Shark teeth and other obsessions

If all 5 of you who read this blog wonder where I’ve been, I don’t have a good answer. I’ve been mostly here, with nothing to talk about. Except for that lovely week at the beach a few weeks ago. There it was all about having my feet in the ocean as often and as long as possible. A warm ocean at that! The North Carolina coast is a decidedly warmer place in September than in May when we’ve gone in the past. And the beach was all but deserted — maybe 40 people on average in the mile-and-a-half between the condo we rented and the pier that made a good landmark and destination.

It wasn’t all stress-free, though. We were somewhat haunted by a new obsession — searching for fossilized shark teeth. I had never even heard of such a thing before, but the friends whose son owns the condo we stayed at educated us before our trip. He’s a bona fide (I was so tempted to write bonified, because we’re talking about fossils and all) shark teeth hunting expert, and he showed us the ropes, and the hundreds of teeth in his collection.

Basically, you walk head down for as far as you possibly can, gazing at the billions of tiny pebbles and shells along the beach and in the surf, looking for anything remotely pointy or triangle-shaped and shiny black. Out of the billions of possibilities, maybe 2 million are pointy, triangle-shaped, and shiny black. About a dozen of these will be actual shark teeth. (At least that seems like the right proportion — billions of possibilities; very few real-deals.)

So, you start out reaching for 2 million pointy, triangle-shaped, shiny black things whenever you see one. A million of those possibilities will be instantly washed back into the ocean the second you bend down to pick them up, never to be seen again. The other million possibilities will be nestled amid the billions of other shells and pebbles, safely beyond the surf (at least at low tide). You pick up 279,549 of them as you walk along, only to realize they aren’t actually shark teeth, but bits of shells or pebbles. How can so many things be shiny black, triangle-shaped, and pointy?

Scattered among those millions are the dozen or so that are shark teeth. It’s a classic needle-in-a-haystack pursuit. If you’re lucky, you find maybe 2 or 3. (One of the ways you know it’s a shark tooth is if you can’t break it. They’re hard as a rock, no matter how slender and pointy or how small the fragment.)

It qualifies as an obsession, this shark teeth hunting thing. You see people scanning for them all along the beach — including pro’s who have nets to scoop up and sift through the piles of pebbles and shells that stretch just where the waves break. Instead of a relaxing walk along the beach, you find yourself searching, bending, reaching, sifting, discarding — and maybe sticking a tiny find or two in your pocket and hoping it doesn’t wash away when you get slapped by a wave.

I wonder why it’s such a thing — why I and many others can’t stop the incessant searching — for shark teeth, sea glass, sand dollars, star fish (“sea stars” as I learned at the aquarium), shells — whatever “treasures” the sea might offer up. Is it the thrill of the hunt? The search for something free? something beautiful? something unique? Is it to feel connected to creatures so different from ourselves? Or just the peace — albeit stressful peace — that comes from focusing your eyes and mind on one thing, just one thing, for as long as you can stand it.

Our week-long search yielded 70 or so treasures — most bits and pieces rather than perfectly formed teeth. By contrast, our friend has found well over 200 in one week. His wife calls it his “shark teeth OCD.” I’m sure if we had the opportunity, Mike and I would be out there daily, sloshing along in the surf, head down, scanning.

Just thinking about it has me jonesin’ for it.

Powerful stuff, these obsessions.

Cure for an obsession: Get another one.
~ Mason Cooley

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1 Comment

  1. Thursday, October 27, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    I HAVE been wondering where your blog was! 🙂

    LOVE the photo!!!


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