I owe Reese Witherspoon credit for many things. Today though, I am highlighting the cult favorite Sweet Home Alabama where Reese plays an up and coming fashion designer that has left her rural roots in Alabama for the shiny spotlight of New York City. When she returns home to visit, two of the movies greatest moments happen: the line “you have a baby, in a bar!” which I have used multiple times during my stint at motherhood, and her discovery that her old flame has started a business selling crystal that forms when lightning strikes sand. The technical term is “fulgurite” and in actuality, it looks nothing like the shiny crystal pieces portrayed in the movies, but the rest is true.
Frequently referred to as “petrified lightning”, fulgurite does indeed form where lightning strikes the sand and can be found up and down the beaches of the Outer Banks. The heat of the lightning uses the sand, mineral grit and debris to create a petrifaction. They vary in color from transparent to white and through the spectrum to dark green and black, though you are most likely to find a stone color in the sand. Often small round concrete-like shapes, fulgurite can look like smooth fingers of calcified stone. Other pieces can be long and lean as the lightning penetrates deeper into the sand.
It took me a few years of beachcombing to really identify, understand and treasure the beauty of this natural phenomenon. Once you have been a study to fulgurite, it makes for a renewed beachcombing session searching out things other than your usual shells. In addition to beach glass, you can find many locals combing the shell beds in the winter looking for these treasures. Hunting is especially good after a heavy lightning storm, so boot up your Wanchese bedroom slippers and head to the beach the morning the storm has past and enjoy the hunt!