A friend of mine* was at his favorite beach, enjoying the sun and the waves.
He had noticed for years that people dived for abalone just a little ways offshore, and seemed to have good luck on most days. Today was one of those days. A diver came out of the water and walked right by him, proudly carrying his day’s find.
“There’s nothing special about that guy,” my friend thought. “And it looks like fun.” He stood up right then and there, walked over to a nearby dive shop, bought the necessary gear, and headed back to the beach. Within a few minutes he was ready to go, and headed out into the water.
About an hour later, he came back to the beach a wet and discouraged man.
He was sure he had gone out to exactly where the most successful divers had always gone. He had dived straight down. There had been plenty of other marine life around, and the water had seemed ideal. Still, no abalone. Not a single one.
“Well,” he thought, “maybe the tide changed while I was buying my gear. Or maybe the sun got too high in the sky. Or maybe that earlier diver caught them all, the bastard!”
Just as he was convincing himself that it couldn’t possibly be his own fault. Another diver walked right by him, out into the water, and dived precisely where he had been, not ten minutes before. Soon, embarrassingly soon, the diver came back out of the water with plenty of abalone, more than the previous diver. He gave my friend a pleased smile as he strolled past.
As soon as the diver was out of sight, my friend dashed back out into the water, dived at the special spot, and began his search. He searched… …and searched. There wasn’t a single abalone to be seen.
When he got back to shore this time, he threw down his gear in disgust. What had gone wrong this time? Did he have to wait until the seagulls circled in a certain way? Did the waves have to be a certain height or the water a certain color?
While he stood there dissecting the possibilities, an old man — old, and impossibly wrinkled as only a sun-blessed Californian can be — hobbled by, entered the water, dived for no more than a couple of minutes, and returned to the beach with the largest sack full of abalone of any of the other divers.
As he passed, my friend pleaded to the old man, “How the heck did you find those abalone? I was just out there, minutes ago, and there wasn’t a single one to be seen. What am I doing wrong?”
The old man looked him carefully up and down. He absent-mindedly chewed and then spit out a piece of kelp. He took a deep breath.
“Son,” the old man said slowly, “I doubt you’re doing anything wrong. There’s just something you need to know about abalone.” He paused again, then said:
“Until you see your first abalone, they’re almost impossible to spot.”
“But once you see your first one, well, then you’ll start seein’ ‘em everywhere.”
My friend watched the old man amble out of sight.
He looked down at his gear, grabbed his mask and fins, and headed back into the waves.
About an hour later, he saw his first abalone. And sure enough, they were everywhere…
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
* I am indebted for this story to Skip Bowen, a wrinkleless Californian, who first related it to me. I have embellished it *so* much since then, that he bears no responsibility for any inaccuracies or silliness. And for the record, I have never seen an abalone.