Finding Treasure

Reid State Park, Wiscasset, Maine

When our parents made plans to take my sister Susan and I to the shore we would quickly collect our baskets, tin pails andshovels, net bags and shoe boxes, for Dad to pack in the car’s overburdened trunk. In order to make our belongings compact and more “stow-able”, we would offer to pack them ourselves. We were lucky that everything fit inside the trunk because nothing frustrated Dad more than packing on a hot humid day.

After surviving the three bridges,with the suspension bridge being the worse (it had a scary grid road surface, where if you looked down you could see the water and rocks far below), Dad found a spot in the already packed dusty lot. The parking attendant told Dad that we were car number 168 and reminded us that the park would close at sunset. Mom and Dad found a picnic table in the shade while Susan and I helped unpack our gear, folding chairs, and picnic basket from the trunk “Wait! Our pails,” we cried before Dad closed the trunk.

Armed with our pails and net bags Susan and I trooped out to the tide pools exposed by low tide. Oh, how fortunate we were to live near the ocean! We repeated our mother’s admonishments back to her: stay away from the rock edges, away from the clutches of the waves. We promised to be watchful, to look out for each other, we promised to do whatever Mom asked so that we could break away and feel the salt air on our cheeks and the hot sun toast our shoulders. We wanted to be free! We were experienced rock climbers by the ages of five and seven; we were as sure-footed as mountain goats. We would hop and leap from fissure to fissure, navigate the gaps and ravines between weathered granite boulders older that God without fear. We tested for wobbly stones and wet seaweed. We respected the rocks completely and realized they offered protection just as much as danger.

Aside from the adrenalin pumping teasing of the waves, our sole reason for packing so many containers was to find living starfish and crabs. The more we could find the better since we also knew that large numbers would ensure that some would live through the trip home and several days into the week. What we never mastered was recreating the saltwater environment to keep the sea-life living forever. We didn’t understand the difference between fresh and salt water when we were very young and killed our treasures instantly as we rinsed the sand off our feet, shells and pail contents. Once we grasped the water difference we brought plastic jugs to collect the water only to find that it also required oxygen to sustain life.

Since we weren’t allowed to have a large tank beyond a globe bowl that held our annual goldfish I decided that finding dead starfish would be best because then we could display the dried specimens on the our bedroom windowsills. Susan liked my idea because she especially enjoyed participating in show and tell at school. We ranged out to locate the best pools hoping to see trapped fish and creatures beyond our imaginations. We would poke at things with sticks and shovels and if anything moved in unexpected ways we would jump back scared, thrilled, surprised, and gasp little “Ohs”.

It was hard business deciding what to bring home, we had to economize knowing Dad would be stingy with trunk space, although not everything packed in the morning would be returning with us – our ability to take our treasures home depending on Dad’s patience. Once everything and everyone was in the car tradition called for ice cream.

May 16, 2009

Revised June 9, 2010 KBP

One response to “Finding Treasure

  1. It is hard business deciding what to bring home.
    * * *
    How I wish I had grown up by the ocean like you Kat to bring home pails of treasures from the waves such as starfish. My memories of shore combing and poking consisted of what can be found at a lakes edge. My German Oma and Opa moved up from NYC to settle into a house on Lake Champlain when I was around eight. The decision to move was not based on their desire to live in VT but rather to be close to their only son and granddaughter – me. I loved my grandfather so much, that each Saturday I was willing to walk through the nearby forrest with tall pines, up and down the cragged shale cliffs, and along the beaches hunting for treasures. He took these excursions seriously. I was a child after all and that required an elder to impart time worn wisdom. He was proud to teach me on these trips about different types of trees, rocks, fungi, bear claw marks on trees, pollinating ferns, and the array of finds on the beach such as worn thick glass, old iron eaten away in grotesque shapes, and pottery shards that once rode on old sailing ships. Even a fresh water lake of 127 miles long holds a good array of sunken ships with their contents spilled out.
    Simply put my Opa had a yearning to share and I a desire to learn new information quickly. However there was a stumbling block between us and that was language. Having not grown up in this country it meant my Opa did not have the words for all things. So to make up for this problem he carried with us in his knapsack 4 small worn dictionaries that translated into English – German, French, Italian and Russian. Since he spoke these languages he felt it valuable to double check meaning. Being a busy child with short patience for words and endless patience for actual doing, I found this German mentality of being thorough maddening. What ever great object we found required sitting down with it for a considerable length of time as he thumbed through dictionaries in order to choose the right words. These words then were inserted just so, in English sentences that came forth out of a combination of other language influences. For example to describe how a piece of old grog pottery could find it’s way to the shore he might say: “A magnificent boat of fine building go on to lake with bed sheets, no I say sails bigger than house the one I live in. This boat be adventurous even when gewitter (storm) of lightening and terrible wind blowing come in night and versuchen (tempt) anger and boat. After brave long fight go over this way(leaning his body stiff way over to one side) and goes (making his hand spiral towards the ground), hit bottom. (hands fly up) French china pretty flower dishes fall out then and this too potters you see I hold. Only takes 150 years for wave bring it here to you so look now concentrate.

    Though these lessons were painfully tedious and long I came to appreciate how hard my grandfather worked to communicate his knowledge to me. In time I even grew more patient, and carried these skills with me to what I do now and that is to teach ESL students of all ages. When teaching ESL students I am most keenly aware that capturing curiosity and hand-on learning are key to getting past language barriers and holding interest. As to what actual treasures my grandfather allowed us to bring back, it was contained only to what we could haul and on the long walk home that got less and less. By the time we reached the house and dumped out the contents of the small knapsack, often the only treasures remaining were one large and several smaller black and white striped beach or ledge rocks, a sunken boat trinket and perhaps more straight branch wood for a new walking stick. To this day I still have one or two rocks from that collection and over time I’ve added many a vast many more. I bring home rocks from everywhere. If one visited my house and took a walk around outside, inside up and down, you’d say I should be more careful with what I bring home because my house is filled with more than just rocks. It should be taken as hard business as Kat said, as to what we bring home, and somewhere I failed to look at things in this light. My house is cluttered and treasures spread out as if made by a male bowery bird. This comes not from my German genes but by way of my mother’s 5th generation Vermonter side. *** So whatever you do bring home, whoever you are out there reading, let them be meaningful to you and be prepared to defend yourself.
    Take what you surround your life with seriously, and this by the way includes which friends you choose to keep. And do not forget to go about your life with fresh curiosity and zest least not you end up like a sunken ship lying at some murky bottom shifting in sandy boredom.

    Love to you Kat. Had we grown up together as children I would have gladly explored endless beaches and tidal pools with you.

Thanks for reading my blog!

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