As I bent at the waist, fully aware, and uncaring, that my 61-year-old unskinny ass was pointed at anyone who happened to walk by, I searched for treasure in the wet, rocky sand. Like a prospector of lore, I bent closer and closer to the rock and pebble fields, new to the beach since the winter King tides ate feet and feet and feet of sand for its winter meal. My prey: agates!
Yesterday was Sunday and I watched the motel parking lot across from our apartment begin to empty in late morning. It was checkout time and the shoebies were on their way back to the city and the beach was ours again. That meant fewer people, also bent at the waist, searching their section of the pebble caches.
All the beachcombers and the walkers have been doing a good job of social distancing. While there’s always a mask in my pocket, I don’t often have to pull it out. Between the wind and the wide–open spaces on the Oregon coast, it’s fairly easy to enjoy the magnificence of the ocean and stay safe without a mask. Oregonians tend to be generally a friendly folk, so a few times during my prospecting some city searchers could not help but show me some of their treasures, getting a little closer than I usually tolerate in COVID-land. But their joy was so urgent that I oohed and awed at their finds, held in their outstretched hands, some of which were truly awe-inspiring and better than the wet, heavy loot weighing down my jacket pocket.
While the Oregon coast is public land, with no one able to claim the sand as off limits to others but their precious selves (uh, California, dude, so private, ur, for such a groovy state), I could sense that the bent-over agate searchers, at times, were feeling someone proprietary about their “claim” area. I did too. I just knew that the most translucent, biggest-ass agate was just waiting for my sharp brown eyes to zero in on it, my greedy fingers primed to pluck it off the sand before a wave could take it back to Nemo and friends. Mentally, I drew a little square around ‘my spot.’ But everyone stayed in their space. In other words, no agate claim-jumpers.
Although beach agates don’t have a lot of value (I saw $45 a lb on eBay for some that had been further shined up in rock polisher), that doesn’t deter the searchers. We search for the thrill of the find even more than the result of a shiny beach diamond that will rest for years in a glass jar or bowl in a windowsill. A good guess might be that the gold prospectors of the 1800s had some of that in them as well. If they didn’t, they would probably have been better at accumulating the wealth of their gold nuggets rather than spending the gold on flights of fancy, like whiskey, women and work tools. Forgotten in the thrill of the hunt were the wives and families waiting back in the east or mid-West for the oft promised riches to come and bail them out of poverty. Or maybe they forgot the businesses they were going to start with the gold, or the houses of their dreams they were going to build, or the idea of never having to work for someone else again, all gone. Poof! Blown away in a cloud of gold dust, swallowed in those last drops of whiskey in the bottle, screwed away in the last squeak of the springs in the houses of ill-repute.
Being searchers is part of being American in many ways. We are rarely happy with what we’ve been handed in life. We want a better life, a better house, a better job, a better government, a better spouse, a better tv, a better pizza, a better car, a better grocery store, a better drug (hey, Huey Lewis!), a better school, a better road, and now a better vaccine. We, the better-folk, became better innovators because of our better inclinations.
But when something better gets too damn better, then we get nervous. Cue up the growing nervousness about Amazon. They gave us what we wanted: a one-stop shop for every damn thing you could ever want. It moved from better to best-est in the whole wide world. But, gosh-o-golly, that’s now too much for the prospector-buyers. So is Amazon claim-jumping now? Is that why some folks have turned against them? They crossed the invisible line that they were supposed to stay in, breaking the unwritten rule of fair play?
The Husband and I use Amazon a lot. He is even more guilty than me (thank god) because he has prime. But then I use his phone to order my stuff. Bless me father, for I have sinned… But I also go to local book sellers, the local grocery store, the local candy store, the post office, the clothing store down the street, the hardware store, and the appliance center, because I also value the movement of buying local in small operations run by “Mom and Pop,” or sis and bro or whatever the single or combo ownership.
As a Gemini, I’m not inclined to be a this or that, black or white, only one choice type person. I’m comfortable with ordering from Amazon with one hand and perusing the local book shop shelves with the other, where the smell of old books and new fresh ones are a literary perfume that can’t be replaced. I don’t follow the zealot’s or the apostle’s choice of one or the other: evil if you use Amazon, holy if you only buy local.
Can we give each other a break, folks? We are so fucking strident right now it’s not only breaking our hearts and hurting our heads, it’s making us sick. How about a new theme song called, “Give each other a fucking break. Also known in Mama Bear-speak as, “Give each other the benefit of the doubt.”
The agate prospector doesn’t want your spot. They want to make a connection because they share the joy that you share. That simple search for the shiny pebble, and the chance that the best one of all is just rolling in under the next wave, is what Americans are searching for. Don’t kill the joy.
From Lady Proverbs, somewhere on the Oregon Coast.