What I found searching for glass orbs

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 11:30am
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Tricia Serio and her family on one of their illuminating walks. Photo by Matt Beveridge

“Am I posting clues that are too good?” Eben Horton, the glass artist and inspired creator of the Block Island Glass Float Project, has been making about 550 grapefruit-sized glass orbs and hiding them around the island every year since 2012. When he posted this question on a Facebook page that he created to share tips and clues with supporters of the project, of which I am an enthusiastic one, it induced a conundrum for me. Did I want to know where they where or simply that they were somewhere?

Earlier that morning, I, along with tens of other people, converged on Mansion Beach after an 8:30 a.m. post, showing an orb nestled in a stonewall with the clue “There was a fire here long ago….” When I pulled into the parking lot and saw the spectacle of people rushing around the ruins, I laughed and then wondered: would it feel the same to be the first to find the float known to be hidden there as it does to find a float by chance?

Obviously, I went to Mansion Beach, motivated by the idea of having one this year. But in the aftermath of the sight there, and prompted by Eben’s question, I thought about what I’ve actually gained by becoming an “orbivore,” a term shared with me by a fellow searcher on Gaffney Trail recently.

I came to Block Island for the first time in October 1996 with my new husband, days after our wedding. We were struck by the quiet beauty of this place and set out walking the trails each morning of our stay. In the 20-plus years since, our annual visits have shifted from fall to summer, but our morning walks have been a constant. I learned how long it took to walk each trail and the different characteristics of each, making my choice each morning depending on the time of day, the weather and my mood. On any given day, if I ran into one other person walking, it was a “busy” day on the trails.

Then I heard about the Glass Float Project in 2013, and my experience walking the trails completely changed. I’ve become obsessed with finding a float and, in the years when I was lucky enough to have found one, the thrill of stumbling upon one was almost as great as the relief of having found one.

But what I’ve gained more than the floats that I’ve found is a new perspective on the beauty of this place.

My walks have become much slower — it takes me two to three times longer to walk a trail than it did 10 years ago, an outcome that has everything to do with my search rather than my age. Instead of just walking to finish the trail, I absorb the details that I breezed past prior to 2013. I see the intricate beauty of rocks stacked into stable walls, remembering the inverted triangle of a space that held the first float that we found on Gaffney Trail. I monitor, from one year to the next, the slow decay of the tree stump near the entrance to the Old Mill Road trail where we found another float. I can tell you where to find a rock that looks like a tongue, a tree with more hollows than a slice of Swiss cheese, the rusted parts of a decaying car, and more geocaches than I can count. I hadn’t realized that I gained this knowledge until I recognized some of the pictures that Eben posted of places where he’d hidden floats.

The other major change is the number of people out on the trails. It’s not uncommon for me to cross paths with the same folks over and over again on my annual trip to the island. There’s always a friendly hello, the same question, “have you found one yet?”, and a hearty “congratulations” or “wish you luck” depending on the answer. This camaraderie, like other summertime Block Island rituals such as ice cream and bingo, adds to the special mystique of this place for my family and me.

We found a float this year, in a decaying tree stump in the Enchanted Forest that I’ll visit repeatedly in years to come, but I am still walking the trails at my post-2013 pace. For every float that I’ve found, I have also found a million other places that would be a perfect hiding place for one, and together they’ve been woven into the beauty of this island for me. Even if you don’t find a float this year, you’ve gained something special in the search, and we should all thank Eben Horton for that inspiration.

Tricia Serio has been visiting Block Island and walking its trails for more than 20 years with her family. She currently lives in Tucson, Arizona.