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Kirby: The secret to finding really cool stuff

Published October 17, 2012 9:04 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Last week, an 8-year-old boy walking along a beach in England picked up a $60,000 piece of whale barf.

Note: "Whale barf" is not the technical or Latin name for the substance regurgitated by whales. That would be "Mobyus yakus." Ask a marine biologist.

As reported in the Bournemouth Echo, what Charlie Naysmith actually found was a large chunk of ambergris, a large waxy substance that is "spewed out by whales" and then hardens as it floats.

Ambergris enable sperm whales to digest pointy things such as squid beaks, sailing ships, rowboats, oars and the occasional sailor with a peg leg.

Another note: There is some debate over exactly which end of a whale the ambergris comes out of, but either way it's highly prized as a fixative in perfume.

Yeah. Bet you didn't know that dab of Chanel Chance Eau Tendre you dabbed behind your ears Friday night started out in a whale's colon.

Back to the real story — specifically that of finding really cool stuff while just wandering around minding one's own business.

I'm not talking about finding something you were actually looking for in the first place. Any fool can do that. Nope. I'm talking the art of recognizing valuable things amongst all the trash and junk.

As a small-time finder myself, I've come across some interesting things that jumped out at me from the background.

For example, a small gray pebble on the Stone's River Battlefield in Tennessee turned out to be at 58-caliber Minie ball.

A bit of green paper on a littered beach in Washington state ended up being a water-logged but still spendable $100 bill.

An old piece of pipe I was thinking about kicking turned out to be, on closure inspection, an old but live 81mm mortar round. This one was my most valuable find.

Meanwhile, back when I was a cop, a pile of old rags in the desert turned out to be a dead guy. Twice in two days.

Your brain has to be in subconscious finder mode before you'll stop and give something a second (and potentially rewarding) look.

Strolling along absently humming a brainless commercial jingle, your finder mode alert suddenly kicks off. Let's try it in real time:

You: "Dum-dee-dum-du-."

Your brain: "AH-OOOGA! Bottle cap. Looked a bit like a gold doubloon!"

As impressive as it may seem, I'm not all that wowed by Naysmith's strange find. I've spent way too much time with Sonny. He finds everything. The guy is in finder mode nonstop.

And we're not just walking around when he does it. He finds this stuff while driving.

I can't count the number of times I've been sound asleep in the middle of nowhere only to be jerked awake by the squeal of brakes.

Me: "Is it Bigfoot!"

Him: "No, that penny we just ran over. Looked like a 1913 S Wheat."

The thing that makes me crazy is how often he's right.

I have seen him find a purse, a pistol, assorted snakes, a switchblade, illegal drugs, arrowheads, an engagement ring, a cannonball, countless tools, a Brazilian passport, an unopened bottle of tequila and two lost dogs — all at speeds well in excess of the posted limit.

If a bit of expensive whale vomit was actually there, I'm betting Sonny could spot it in a freeway median while passing by at 75 mph. At night. In the rain. That's some serious talent.

Ambergris washed in from the sea is nothing. In 1958, the U.S. military lost a hydrogen bomb off the coast of Georgia. They still can't find it.

Give Sonny and me a Ford F-150 (red) submarine. I figure an hour tops, but only because it'll take me that long to fall asleep first.

rkirby@sltrib.com