Emilie Springer: On buoyancy
After a holiday break, commentator Emilie Springer contemplates the greater meaning of floats, corks and buoys at the Pratt Museum.
Emilie Springer regularly brings us observations on people, places and things in Homer.
“Writing on this subject will never actually be finished: it’s just being printed at some point in time.”
January 5th, I was moved by an old Pratt Museum reference book, Beaching Combing for Glass Fishing Floats written in 1971 by Washington resident Amos Wood. I settled on “floats” for a lift into 2021. January 6th event and it’s a little more difficult to keep such casual commentary meaningful. But; the archives are there and words already composed…
Four shelves of floats. The metal of the cabinet creaks open and the top shelf is full of wood ovals—some weathered, natural tan with the paint worn off, horizontally the cork has a grain eyeball. Some red labeled A&P; probably Pacific North West cedar. There’s a thin hole in the center for a line to pass through and create the extended cork line. Other small wood corks are slightly crescent shaped with smaller holes drilled on each end to be tied to line; more work. Then time ripples spread: narrow, thin oval herring floats from mid-late century Kachemak Bay (some of these are wood also, some crusty plastic). True, old-school rectangles of soft cork that need box or line encasement to fasten to the net. Finally, some current synthetic plastic seine bulbs.
Below, is a shelf of green glass balls, a collectible favorite. The greenest of these (according to Wood) were hand-blown from a glass mix similar to Saki bottles and have more “bubbles” in the floats than the factory produced variety where there are seams at the circumference or a twisted seal at the pole from machine closure.
A few larger varieties are shelved above a cultural cabinet in the back of the basement. One is a simple rubber fishing buoy, similar to those used variously today: a tether, a bumper, an anchor marker, maybe a slow day swing. Another is bright orange, hard plastic for trawling. Heavy and shaped liked a basketball; Asian manufactured. Two more are deep green, spherical glass floats, each bound in the mesh of a natural-feeling (maybe hemp) fiber line. These are about 42” in circumference (including the mesh). One is clean and clear, even the fiber feels carefully washed, revived. The ball is darker. The second has more use, more mud and grime still marking the ball across the surface. According to Wood’s book, this size is about the largest for historic glass use. Back away at the cabinet, is a tiny brother ball, with a 7-inch circumference, one of the smallest.
I’m articulating floats for the sake of considering transition and launch; a device depending on what needs lift. A device that changed as the other gears changed. I started with motivation in glass; the Japanese floats, because they’re an exploration symbol on Alaskan coasts. Amos Wood began his book, “out there in the North Pacific right now riding the waves of the great Kuroshio Current are hundreds of thousands of desirable floats just waiting to be driven ashore somewhere along West Coast beaches.” He was referring specifically to glass but other treasures float in the leverage, rest and wait for the beach-hunter, too.
Treasures of nature: animals, crab carcasses, aged bones, a nine-inch mussel. Many examples are laid out in front of me on a rolling “Pratt Collections” table, a sea urchin or clam shell. And, they’re informative, a biological identity of place.
The remains washed up might be called debris by one person and a treasure by another. Wood says the same thing, “tastes differ: a monstrosity to one person might be an inspiration to another.” A remark I’m more hesitant to make today than when I quoted it. Writing on this subject is not finished.
Stack your corks. Remember the old ones or cast them; find them on a beach, store them or disregard in an aging pile. Hold a buoy, cradle the cedar, analyze wood lines, cracks and comfort, age. Consider the piers, what spines wait? What fades to fossils? Choices will be in our archives.
I saw a young man casually throwing salt from a blue fuel bucket on a public sidewalk on the 5th, Tuesday, to keep us from slipping, keeping us upright. Buoyant.
Let’s see how the year feels.