In Search of Modern-Day Treasures

VICTOR is sturdy. I reflected on this as he plodded behind me through a tangle of ground briers and brush on our way to the brook. Sturdy and tough. (I had watched him drive a nail into a block of wood a few days previous. His aim was true, except for one miss. He hit his thumb - hard. But he didn't whimper. He simply clutched it, looking around apprehensively at us concerned adults. Then he shook his hand like a thermometer and shifted the hammer. He wasn't about to give me or anybody else an excuse to take that tool from him.) The ritual was followed. I led the way. When we reached the brook we selected proper throwing stones, then short sticks. (The latter would double for boats.) Victor found a white feather for his craft, which we were able to attach under a splinter of gnarled root. It provided a decent sail. The distance from top of bank to water-level was challenging. That didn't faze Victor. His Little League brother couldn't heft rocks any bigger or fling boats further. "Right, Gocky?" "Right," I agreed. When my boat was also launched, we watched the pair of them drift slowly along, then pick up speed and go swirling downstream. When they became stuck, we hastened them along with well-aimed stones. Finally they arrived at the rapids. My sail-less craft entered the boiling spill first. Momentarily lost in foam, it righted itself and sailed stoically on. With steely-eyed aplomb, Victor watched his boat negotiate the same hazard. Both satisfied, we continued along the path in the wake of our brave galleons . Really, though, we were more intent now on finding treasures. Overhead, mares' tails swept a soft pastel sky. All along the brook's banks, trees and flowers blossomed - scarlet-tipped maples, spicebushes, and Russian olive shrubs. The birds were secure in this sanctuary. Sheets of bluets were spread to bleach in the sun. Gold addertonue chalices turned down to drip the last globule of nectar into the mouths of low-flying bees. And, as Robert Browning thoughtfully noted: "Blue ran the flash across! Violet s were born." We dillydallied along, finding other treasures - modern junk symbolic of our contemporary lifestyle. A couple of red gears, whose plastic teeth were caked with mud, were to Victor marvels sufficient to his day. A navy button turned up - from a boy's pea jacket, perhaps - its embossed anchor and thread-holes also earth-filled. A yellow pencil was added to the collection going into the depository of his corduroy pocket. ("An original wooden calculator," my husband, Bob, later speculated, admiring our cache .) Birds invariably announced our approach. We were disturbing their homesites, invading their privacy. Goldfinches exactly the same color as the dandelions navigated the airwaves. Plovers raced ahead on stilt-legs, plaintively refraining their kill-dee cries. Redwings warned each other that humans were in their swale. Doves dust-bathed a distance ahead but flushed as we came too close for comfort. Victor observed and appreciated them all - except for the kingfisher that momentarily startled him. (It plumme ted, diving into the water, rattling a terrible threat and spearing a fish I would never have believed was in that shallow habitat.) Small, intimate discoveries were reassuring. Deep in a dried-out mud puddle Victor spied the top of a large glass marble. Though beat-up, it had lovely swirls - and a history Victor probably couldn't begin to imagine. (What boy had earlier treasured it? I asked. For how many seasons? Had he lost it, or finally cast it away?) Victor squinted into its blurred depths, then decided to keep it. Another buried sphere turned out to be a battered golf ball, valueless except to an avid finder. Then, for his own mysterious reason, Victor chose one squarish gray stone for Bob. It had black flecks on every mica-glinting side. And then his keen eye discerned an oval gemstone, out of some bit of cheap jewelry. It became the best of all possible treasures. This would be reserved for his mother: "She's prob'ly missing me right now." I thought of Edna St. Vincent Millay's play, "Aria da Capo." Yes, from the beginning man had amassed bits of stone, shiny objects, hills of mud, glistening sand, and then raised fences to protect all that junk he called precious. And let none challenge his ownership! Storehouse, cave, fort, or buttoned-down pocket had contained them. Jealously, greed, and war - such were the consequences of man cornering the market. "Yes, Vic," I said, "we'll go home now and clean up your finds." Patting his mod haircut, I wished him well, although, as he clutched his treasures, I suspected he was erecting one more fence. "Aria da Capo," indeed. From the beginning, man's possessiveness has been constantly challenged. Still remaining however, was that spark of hope: He might learn to love enough to be willing to share his booty.

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