Life is our treasure hunt

(Jim Abrams photo)

While attending grade school, my mother enrolled me in a program that required a kid to read a couple of books during their summer break from school. One that I chose from the library’s list was “Treasure Island” by Robert Louis Stevenson. That swashbuckling tail of peg-legged pirates and buried treasure certainly captivated my young mind and left me wondering if there were still treasures waiting to be found.

“Treasure Island” led me to other books that spoke of hidden plunder. Besides pirates, there were Native American legends, a Lost Dutchman in Arizona, caches of southern gold and even precious jewels described in the treasure-hunt-inspiring, 1982 book “The Secret” by Byron Preiss. There were stories of people who gave up families and jobs to look for those special fortunes and dreams in the hopes of uncovering the riches that would change their lives. While I enjoyed the stories, I wasn’t ready to grab a shovel and join the list of searchers.

The other book, which I got to choose myself, was written by outdoor writer Robert Ruark, “The Old Man and the Boy.” Published in 1953, I’d seen it reviewed in some of my dad’s old Outdoor Life magazines that I’d hoarded away.

The book explores the adventures of a man and his grandson as the boy learns about hunting, fishing and growing up in the haunts of rural North Carolina. Ruark’s words paint those times with a Rockwellian flair, with the soothing touch of rural wisdom that remains valuable today.

I was about 12 or 13 when I read those books, and I had no idea that in less than a year I would be left on my own to figure out the backwoods and creeks — or that my dad’s old fishing tackle would become some of my most valuable possessions.

Ruark’s old man’s teachings were still alive in the book, and I soon found myself revisiting it, maybe looking for a treasure map to a future that seemed pretty jumbled.

At the time, I didn’t have much in the way of disposable income — what 14-year-old boy does? The old reels and rods saw a lot of hard work, much of it not aging well in my adolescent hands. Eventually, most of it was lost to either time, my own rough-handling or carelessness. Even so, I had a lot of fun catching fish and using the gear the way I’d been taught.

Soon, there was college, then jobs, several relocations, new homes and new friends. Belongings were boxed for moves then unpacked, used for a while then re-boxed for another of life’s destinations. Somehow, some things always seemed to be lost during these moves, a book, an old fishing rod … a friend. I suppose that’s how life is meant to work.

It’s funny how quickly 40 years can evaporate … just like Ruark’s old man warned, “Time just seems to fly away for a boy. That, I s’pose, is why one day you wake up suddenly and you ain’t a boy any longer.”

I’ve since built a bit of a “man cave” for my hobbies and to serve as a quiet area where most of these stories are written. In doing so, I began breaking out some old boxes in the garage.

One, tucked away in the recesses of a top shelf, ebbed my curiosity. Packaged by professional movers back in 1983, a label read “miscellaneous garage.”

I was expecting to find various screws and nails and, with luck, maybe the hammer-stapler that I’d misplaced years before. That would’ve certainly been a nice find in that old box, and it sure would’ve helped getting the insulation up a little quicker.

Armed with a Buck knife instead of a shovel, I unexpectedly felt less like me and more like Jim Hawkins, the young protagonist of “Treasure Island.”

I opened the box to find that I had discovered buried treasure. While it wasn’t the stapler, what I did find was far more important. A single Heddon River Runt lure in its original box and a Waltco fishing reel, both from the 1950s. The latter had been a gift from my mother to my father before I was even old enough to tag along on a fishing trip. The fishing lure was one that I’d once climbed a tree to retrieve.

I sat down in the garage and began to slowly examine the old angling gear. As I write this, all I need to do is glance to my left and there they are, sitting on a shelf.

When I look at them, I see rough hands demonstrating how to tie a clinch knot or setting the bail on the spinning reel. I can still hear the cautionary, “Don’t cast so hard you miss the water.” Memories of another time, of an old man teaching a boy and of the boy getting older — it’s amazing how right that all now feels. When I look at them, it’s like getting that pat on the back we all yearned for in our youth and forever miss.

I’m now struck by the certainty that some things do not need to be valuable to be priceless and not all treasures are buried jewels or gold or forever lost and that sometimes the things we can hold in our hands can be magically connected to our hearts.

It took me a while to figure out, but now I know. Life is our treasure hunt — and every day is the treasure.

“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

— Oscar Wilde

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Jim Abrams was raised in rural Columbiana County, earning a wildlife management degree from Hocking College. He spent nearly 36 years with the Department of Natural Resources, most of which was as a wildlife officer. He enjoys hunting, fly fishing, training his dogs, managing his property for wildlife and spending time with his wife Colleen. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via e-mail at



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