Our Insatiable Need to Collect Things
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
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.