Our Insatiable Need to Collect Things

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Our Insatiable Need to Collect Things

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Mar 06, 2013

Beaches are a magnet for shell seekers, for people with a collection of heart-shaped bits of coral, for those looking for broken and ocean-smoothed pieces of glass. Creative types may convert their finds into long strands of necklaces or wire-wrapped earrings. Or they may glue them to picture frames or decorate scrapbooking pages with their treasures. But just as likely, as I can testify, goodies collected from the beach wind up in a dish or jar or coffee can (do they still exist?) that, over time, gets moved to a cabinet and, then, pushed behind an old board game, an electronic picture frame with dead batteries, or, maybe, a kitchen gadget that used to work, all completely forgotten.

We are a people who like to collect things, especially mementoes from special places like beaches and, well, anywhere in Hawaii. 

You’ve heard the story of people taking rocks from Kilauea, the active volcano on Hawaii (Big) Island, right? The memento-seekers get home and start experiencing a string of bad luck and blame it all on the age-old Pele’s Curse—that prophesied bad luck for anyone taking rocks from the volcano goddess’ home. So, these people, the cursed ones, hoping to change their destinies, returned (by mail, in person, via special delivery) the rocks to Hawaii. At one time, more than 2,000 pounds of rocks and thousands of letters filled the mailbox of Volcanoes National Park each year. 

But, later, it was revealed that the curse was really a hoax, that a ranger at the park invented it in the 1950s as a way to discourage people from desecrating the landscape. I’ve also heard that rangers today deny their predecessor’s involvement in the creation of the curse. Not that it mattered. It was too late. The belief took root. The curse morphed into a convenient explanation, excuse or last-ditch reversal for failed marriages, car accidents, health issues, natural disasters and more. More as in the good in one person’s life wasn’t quite good enough. A package or rocks came winging its way back to Hawaii with a note that said, “We won the $600,000 lottery—we would have won the $2,000,000 one if it wasn’t for this. Please take the rocks back before more bad luck.”* Huh?

Bad luck or not, it is illegal to take rocks (anything, really) from national parks. So, there’s that. And ethical outdoor principles suggest, “Leave No Trace.” In fact, the fourth of seven such principles says, “Leave What You Find.” Because there is only so much of our finite world to go around. 

But I’ve got an idea for something you can collect from the beach.

Last week, after trekking the north shore of Kauai while surveying Laysan albatross nests, I backed up my truck to a stash of marine debris. My friend Daniel combs this stretch of coastline every day, collecting wayward water bottles; scraps of fishing nets gone awry; chunks of plastic from eel traps, laundry baskets, bleach bottles, buckets, tooth brushes, flip-flops and baby dolls. Yes, baby dolls. And more.

And, finally, nearly full two years after the devastating Japan tsunami—March 9, 2011—the waves are bringing a few items from Japan. Mostly plastic floats used in fisheries, thus far. But other things, as well, like refrigerator parts. Even a whole refrigerator.

Now, I’m not suggesting you haul out a refrigerator. Unless, of course, you want to.

*For more information, read Powerstones: Letters to a Goddess by Linda Ching and Robin Stephens.


Greg Todd | Mar 07, 2013 03:39 PM

Hi Kim, nice story. I live in Australia and I have visited your beautiful Islands a number of times and I will be returning again next year. If I can afford it I will visit every year. I too take things from the beach, but not what you think. I am an avid photographer who carries his camera everywhere, including the beach. When I see nice things I "take" a photo, that way when I get home I digitally develop my images and print out a collage and put it on my wall so I have a permanent memory of all the beautiful things your islands have to offer. That way hopefully I have done no environmental damage and all is left as it was when I arrived. I also live by the beach and my main love is surfing so I have a great appreciation of what the ocean and our waterways have to offer. Unfortunately as is very common these days a lot of people only think about what the ocean can do for them, not what they can do for the ocean and also the environment. Mahalo Greg.

Kim | Mar 07, 2013 05:42 PM

Hi Greg, good on you. And get this: Today I was photographing along the east side of Kauai and discovered thee of the most beautiful cowrie shells. Adorable, I tell you. My first thought was to pocket them. Then, I came to my senses and left them behind for someone else to enjoy as much as I did. And as far as "taking" photos, I love that idea. But, in a twist, I happen to be working on an upcoming blog post about "making" photographs, instead of "taking" them. I hope you'll stay tuned. Mahalo for taking care of our oceans.

Val Bloy | Mar 08, 2013 12:28 PM

Aloha Kim, This was a great article. I am such a supporter of "taking" the debris from the beaches. Diane and I made many a trek on Molokai removing bags of full plastics, netting etc.Think some of the people that trekked with us thought we were NUTS and they're probably right!! I must admit, I do have a beautiful jar full of sea glass on my kitchen window that reminds me of my love for the islands and all those treks to La`au. :) Hopefully, I will be back soon packing that debris from the beaches and leaving no trace behind.... oh, except for the snap of my camera shutter. Thanks for the email you sent the other day. Ron has all the info, so hopefully you two can connect when he is there. Mahalo, Val :)

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