I keep finding myself mentally shouting “There’s Treasure Everywhere!” It’s the title of a Calvin and Hobbes book, which like all Calvin and Hobbes, celebrates the explosive power of a child’s imagination. Calvin means it literally, as he digs holes in his backyard, and by Bill Watterson figuratively that the world is full of wonders to those with the power to see them. I’m in the middle.
I tend to walk down alleyways rather than streets whenever I can, keeping my eyes open to useful bits of junk, treasures of our urban landscape. I’ll pick up washers, bottle caps, interesting plastic bits. My minivan often plays host to salvaged furniture and cut off 2x4s to restock the lumber piles at reDiscover. I got inspired a few years ago by James Rojas, who does amazing work creating placemaking and civic engagement workshops using collected bits and bobs. His pockets are always bursting with found objects that feed into a collection that has all but taken over his house.
My kids have gotten into it, too. The older kids grab everything metal, screws, wire, lost pennies. I keep thinking our block will be picked clean then they spot another coupler or IKEA hex wrench. “Treasure! Treasure!” calls the two year old as he picks up a stick or rock and proudly brings it to me. We are teaching him to pick up dead leaves but not pick live ones, to leave the flowers where they are, to avoid the dog poop. Most everything else is fair game, though I quietly return decorative stones and gravel to its landscaped position.
Back home, we save some of it, recycle or toss some after a respectful interval, and incorporate other bits into ongoing projects. Knowing that it came from the street, we are all ready to let it go if it doesn’t end up being useful in our tinkering, and chalk up its journey into the trash as neighborhood beautification. The constant inflow of stuff is valuable to us tinkerers, giving constant prompts of “What is this? What could it become?” and raw material for any number of creations. As a parent, what I love best about our treasure hunting is that it never stops. My kids’ eyes are open to the possibility of finding something useful everywhere they look, every time we step out of the door. I get a little thrill knowing my toddler is growing up assuming the materials of our urban environment can be touched, respectfully manipulated, and treasured.