Beachcombing for Health, History and Solace

Jun 20, 2018
Photo by: Pat Johnson Mary Law displays her favorite found object, a lock plate from some long-ago home washed into the sea.

Mary and Jonathan Law of Surf City are “LBI Lifers,” said Mary. “We’ve lived on the Island, we have our business on the Island (Jonathan Law’s Fine Art Framing), and I love walking the beach.”

“I do it for three reasons: One, to be an environmental steward since I always pick up trash on my walks and dispose of it; two, for health reasons, it’s one of the healthiest activities you can do; and three, because I love history and finding artifacts.”

The Laws decorate their home with these artifacts both inside and out. Inside, Mary has clustered on the mantle the many interesting bottles that have washed up – both whole bottles and shards; she has filled numerous vases and containers with sea glass and the whimsical or interesting flotsam she has plucked from the sand. “What do you suppose this is?” she asks of an orange plastic bulb cover. “It’s from a roller coaster or a ride in Seaside that Sandy destroyed. I found it this past fall in Barnegat Light. We know this because debris comes from the north.”

Behind one chair in the living room stands an Edwardian ceramic chimney topper – “People might think it’s just a pipe, but I found out what it is on the internet. It came from a house, whether it was on Tucker’s Island or Beach Haven. That’s what I like about it, it makes me think of the history.”

On one wall, Jonathan has framed her favorite piece, a lock plate. “It has so much history and mystery, too; this was to someone’s house.”

He has also framed two fossils of spider crabs and a piece of tile from the ill-fated Fortuna, an Italian bark (two-masted schooner) that is documented to have come ashore in Ship Bottom during a January storm in 1910. “There are hundreds of these terra cotta tile pieces that were used for ballast. Carole Bradshaw, who wrote the book about the Fortuna, helped us ID the tiles.”

Outside the house and around the pool area, low walls of brick outline the gardens. “I carried them home in a backpack. Why wouldn’t you take them? They are there for the taking.”

Trimming some of the fence areas are interesting collections of driftwood and bigger wooden chunks from shipwrecks.

Mary walks all the beaches of LBI. “I’ve found great white shark teeth in Harvey Cedars; the clay pipes were found in Loveladies. I’ve also found Spanish reales worth about a quarter of pieces of eight, and (American) Liberty coins. I never use a metal detector. The trick is, if you are picking up pieces of plastic (as an ocean and beach steward), that’s how you find these things. Very few things in nature are perfectly round.”

Jon has taken the coins and other curious objects to place in a cabinet in his shop in Surf City. They serve as conversation pieces, and he welcomes anyone to learn more about the history of the Island and to add to his own knowledge. Recently, he learned what he hoped was dinosaur poop to be just an interesting lump of clay and marl. Marl is a greenish-gray clay that often holds fossils.

The pieces of fulgurites in the cabinet are of great interest – these are tubular formations made when lightning strikes the beach and fuses the sand.

The case also has cow teeth and bones Mary found that came off shipwrecks, said Jon. There were two ships carrying bones from slaughter-houses to rendering plants that went down off LBI at the turn of the 20th century.

Mary Law walks the beaches year ’round and actually prefers to walk during the off-season when she can be alone with her thoughts. As an assistant vice president of quality and accreditation for a major medical facility, like many, she de-stresses on her long walks along the shore. “I walk between 7 and 20 miles; in the winter I walk more. You get used to walking in the sand. I’ve been doing it for 20 years or more. From my years on the Island, you get to know the ecology of the beach; you know what the wind and tides do to the beach. It’s never the same from day to day.”

The beachcomber also finds tons of sea glass that she sometimes gives as gifts to friends.

“There are so many things to find and appreciate, and it’s so healthy. Get out there and walk.”

— Pat Johnson

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