My friend, Liz, is an avid treasure hunter. Not deliberately, but she is such a great observer that she can come up with just about anything while walking along the shores of Liscannnor Bay. Unusual rocks, fossils or the fragile heart-shaped shells that float up on mounds of seaweed around Brigid's Day, there is always treasure on the beach.
A few years ago, one Easter Sunday, after a week of gales, she found a giant rope during our morning walk with the dogs. It was at least forty feet long and about eight inches in diameter. It was waterlogged, covered with sand and had the odd bit of fishing net and wood attached to it. One end still had the original woven loop and the other looked as if it had been torn violently from its moorings. In other words, it was fantastic. We were overcome with that universal feeling that all treasure hunters get. Possession! We had to have it. I didn't want it for myself but I was adamant that she got to keep it.
The trouble was that the car was almost a mile away at the cemetery and the only other way out to the road was through half an acre of ancient blackberry bushes. With no other options, we proceeded to drag the rope down the beach. We tried dragging it by one end. It didn't budge. We tried dragging it by both ends. It buried its middle under a mountain of sand. We settled on dragging it by the middle and that worked, sort of. People passed us on their own walks. They stopped to review our work before continuing on. "So.. you've got a rope, then," said one man as he passed as if it was a most ordinary occurrence.
It was tedious work and after forty five minutes of pushing, pulling and trying to coerce the dogs into towing, we agreed to call her husband for backup. While we were waiting for Liam to arrive, a woman walked by with her three sons, the youngest of whom was about six. The boys excitedly eyed the rope and asked questions about where we found it and what we intended to do with it. They all helped us drag the rope, amid much giggling and speculation about what kind of ship it came from. A pirate ship, it was decided, and we all agreed to return tomorrow to see if the rest of the ship floated up. The boys worked hard, but they soon tired and went off with their mother to finish their walk.
When Liam arrived, we had gotten about a third of the way to the cemetery. "We'll have to saw it into pieces," he said. "No. Please. Anything but that," we cried. He eventually came around to our way of thinking and we all continued pulling, pushing and dragging the giant rope down the beach. Two hours after she found it, we rolled the rope into the back of the van, triumphant.
My eight-year-old nephew, Marcus, and I went geocaching a few weeks ago. It is kind of high tech treasure hunting using a hand-held GPS and clues from an internet site. It was our first time out so we didn't really know what we were doing but during the course of the day we managed to find three hidden treasures. When we were tromping through the mud on the banks of the Monongahela River, Marcus found loads of treasure. Not the treasure we were looking for, not right away. He got a white rock, some sort of clam shell and a bottle cap. He was so excited about seeing the bottle cap that he went in the water after it. Eventually, we remembered what we were searching for and we located our first cache. It was a great rush. Now I know how the guys who raised the Titanic felt.
Liz called me from Ireland the other day to say that she'd found a message in a bottle. Truthfully, her dog, Lily, found it. The note inside was from a man in Newfoundland, named Eugene. Liz, being happily married, sent him a photo of the dog. I wonder how he felt after putting his longing and loneliness into the bottle only to have the respondent be a border collie who likes to eat socks.
I pondered all of this as I was out walking the dog along the banks of the Monongahela this morning. Is what we see as treasure and pick up or what we pass by unnoticed really so random after all? If there was a message in a bottle floating here in the Mon, would I be able to pick it out amidst all the other litter?
Eloise and I continued up over the hill past the Pony League field and as we crossed an area which must have been an old dumping ground for the glass factory before they made this into a park. I looked down at something shiny peeking through the dirt. I dug at it with a stick until it popped out. I dusted it off on my jeans. It was a green lump, as big as an egg. I held it up to the sun. "A giant emerald," I told Eloise as I slipped it into my coat pocket.
That's the thing about treasure. There is always another one if you keep looking.
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