I fear one day my son will be a middle-aged man trolling beaches and parking lots with his long-armed metal detector, certain that just below the surface lies the shiny nail of his dreams.
His shoulders will sag under the heft of buckets and bags plump with special rocks, springy coils of fishing line and broken glass in an L.L. Bean array of colors.
At four, Col (rhymes with soul) eschews the shady park stacked with buddies to prowl the adjacent, parking-lot wasteland.
It's like he can smell rusting metal and sharp shards of broken plastic. Bits of frayed rope, smashed bottlecaps and stinking black rubber cleaved from a car tire beckon, and my son heeds the call.
Col returns bearing five roofing screws, shiny as his once-newborn head. That night he slips each screw into a plastic bag and clutches his prizes through a sultry, summer sleep.
Col's father also finds great meaning in things, his treasures equally unusual. After seven years of matrimony, I may not have a wedding ring, but my true love gave to me several elk ivories (elk teeth), a brain-tanned buckskin (in our very backyard!) and a gorgeous hand-built greenhouse.
Dan's workshop is a museum of dusty antlers, hand-crafted hunting bows, wooden animal carvings, feathers and forest-floor flotsam, each and every one a totem imbued with potent meaning and memories.
Rosie and I, we're people people; it's the relationships that count. Even at 2, I can sense the mountains of grief Rose will experience due to this particular affinity.
But Col? He reassures me cheerily after his two friends "fighted him" and blood was drawn: "We enjoyed a good fight, Mama!"
It's all harmless until Col sneaks heinously stinky crab claws into the car after a California beach foray, then wails for an hour after said appendages strangely disappear. Ditto cigarette butts and used Band-aids. Diving through our own trash poses problems: Suspicions are rising about myriad art projects that keep "slipping" in there.
I should relish, however, the opportunity to practice great patience when Col hops off his bike every three minutes under scorching sun because he spotted another "really cool" paper cup from Taco Bell.
Col's attachments are fleeting as rainbows. If an alluring mustard lid won't fit in his already-loaded pockets, he'll pass the rusted tent stake and perfume bottle to his grateful sister to make room.
A dead grasshopper can travel the 4-year-old circuit with Col for a day, unraveling ribbons of questions such as, "Do grasshoppers have bones?" or, "Will this grasshopper wake up?" When the beloved hopper is forgotten on the shores of Junction Creek, no problem: Col's hands and heart are now free for a new treasure.
I suppose I could be grateful that Col's and Dan's appreciation of inanimate objects rarely requires the unfolding of a wallet. For now, we'll be roaming forests, parking lots and the fruitful edges of Dumpsters.
Rachel Turiel hopes today's cache of rusty nails knows no tetanus. Her column runs the first and third Sunday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.