Seattle has its charms, but I’m jealous of everyone who gets to live at Washaway Beach full-time. If you can walk on the beach every day, your odds increase of finding exotic treasures. Every now and again somebody finds one of the legendary old glass Japanese fishing floats.
At the Fox’s Den, a sadly departed junk store in Montesano, WA, owner John Fox sold one of his uglier finds, a dirt-yellow Japanese float, to somebody for $200, who then sold it on EBay for $8,000. “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” Fox told the South Beach Bulletin, and then the guy returned and gave Fox half the money, allowing Fox to retire, depriving the rest of us of junk. Jerk!
Don Pickinpaugh, aka Pic-N-Pa, local legend and champion of the Pioneer Cemetery, drives the beach every day with his wife Mildred in a beat-up Jeep with a plate that says PIC N PA. He collects wood for his line of chain-saw furniture and sculpture called “Oceans of Fun.”
Marcy Merrill and her dog Heidi are skilled collectors too. Marcy has been making these gorgeous wet-plate collodion photographs, coating metal plates with silver nitrate and developing them in ether and grain alcohol. (“It’s for photography,” she explained to the liquor store clerk, of her Everclear purchase).
The exposure times for wet plates are long: ten or twenty seconds. Inanimate objects, still-lifes and dead things are a plus for subjects that can sit still. She recently found two dolphin skulls, spookily birdlike and distinctively stinking. You can buy special beetles on the internet that will step up the ol’ decomposition process, but what to do with them, once the gig is up? Layoffs ensue.
The tsunami in Japan produced a pile of debris twice the size of Texas, 2,000 miles long. It is making its way across the Pacific. Russian sailors have already spotted a boat marked “Fukushima”, a TV and a fridge.
There is a huge oasis of floating plastic in the middle of the ocean known as the Pacific Garbage Patch, where most of the tsunami debris is supposed to eventually wind up. (See photographer Chris Jordan’s beautiful and devastating photographs of the bodies of albatrosses on Midway Island full of lighters and bottle caps:
Some of the debris is going to Hawaii, and some is headed to the Washington coast, expected to arrive in 2013. Except that, as my neighbor Ray, avid beachcomber, can attest, it is already here.
The problem with collecting things is then people start collecting for you. For a time I collected Shake-Em-Ups, those plastic domes you shake and the snow flies around a little scene. People kept giving them to me, long after I was sick of them.
I never find any cool skulls or glass floats or messages in bottles. What I find are flip-flops, the Lost Soles, and what has happened is that Ray is now collecting them for me. He finds platform shoes and stillettos and waterlogged sneakers and those ugly slab-type flip-flops favored by men in jail. He is tireless. Every week there is a pile of new finds waiting on my table and I have to get out the drill and try and find some long screws.
A friend pointed out that it goes against the spirit of Lost Soles to screw them to the wall, instead of letting them fly around for all eternity, but they have proven to be rugged, attractive and durable siding.