Beachcombing Is Always Better With a Good Companion

This new illustrated guide is the perfect summertime accessory

Now that summer has officially begun, you can finally start combing those beaches without worrying that you’re doing it in, like, the wrong season or something. (J/K – any season is good.) But what’s the best way to do it, anyway, this beachcombing activity? Luckily, we know someone who knows – and she’s written a book to tell you.

That’s Anna Marlis Burgard of Tybee Island in Georgia, whose The Beachcomber’s Companion: An Illustrated Guide to Collecting and Identifying Beach Treasures, now out from Chronicle Books and available at BookPeople and elsewhere, is illustrated by Jillian Ditner.

(Okay, wait, no, make that “exquisitely illustrated” by Jillian Ditner, who paints in watercolors so well that all the cameras in the world could disappear and no one would care – but then the artist would suddenly have to produce a vast army of clones, each of whom would be real damn busy).

And it’s a good thing Ditner can work such illustrative wonders, because only something of that quality could match the book’s text. Because that’s what Burgard herself does with words here: renders wonderful descriptions of all the things you might find while walking along, while combing, a beach. Each object – be it shell or seed or creature or ocean-smoothed bit of glass – gets a brief description that provides both scientific accuracy and rich evocations of cultural, historical, or personal context. Page after page in this lovely hardcover volume, it’s like strolling near the waves with a dear friend who, because she’s devoted much of her life to the study of islands, is familiar with what washes up on, or what lives on, that liminal zone where the sand and surf interact.

Listen: “The deadliest mollusk in the world is the Indo-Pacific geographic cone snail, nicknamed the ‘cigarette snail’ because once it jabs its poisoned harpoon into your flesh, you have about as much time as it takes to smoke a cigarette to say your goodbyes.”

Listen: “There are few more memorable moments in film than when Ursula Andress emerged from the sea in Dr. No with a prize queen conch shell in her hand.”

Listen: “The true sea bean is carried by some Africans as a charm against illness; in Mexico (where it’s referred to as an ojo de venado, or deer’s eye), it’s used in children’s bracelets, engraved with saints, as a protection from the evil eye.”

And those are just tiny excerpts, of course, a mere three pieces of bright driftglass from a well-bound beach of information chockablock with treasures. You’ll want to enjoy all of what Burgard has to share in this Beachcomber’s Companion – especially as she includes a section called “The Beachcomber’s Tool Kit,” to make sure you’re properly prepared, mentally and supplywise, before setting off on your next surfside adventure.

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Beachcomber's Guide, Anna Marlis Burgard, Jillian Ditner

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