Pretty Stone Beach
September 26, 2002 3:15 PM
21:28 Agate Beach Campground; Naikoon Provincial Park,
BC :: SAT 21 SEP 02
Offshore, the night-time running lights of crab boats are on the move.
The crabbers remain busily at work after a full day sailing up and down
the coastline, checking their trap lines. The tide is out, way out, and
down the beach, the light of a nearby crab boat reveals the sandy, muddy
flats like the light of the moon might, were it not rising behind, partially
obscured by clouds. A few tall spindly spruce rise toward the illuminated
clouds, little more than trunks sporadically sprouting horizontal boughs
of random length. Below them, windswept scrub pines emphatically describe
the wind's predominant course, as if caught stop-motion on film during
a gale-force storm.
Earlier, during the high tide, the breakers beat against the high shore,
a band of drift wood and loose, smoothly rounded rock. Beachcombers walked
in their characteristic stoop, bending to pick-up a prize of agate, for
which the beach is named. They conferred with partners, and kept the stone
as promising, or flicked it aside, pretty but worthless. From time to
time, they would skitter like sandpipers, evading an onrushing wave.
I asked one husband, dutifully awaiting his wife's return from foraging,
"are they worth much?"
"Not really," he replied. "They're considered semi-precious, so a few
cents or perhaps a few dollars for a particularly stunning one."
"Oh," I replied, and showed him my small, amber-coloured find.
"Yep. That's an agate."
On a kilometres long beach strewn with millions of prettily rounded
and coloured stones, agates are lumpy, irregular, pocked. Translucent
when wet, their surface dries powdery and opaque. Some combers will show
you an agate or two, or half a handful of agate-like stones the patient
husband refers to as "sugar agate." I asked him, "like fools gold?" And
On a beach piled high with pretty, colourful stones, the agate can be
hard to pick out. Its colour varies from a clear-white, to ambers and
greens and even the rare fiery red. But these colours abound in other
stones as well, many of which are translucent. The key is to find an irregularly
shaped stone with pock marks.
It's a bit of a visual paradox. My eyes seem tuned for smooth, regular
shapes with pretty colours and patterns. I never do find a proper agate,
but I do collect a small handful of pretty stones, and discard buckets
of others. All combers, whether they've found a genuine agate or not,
will also produce for inspection a handful of prettily shaped and coloured
stones, with perhaps a nice shell or piece of driftwood.
Perhaps this should be called "Pretty Stone Beach." Just leave it at
The sky has cleared and the harvest moon appears between spires of spruce
silhouetted in glowing broken banks of cloud. Moonlight illuminates the
foaming waves, the driftwood, the white stones and rocks and pebbles piled
above the tide line. And I realise I am drifting off. It's been a long
day. A dry tent and warm sleeping bag await me.
I look at my smooth amber stone. Agate? I think it's not, and even if
it is, a fellow in Massett has paved his driveway with them. I put it
in my pocket anyway, a future reminder of a perfect moment on a crescent
of pretty stones.