Thursday, December 12, 2013

notes toward an autobiography by others, part 15

Donovan Hohn became fascinated by the story of the well-traveled rubber ducks. A shipment of the toy was lost in the Pacific and the little critters floated all around, some (perhaps) even making it all the way across the Arctic Sea to the Eastern shores of the United States. Hohn wanted to find one for himself. In the process he wrote a book about the ducks, where they came from and what became of them. It’s called, Moby-Duck. Early in his research Hohn consults beachcombing guides:

[Amos] Woods writes … [A] “serious searcher plans his hike, selects the tide and wind conditions that are favorable, prepares for an extended trip, and has a particular objective in mind.” [On the other hand, Henry David] Thoreau’s rambling style of beachcombing - extravagant sauntering, he would call it - appeals to me far more than Wood’s forensic treasure hunting does. If I tried to follow Wood’s advice, I wouldn’t last a weekend before retiring my metal detector to that cabinet of fleeting enthusiasms which also contains various musical instruments, a teach-yourself-Russian CD-ROM, and a guide to bicycle repair.

When Kent and I visited Oahu in September we saw two men using a metal detector on a popular beach. They were wading in water up to their thighs. It was hard to imagine they were finding enough of value to justify two people but it looked like they were being methodical about it. The beach adjoined a wealthy community, the water protected by a wide reef, and was picturesque, so I suppose there were more than the usual number of diamond rings slipping off fingers into the sand and a better than average chance of locating those that got lost. It looked like work.

I remember seeing men walking along with metal detectors at beaches when I was a kid. It looked like fun at the time - hunting for treasure! scooping up money just waiting for you! I may have put a metal detector on my Christmas wish list. I remember working over the page that featured the object in the Montgomery Wards catalog. I remember working over the page that featured the rock polishing machine, too. Imagine turning ordinary rocks into gleaming, smooth beauties you could line up on your window sill. Mom did not get me either gadget.

Just as well. I shudder to think how many hours of beach plodding I would have had to force myself to do in order to justify the metal detector’s expense. It was easy to picture the delights, but the work of the process I now picture as a big hassle. I remember at least once Mom approaching one of these treasure hunters (probably dragging me along); as I recall he was philosophical about it. It was something to do. Did it pay? Oh. No. Not really. He found something while we talked, leaned over and brushed the sand away. Was it a penny? It was no diamond ring.

Like me, Kent had a hankering for a polishing machine. Unlike me, he got one. My memory produces no plan beyond admiring the polished stones. That gets old, Kent says. And the polishing machine was noisy. It required investment in polishing sand. It took a long time.

Among other “fleeting enthusiasms” was, yes, a teach-yourself-Russian book (this was before CD-ROMs). I taught myself DA (yes) and DOM (house) but I figured I wouldn’t be able to make myself understood by a Russian as I didn’t really know how to pronounce any of it. Not like I would be able to understand them, either! I thought I might be able to take Russian language classes in college. But by then the Cold War was over and learning Russian seemed not so valuable, especially considering the investment of money, time, and effort. Instead I took Spanish and Portuguese and American Sign Language, all of which I’ve had occasion (very occasional occasion) to use.

I’ve made attempts at making music - I have an electronic keyboard which sounds rather nice. Maybe nicer when I’m not playing it.

Extravagant sauntering, however, has provided much pleasure over the years.

Donovan Hohn's Moby-Duck is quirky, rather long & rambling, and a pretty good read.

quote source: Moby-Duck: an accidental odyssey: the true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea and of the beachcombers, oceanographers, environmentalists, and fools, including the author, who went in search of them by Donovan Hohn

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