Daytona Beach Moment

I had been sitting on the patio watching the ocean and the people -- one of the quiet joys of a beach-front room. Children toddled after birds. Cars drove up onto the beach. Surfers unloaded their boards, and headed into the water. A woman threw a net repeatedly into the froth collecting the ocean's precious debris. Riders went back and forth on low slung bikes, and the sanderlings hopped energetically along the water.

Not content to just observe, I headed down to the beach for a brisk walk, and found the modern-day treasure hunters trolling the beach, armed with headsets and metal detectors. One couple had been systematically swinging their detectors in slow arcs, lightly dragging their shovels along the sand and creating a grid pattern along one particular stretch of beach.

I had watched them from the patio, stopping intermittently to shovel up some sand, bend down and rub their find clean, peering closely before pocketing it. Finally I went down and introduced myself. Bill and his wife are serious seekers, and after 8 years of hunting they have it down pat, scoping out the beach, finding the right spots. They don't do it for the money. "We've kept everything we've found," says Bill, "except for the modern coins." They turn that into the bank. "The coins rust," Bill explains. And their equipment is not cheap -- $600 to 1200 per detector, and they own 6. Rather, the process of finding things not easily found gives them pleasure. They've found gold crosses, a ring with a white sapphire, even cell phones. But some days the haul is far more modest. Bill's finds so far that day were some coins and a toe ring.

I thanked him for his time, and continued along the beach among the birds. Suddenly they soared and wheeled around, flocking back towards the row of small hotels lining the beach. I turned and looked. A woman stood at the edge of the concrete, her gray hair blown by the wind, her hands outstretched tossing food into the air.

Further down at the county park the fountains were shooting water into the sky against a backdrop of brightly colored whales atop poles. The children were gone for the day, the adults sat on the benches in the quiet and leaned against the wall enjoying the sun.

In the distance I could see the old pier jutting into the ocean. The rumor is that a developer plans to rejuvenate the now defunct amusement park turning it into a kind of Santa Monica - East. The new Ocean Walk resort and shop complex is up there too, along with the beautiful old bandshell.

The sun had set, and it was time to turn back. I glanced around to make sure there are no cars, an odd feeling for someone used to car-less beaches, then set off at a brisk pace. "Slow down," I heard someone call out behind me. "It's my exercise," I replied as turn around with a smile. I found the source to be a slightly hunched gray-haired man whose face has somehow been physically distorted until his features were hard to discern. I slowed down to match his pace. "It's so beautiful here," he observed. I smiled again, it was indeed beautiful and peaceful. "If heaven is like this," he said, "I'm ready to go now."

I took a moment to consider that. A place beautiful and peaceful, perhaps that might be a part of heaven. Then, I wished him a good walk and resumed my pace. A few minutes later I was ready to turn into the walkway of my hotel. I looked back and saw that same man, walking with serious concentration. I waved at him, but I don't think he saw me, or heard me as I wished him well.

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Neala McCarten

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