Buying Happiness

The Earth is constantly putting on a show for us

by David Dentinger

speargun gripped loosely in my hand, my thumb on the safety. Through cheap tempered glass my eyes scan for prey; stalking yellowtail; soaring bonito; and surly calico bass. Staring out into the blue oblivion, catching the distant fins and bodies of halfmoon glimmering — I am torn between two powerful emotions. That hopeful anticipation of a fish worth firing on, and that creeping, Spielbergian dread that something ancient and cartilaginous is out there hunting me.

After a time, I sweep back toward the rocks, hoping to employ my subsurface ninjitsu on some fat foolish kelp bass. Rounding an algae-covered boulder, I nearly drop my gun in surprise as a green sea turtle the size of a steering wheel raises its head up out of the eel grass and blinks at me. I look around quickly, hoping to share this rare reptile with one of my fellow sea hunters, but no one else is around, this moment is mine alone. I swim a little closer, but the turtle is having none of it and zips off into the deep, leaving me breathless in its wake.

 

For five years I have worked and played in the waters of Catalina, and this encounter a few weeks past was the first time I met a sea turtle.

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rrow Point shoots off the West End of Catalina Island, piercing the clear blue water as gnarled rocky cliffs drop swiftly into the waves. I swim through the rolling water, my long fins waggling,

The warm currents of El Niño have carried all manner of unique visitors into the waters of Southern California. This month a sea snake washed up in Ventura County, making international headlines. In our cove we’ve been seeing triggerfish, yellowtail jacks, new tropical sea chubs, and a strange brilliant blue damselfish. We were too excited about the novelty to grant the local natural history museum’s request that we shoot and freeze any unusual specimens before sending them over. Two-spotted octopuses, normally shy and stealthy, have been bold and brazen in the warm water, crawling in the open and allowing my friends and I to cradle them in our hands.

 

Even with all of this extraordinary biodiversity occurring at my fingertips, under normal circumstances, I would have missed that turtle. My natural tendency is to mix a voluptuous island cocktail, stick an umbrella in the sand or the drink, and truly embrace my inner beach bum. The seductive sip of rum-tinged fruit juice in a frosty glass under the hot California sun with the wind in my hair and the surf in my ears is a siren’s call to naps on the beach instead of adventures in the sea. This season though, I had a front row seat for all of the action, a reason to leap at every chance to get saltily wet. This drive — this need to be in the ocean -revolves around my brand new 110 centimeter Rob Allen Railgun.

review after another. But with thousands of dollars burning a hole in my checking account from a summer guiding tours in Ketchikan, Alaska, I splurged and bought myself this big, ridiculous toy. I’ll admit, she’s a bit more gun than I really need for my skill level and the fish I’m targeting, but just as Excalibur propelled Arthur to greater heights than he could have imagined, so my gun has for me. It gives me a reason to dive and swim, deeper and further than ever before. The pursuit of a nice roll of yellowtail sushi or a crispy fried Calico drives me into depths I would never normally have plumbed, and along the way, I’ve stumbled upon silent wonders.

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he’s beautiful, my speargun, black and blue and lethal. I haven’t come up with a name for her yet, but I do love her. She didn’t come cheap. I hemmed and hawed for months, reading one

We Seasonals all have necessary moments of defeat: bumming showers from friends with houses, eating s’mores for lunch, and avoiding laundry to the point of staph infection. But soon the burden of all that extra cash in a checking account becomes too much. Instead of sticking it in the prudent, boring mutual fund some amateur financial advisor recommends, go out and purchase something ridiculous. And glorious.

 

A fistful of dollars can conjure all kinds of crap to your doorstep these days, shipped free in 48 hours by Amazonian box-warriors. Gifts you give because you have to; some gadget or gizmo you compared against ten other nigh-identical versions, all slapped together in the same Chinese factory and sent sailing over the mighty Pacific. Wrapped in sterile little packages designed to be shredded open and discarded, probably just a few months before their contents. So much of it is trash even before it ends up in a landfill, feeding our consuming hunger but not our souls. Other items stay with us for years, drawing us in like moths to a flame. Computers rigged for rainy nights in grimy Gotham or smart TVs bursting with high-quality Netflix productions, glossy phones and tablets that promise to make us ever more connected and attuned with the world around us. These are even worse than the trash, for they betray their users, leaving them engaged not with the world, but with the depths of a screen.

"So much of it is trash even before it ends up in a landfill, feeding our consuming hunger but not our souls."

 

And then there are the toys. The purchases that make people shake their heads and smile chidingly. “I can’t believe he bought that!” they’ll say, staggered by the impracticality and self-indulgence. The word applies because when a child plays with a toy, he or she isn’t just wasting time, or seeking an escape from the world because it’s hard or boring. A child plays to learn, to create spiraling narratives and understand their lives unfolding around them. A true toy is one that bestows experience upon its wielder. Adults have toys too, ours are just more expensive. They take many shapes; spearguns; canoes and kayaks; a bicycle; a nice pair of running shoes; a wetsuit and dive gear; a sailboat; a fishing rod; a pair of binoculars; a set of axes; a nice chessboard; the list could go on forever. Each of these can require a significant investment, and each of them can pay out dividends in the form of memories, experience, and real personal connection.

 

When I finally worked up the nerve to pay for my huge impractical speargun, what I really bought were priceless ocean experiences. One day while spearfishing, a harbor seal swam directly underneath me to check me out. I looked down 20 feet into those big, dark eyes, and for some reason I decided to wave at the creature. To my surprise, it made a beeline up to me, no more than 2 feet from where I was swimming at the surface. Being the idiot that I am, I reached out to pet this wild harbor seal, and miraculously the damn thing just swam next to me and let me scratch its back for a full minute. I may spend the rest of my life diving and snorkeling and never give a wild seal a back scratch again, every time I think about that moment I crack a smile.

hese “priceless” moments can actually be purchased. Money can buy happiness.You can do it. Right now if you’d like. Fire up your browser and buy something ridiculous. No, not a laptop, not a 

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car, not a new outfit…. Buy gear. A kayak to paddle across hundreds of miles; a scuba certification to dive for a lifetime; a pair of skis to soar from cliffs; a solid pair of hiking boots to witness dreamy sunrises or triumph over mountaintops. What my speargun taught me is that consumerism is simply less powerful than the ocean. One hundred million dollars of marketing cannot compete with harbor seals and sea turtles. My desire to sit on a beach and drink, or under a warm blanket with Netflix is conquered by the call of the deep.

 

The Earth is constantly putting on a show for us, and the ticket price is nothing more or less than our will to go out and wait for those climaxes, the breaching whale; the swooping falcon; the timid turtle. While there are certainly some of us who can tap into their inner John Muir and simply leap into the wild at every opportunity, for me it helps to have a reason to go out there. A fish to hunt, a photo to snap, a sport to master that amplifies the call into the wild. We seasonals have a tendency to work hard and save a lot. When we reach those final days of the season — when we want to buy something crazy — let us look for those toys that hold the promise of adventure.

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