Good morning and greetings, Labor Day fans. Yes, there’s nothing like a three-day weekend to help keep my Dixie cup half-filled with that much needed positive perspective.
Having three days off from the regular work routine gives one time to relax and do things like working in the garden, going for walks on the beach, or gathering the kids around the TV to watch the “Law and Order SVU” marathon on USA network. Nothing like 13 hours of watching Detectives Stabler and Benson trying to solve crimes ripped from the headlines to bring a family together. And for you trivia nuts keeping score at home, Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson, is the daughter of Jayne Mansfield, who was known as the “Working Man’s Marilyn Monroe.”
But I digress. I love to stroll along the sand, as I am a semi-avid shell collector, being that at this stage of my life, I’m just a shell of my former self. I love to see what the ocean washes up along shoreline, whether it be shells, sea glass, or oil blotches from a Chevron tanker. Or as the sticker says, “I love poetry, long walks on the beach and poking dead things with a stick.” Which begs the question, “What if the hokey pokey is what it’s all about?”
Well, last week, on the southern coast of England, 8-year-old Charlie Naysmith was taking a nature walk along the beach with this parents when he came upon a yellowish-brownish rock. As it turns out, this wasn’t just any old rock, but a solidified piece of whale vomit called ambergris, which is a very expensive perfume ingredient that prolongs the scent. In the words of C. Joybell C., “You are never fully dressed without perfume!”
Well, young Charles in Charge started to do some research, and after consulting with the It’s My Lucky Day Institute, it was determined that this whale of a find could be worth somewhere between $15,850 and $63,350. Holy Moby Dick. And I thought I was lucky when I spotted up a quarter on the ground at a gas station last week.
Our friend Ambergris is formed in the intestinal tract of sperm whales and often vomited or secreted into the ocean. It’s a waxy, bile-lile substance that’s as soft as a baby’s bottom, and when fresh has an aroma similar to a bad batch of sweet and pungent shrimp. It’s use is to help navigate the travel of material such as squid beaks and tiger prawns through a whale’s digestive tract, but what do I know, I’m no stool pigeon. This rock of ages had probably been floating in the ocean since the early days of the Beatles, just bobbing along and trying to avoid getting caught up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
The scent of ambergris, not to be confused with Al Pacino in “Scent of a Woman,” is what makes it so damn valuable. It has been used as incense, peppermints, the color of thyme, fragrance, flavoring, remedies and as an aphrodisiac, going back to ancient Egypt, China and the set of “Free Willy.”
Today, many perfume makers have switched to synthetic versions of ambergris because of it’s association with whaling and the sperm whale, which much like elderly children, pregnant women and Warrior fans, is a vulnerable species. It was banned from use in the U.S. in the 1970′s, along with my idea for a clothing line featuring asbestos shorts and t-shirts.
The ancient Chinese called the substance “dragon’s spittle fragrance” or moo goo gai pan. Ambergris is used in Egypt today for scenting cigarettes and adding a fresh, clean fragrance to counteract the smell of camels double parked in Tahrir Square.
It was punk rocker Iggy Pop who once declared,” I never believed that U2 wanted to save the whales. I don’t believe the Beastie Boys are ready to lay it down for Tibet.” Bottom line, who knew that something whales pooped could be so valuable? We’ll end with this thought. If swimming is such a good way to stay in shape, explain whales?
For this week’s photo array, we are going back to August and featuring the only sunset I subscribed to this summer. The date was August 17 and the clouds looked like they were going to put on a little show that night, so I grabbed my camera and a nectarine and headed up the coast to Davenport.
The aerial display didn’t turn out to be as colorful as I had hoped, but the cormorants keep flying up and landing in the Monterey Cypress tree that lined the cliff. There this group of sleek sea birds spent their time fighting and squawking while the sky performed its final act of the day. It was a great way to watch the curtain go down.
For more great Santa Cruz photos, check SunriseSantaCruz.com