Should I or shouldn’t I(?) . . . collecting artifacts while on vacation

Many of us have been faced with temptation while traveling. I’m not talking about that gorgeous red-headed guy or woman you may have met at the beach bar. Rather, I’m referring to “things” you may find lying around. During my earliest vacations, bringing home a special rock was an important part of our family’s experience. For example, for years, my father and I would scour fringes of wooded trails in search of the elusive Native American arrow head. Later, as a twenty-one year old, I traveled north to visit Niagara Falls, at a time when the American Fall was dammed up. I returned home with a rock that I’d plucked from the river bed; it was a source of pride for years to come. Even in my sixties, whenever I walk the beach south of Rincon, Puerto Rico, my eyes are focused downward. A shark could swim right up along the shore, and I’d never even see it. That’s because I’m searching for two items that are frequently washed ashore. One favorite is a grayish chunk of limestone coral, whose surfaces have the appearance of a moonscape. My other item of choice is shared with many other beach goers; this is the ubiquitous sea glass. Sea glass comes in a range of colors, including clear, white, brown, various shades of green, blue, red, purple, and black. Anyone finding the latter four has indeed discovered treasure. In truth, glass collectors and jewelry makers alike will pay up to one hundred dollars for such a find. My effort to discover glass in any of the more rare colors has been fruitless. I’ve even been tempted to go to the drugstore, buy a bottle of Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, smash it, then swirl it in brine for several months . . . nah, I’m not that desperate.

All of us have heard the expression, “take only photographs; leave only footprints.” This is particularly applicable when visiting national parks and cultural enclaves. Not that everyone listens. I must confess that a number of my colleagues (and their colleague)–both past and present–have taken rock samples, e.g., cobbles and quartz crystals, from the field. This has been done in the name of science, or, rather, education. If one is going to teach about the erosive power of ocean waves, what better way to show students how this works than by producing samples one can see, touch, etc. Many years ago, my mother knew that I was craving rock samples from Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano. So, she picked up a few small pieces of lava to bring home for her favorite younger son. Unbeknownst to either of us, this seemingly innocent act incurred the wrath of Pele, the goddess of volcanoes. When, a few years later, my mother contracted a deadly disease, there was only one action to be taken. I packaged up those rocks, found the address of the National Park Service in the appropriate portion of Hawaii, and mailed Pele’s children back to her (albeit, too late for my mother).

So, if you will indulge this writer, please allow me to offer the following advice (talk about doing as I say, not as I’ve done): 1) don’t take anything from national parks, heritage sites, or other significant natural settings; 2) never remove anything from an indigenous cultural area . . . what may look very nice in your trophy case is very likely a resource in their community; and 3) go ahead and collect those glass fragments; after all, they’re what the locals would call . . . litter.

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3 Comments on “Should I or shouldn’t I(?) . . . collecting artifacts while on vacation

  1. This story brought back memories Mark. I too like rocks and sea glass although I think I favor rocks more. I’m intrigued by white lines going through some of those found in RI or ME, the beauty of quartz found in our NH area, the scent, yes even the scent of slate, and of course, the various shapes and sizes. I use them all over my yard, having collected, carried, rolled, wheeled them all over my yard when landscaping. I think of rocks as representing strength, stability, and calmness. I mean, they’re solid, always there for you, and never panicky! What better “friend” could you have then a rock. Of course, gems are nice rocks

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