Particularly during wintertime, I used to sleep with my head at the foot of my bed, up in the second story of our house on Route 322. From that position I could look out the window and watch as squat coal trucks lit in amber lights lumbered through the winter darkness up and down the Clarion River hill. Come from where, I didn’t know. Going to where, I didn’t know. My head brimming with stories from the pens of Jack London and Robert Louis Stevenson, those trucks took on the form of ships ferrying their loads to far off lands. Their engine brakes, abrupt and astonishingly loud, undoubtedly bothered most people. I had heard my parents complain about them. But I loved their deep-throated staccato in the way, later in life, I would love the sound of a navy ship announcing with long, loud blasts its departure from the docks, its embarkation upon the open sea.
Against the backdrop of coal trucks as schooners, Japanese glass fishing floats came into my life more as a concept than as a discrete “thing.” The summer I turned nine, my parents gathered us up and took us to Oregon for well over a month. While my mother attended graduate school classes, we stayed in a small apartment close enough to the coast that it was maddeningly tantalizing, far enough inland that I got only a few looks at the rocky-shouldered Pacific. And so that ocean grew in my mind as things not realized often do, as did its salmon and fishing boats and the quiet, mysterious, romantic coastal towns. The glass floats were part of that. Carefully arranged as decorative items in restaurants, casually gathering dust in the corners of motel lobbies and antique shops, for sale among the bric-a-brac in souvenir shops, these imperfectly bubbled spheres of aqua blues and marine greens were captivating enough in their own right. But the idea… that they had broken free from nets thousands of miles distance and ridden a great, cold, arcing current for perhaps decades before reaching the beaches of the Pacific Northwest, and that the ones out there in the ocean now are the last of them, having been replaced by plastic, was beyond cool. It was compelling.
I dreamed of finding one. Many years later I purchased a couple to display and admire in my home. But it’s not the same as actually discovering one of your own delivered to some windswept swath of sand after a sea storm. A friend even gave me some he’d found on a beach up in Alaska. The gesture was appreciated, but…
The day after my 59th birthday, Barbra and I were having breakfast on a drift log on a beach in northern Hokkaido. We were watching a few shore anglers casting for Cherry Salmon near the mouth of a small river. As we did, Barbra’s eyes wandered down the beach.
And there it was.
I wasn’t quite as jealous as I thought I’d be. After all, at least one of us had found one. While I was trying to reconcile myself to “our” float, it occurred to me that where there was one, there might be another. I lifted up the binoculars which we’d brought along to watch the fisherman, and then without saying anything I handed them to Barbra and ran down the beach.
And that’s how we came to find not one but two Japanese glass fishing floats on the day after my 59th birthday.