This morning as I was walking Faulkner, a white rock caught my eye, embedded where it was in the red clay beside the road. There were lots of other white rocks around it, but this one needed a closer look. Faulkner was pulling on the leash, but I stooped down and extracted this nearly whole artifact from its resting place.
A wave of childhood excitement went through me. More than 30 years ago, lazy summer days were often spent searching the plowed fields after rain for these ancient clues to previous civilizations. We called them arrowheads, or spearheads if they were bigger, but I think some generally more appropriate terms are used now (points?…not sure). My younger brothers and I became skilled at finding them, quickly recognizing important contour details even if only a small part was exposed. A bit of competition developed between us about it. I remember requiring them to distance themselves from me because I could simultaneously search three rows while going at a brisk pace; I didn’t want them finding any arrowheads in my rows.
Years later, while enjoying family vacations at Edisto Beach and other coastal locations, another treasure hunt of sorts developed as we started to find sharks’ teeth. Of course, this too became a game to see who could find the most and biggest. While finding the teeth easily, I kept noticing a familiar sensation. I soon realized that the same recognition skills that applied to finding arrowheads were remanifesting themselves in the hunt for fossilized sharks’ teeth. Places in my brain that had been rather unstimulated for years were suddenly functioning quite readily.
This might seem like an obvious and rather unremarkable connection. After all, both items in question are basically triangular. Surprisingly, though, the peremeter shape of the objects is not the primary usefulness in detecting either one. There are plenty of rocks whose basic shape is triangular, but the first glance from an arrowhead hunter is enough to dismiss them. And there are very many shell fragments scattered between the surf and the dune line that are both the right shape and size of sharks’ teeth. Again, most of them never need to be picked up to determine their nature. Something else is crucial: they both share the same type of cross section.
Looking directly at the sharp end, you see the shallow opposite convex bulges, providing thickness to the “flat” sides of tooth or arrowhead. It is this signature shape that the prepared human eye notices among the fields of debris, even when not viewed end-on or edge-on. Such a surface obviously does something different with light than flat or concave or even round pieces do, and that difference defines excitement in the find.
Lately, riding down the road, my attention is regularly diverted, involuntarily, to other vehicles, sometimes five or six lanes away…vehicles on whose roofs are strapped kayaks. And I’ve sensed an odd familiarity about this diversion, like it’s been going on longer than it has. Whether they are some of the ubiquitous Perception models, or a rare appearance of a Boreal Design or Seda boat, the feeling is there, familiar and pleasing.
That arrowhead I found this morning told the reason why: The dirt-stained undersurface and the rain-washed upper side, the hull and deck of ancient ammunition, holding in balance the point and edge, ready to pierce prey or enemy. You ever look at a kayak directly head on? That’s the shape!…holding in balance where the paddler is and where the paddler wants to be, ready to pierce boredom, or bureaucracy, or flabbiness, or overcrowding, or finish line.