a moment for yourself. By connecting to nature, we can discover as Henry David Thoreau sums it up in his classic “Cape Cod,” “The sea-shore is a sort of neutral ground, a most advantageous point from which to contemplate this world.” 

When we walk on the beach, we may find more than just ourselves; many use their beach walks to find treasures to take home with them. From sea glass to seashells to rocks and more, the seashore is like a flea market that changes as quickly as the waves roll in. No two walks will yield the same results; the shoreline and the treasures will change from the time you start your walk until the time you leave. Some go to simply pick up what catches their eye while others approach with a specific purpose. Megan Murphy, founder of the Kindness Rocks Project, not only picks up rocks across the beach, she leaves some behind for those who need them, albeit a little differently than how she found them. During her walks, Murphy searches for flat, smooth rocks to take home and paint, covering them with bright colors and inspirational sayings. She then returns to the beach and adds the newest rocks to an ever-growing rock garden. “I started about five years ago. I was going through a difficult time in my life, personally, and I was looking for some much needed guidance and direction. It was a transitional moment in my life and I hadn’t slowed down enough to even take a walk on the beach,” says Murphy, of the time she decided to walk away from her business and change her life. That decision led to many contemplative walks on the beach. “What I discovered while I was doing this was that many people I’d pass and say hello to would act like I wasn’t there. Maybe they were deep in thought, in their own heads, probably trying to figure out their own lives, and it was very interesting to me. I thought, ‘Oh I’m not the only one going through a difficult time,’ and at that time I found great peace in finding heart-shaped rocks and pieces of sea glass.” 

Photo courtesy of Megan Murphy and the Kindness Rocks Project

Murphy describes losing both parents at a young age; a time in her life that didn’t allow for the proper grieving. “So many years later, I find myself on the beach, grieving the loss of my business as well as my parents. I would find myself speaking to them, asking them for signs or messages, by way of pieces of sea glass or heart-shaped rocks. So every time I would find one, I felt as if I was connecting with them, that they were guiding me,” she explains. “I realized when I saw all these people who were maybe feeling sad and walking the beach or looking for guidance that maybe if I left a message on a rock, it would be like my heart shaped rocks for them.” And so, the Kindness Rocks Project was born. “We connect to one-another when we see similarities between each other and the love of the ocean is one of those similarities here on Cape Cod,” Murphy explains.

“Our world is craving more kindness. I hope people remember that we are all connected and we’re all in this together.”- Murphy

Above, Megan Murphy enjoying a stroll along the beach

“As Cape Codders, whether we live here or vacation here, we all agree there’s a sense of magic and solace when you’re on the beach. For me, I feel as if no matter how big my problems are or how big the world’s problems may be, when you walk on the beach you feel like you’re a part of something so much bigger. I think many people come to the beach for that reason; it’s a very calming place to be despite anything going on in the world,” Murphy reflects. Murphy takes her time on the beach not only to collect rocks, but also to meditate. It starts with minding her breath, and flows into affirmation, prayers or whatever it is that Murphy needs in that moment. “I feel lighter and more at peace. For me personally, I feel more connected, even when I’m walking alone on the beach, to a much greater world.”

Photo by Celia Pearson

Some like to challenge themselves in their quests, searching for the elusive sea glass that has become few and far between on Cape Cod beaches. In his books “Pure Sea Glass: Discovering Nature’s Vanishing Gems” and “The Lure of Sea Glass: Our Connection to Nature’s Gems” (Schiffer Publishing 2004, 2015), Richard LaMotte dives deep into everyone’s favorite beach treasure. “There is splendid irony in collecting sea glass, since this alluring trophy sought after in the shifting sand was once merely sand itself,” he says. “Leave it to Mother Nature to improve upon something manipulated by man and returned to her care after it has served our temporary needs.”

But it’s not just the beautiful colors and thrill of the chase for some sea glass collectors. “Of course, the sea, itself, lures us, its musical rhythms offering shifting moods of deep peace, wonder, or awe. Treading the shoreline, we are in tune with the elements—tides, waves, sun, moon and stars,” says LaMotte. “There is a great healing power found where water meets the shore. The rhythmic surf can soften our rough edges as well.” He describes the process nature inflicts to create sea glass, saying, “The forces of nature not only shape sea glass by abrasive physical conditioning, but contact with aquatic environments creates unique textures that are only poorly imitated by man.” One can’t help but wonder if he is speaking strictly about sea glass. Those who call Cape Cod home, whether for the year or for a week, much like sea glass, may be roughed up and tumbled by life, but come out of it stronger and ready for whatever else life may throw their way.

Thoreau writes, “We often love to think now of the life of men on beaches, at least in midsummer, when the weather is serene; their sunny lives on the sand, amid the beach-grass and the bayberries…their wealth a jag of driftwood or a few beach-plums, and their music the surf and the peep of the beach-bird.” In 1865, almost 200 years ago, he captured the magic and simplicity of a Cape Cod beach walk, proving that no matter the changes, minute to minute, year to year, the beach’s beauty and treasures will be there for you when you need them most.

Find the Kindness Rocks Project online here and Celia Pearson’s gorgeous photography here!

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth Shaw is a former assistant editor, photographer & videographer for Cape Cod Life Publications. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Elizabeth spent many summers on the Cape, before she and her family moved down full time in 2016. She graduated from the University of Rhode Island as a double major in Writing & Rhetoric and Film Media, and started at Cape Cod Life the following fall. In her free time, she takes as many pictures of her dog, Watson, as possible, in between beach trips.