Monday, April 24, 2017

COLUMN: Oak Island

Oh, joy. It seems I've finally caught that cold that everyone's been raving about.

On the plus side, I've been using this down time to make my way through some of the more ridiculous fare in my Tivo queue. You know, secret shame shows where psychics chase ghosts, nerds hunt Bigfoot, survivalists eat bugs, and aliens abduct people willy-nilly.

But my FAVORITE ridiculous reality show of late is the stuff dreams are made of: The History Channel's "Curse of Oak Island."

It's a documentary series, now concluding its fourth season, that follows the exploits of treasure hunters as they search through a small 140-acre island off the coast of Nova Scotia. If you buy into the legends of Oak Island, you can easily understand the lure.

The story goes like this: Back in the 1800s, a group of teenagers on the mainland spotted torch lights on then-uninhabited Oak Island. Curious about what they'd seen, the boys took a boat out to the island the next day, where it's said they discovered evidence of a dig site. The boys tried to dig up the site, and at ten feet, they found a layer of log planks. At twenty, another. This continued until the ninety-foot mark, when excavators found more log planks and a stone tablet with strange symbols carved in it.

Supposedly, when translated, the tablet read, "Forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried." But when the tablet was removed, the pit suddenly filled with water like some ancient Indiana Jones booby-trap. And that's just the tip of the Oak Island weirdness. There's also an oddly-shaped swamp that could be man-made, and all throughout the island, large boulders have been laid out in what seem to be geometric patterns. What it all means, no one knows -- but treasure hunters have spent centuries working on the mystery.

So what even IS this treasure? There's a new theory in every episode. It's the pirate booty of Captain Kidd. It's Spanish gold buried by pirates, or the Spanish, or the British. It's the lost jewels of Marie Antoinette. Some think it's where the Knights Templar buried the Holy Grail and/or the Ark of the Covenant. Some experts think there's clues in literature suggesting the island holds the lost works of Shakespeare. Basically, if you can dream it, it's surely buried on Oak Island.

And now it's a reality show. Every week, we see them digging, diving, and drilling their way to minimal results. This season, they've been boring holes near the original dig site and shoving a hammerclaw down arcade-style to see what they can grab. If you ask me, it's a rather carnal way of going about things. I'm just waiting for the claw to pull up one-fifth of the Ark of the Covenant or the last page of "Romeo & Juliet II: Capulet Hard With A Vengeance," now reduced to rubble by their slapdash drilling.

Instead, they pull up nothing. Well, NEXT to nothing, because they always find juuust enough to merit a future season of the show. This year, they've unearthed buttons, coins, and weird pieces of man-made metal at depths where no man-made metal should naturally be.

Is it cheesy? Sure. Is there a chance that there's nothing on Oak Island but shards of metal and broken dreams? Absolutely. But the kid in me loves it. I'd kill to have been one of those boys, staring out at sea watching torchlights where no people are supposed to be. It's "The Goonies" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "The Da Vinci Code" rolled up into one unassuming Canadian island. I'm all for it.

But this got me thinking. As science blossoms and our global village becomes even closer, what's to become of our tales of legends and treasure? Will future generations ever get the thrill of wondering if Bigfoot is real or buried treasure remains hidden? As our technology grows, our mysteries shrink. That's a bummer, because mysteries make life interesting. I don't know if I believe in ghosts or Bigfoot or legends, but I love the words "what if". Will our children's children ever know that joy?

I say we make sure they do. Here's my plan. Everybody send me $1. If a million of you contribute, we've got ourselves a treasure. Then we hide it for future generations to find. We could construct elaborate clues, maps, and cyphers. If we put our collective heads together, we could make better puzzles and booby traps than those boring old Knights Templar. A hundred years from now, our offspring could be tuning into the History Channel for a new episode of "The Curse of Shane Brown," and a whole new generation of treasure hunters could be poring over my old columns looking for clues. (Which reminds me: "XJ9. 7 degrees north to the square root of X.  U2's third album. Poop emoji. Miss Diana Ross." Clues or nonsense? Who's to say?)

Of course, if a million of you sent me $1 each, I'd have a million dollars -- and the only thing more fun than a treasure hunt is not having to hunt for it. Maybe the REAL treasure of Oak Island is simply giving us something to watch in-between nose blows when we're home sick.

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