Legend has it that the Archipelago of Chiloé in southern Chile still hides some of the biggest pirate treasures of all time. The myriad deserted shores and maze of channels offer plenty of places for dropping off a stash of gold looted from the storied hoards of Incan Peru. Treasure islands, for sure.
Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, before the opening of the Panama Canal, sea traffic flourished up and down the coast of Chile—and so did Pirates of the Pacific. Chilean seaside towns were plundered time and again. The history of our current city of Coquimbo is rich with pirate lore. The tales of buried treasure sound romantic, and the local soccer club uses the pirate as their team’s mascot. But back in colonial days, those black flags struck terror and dread into every heart.
“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirates’ loot on Treasure Island.” –Walt Disney
They sailed here from around the world, mostly north from Cape Horn and the Magellan Strait and then south on the return voyage. First came Spain’s invincible armada and her commercial galleons, stalked by Dutch, French and English corsairs. A couple of centuries later, New England whaling vessels passed by. Then speedy clippers arrived to transport nitrates from the Atacama Desert back to Europe. Yankee frigates and brigantines carried Gold Rush emigrants to California and later more gold seekers to the Yukon.
And more importantly, they headed back home with full cargoes.
The Chiloé Islands lay mid-route, the last (or first) stop of semi-civilization and a perfect hideout if a ship were suspect, pursued, or simply desired to disappear for a time. Ah, the illusion of safety. For, especially on the wild western coast of the Big Island, the climate is severe, the winds harsh, and storms frequent and brutal. The Pacific shoreline stretches long and open and offers little refuge to weather-whipped crafts.
On the other hand, nearby rivers and lakes are lined with black stones and laden with dark mud due to the coffee-colored roots of the water-hugging tepuales (forests of tepa trees). Stories abound of treasure caches deposited in the island waters. Some say gold ingots were trekked inland on donkeys. Some conjecture that other precious cargo had to be abandoned, temporarily. Naturally, its owner intended to return to recover it ASAP.
“Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” –Matthew 6:20-21, NASB
Gold, the planet’s most sought-after mineral since ancient times. It’s corrosion-resistant, malleable, and valuable because of its scarcity, so we suppose. However, some years ago, our family had occasional long layovers at El Dorado airport in Bogotá, Colombia. In the gate tunnels there, posters advertising the city’s Gold Museum informed us that there is enough gold in the oceans of the world to make every person on earth a multi-millionaire.
Good luck getting it, of course. The monumental task of extracting gold from vast tons of seawater has proven not very cost-effective. Locating and raising gold-laden shipwrecks from the ocean floor presents another elusive road to El Dorado.
In my book Destiny at Dolphin Bay, the villain Juan Bórquez distracts the islanders from his clandestine offloading of abalone with distant bonfires that magically signify the site of buried treasure to the deluded crowd. More gullible than greedy, they dream, like the locos del oro (“gold fools”), that someday when you least expect, poverty may transform into opulent wealth…
Today we’d buy a lottery ticket… Good luck banking and hanging onto that, too.
Shiny New Toys
Confession: I have a bit of an obsession with treasure hunting myself. No, I’m not interested in gold coins, silver spoons, or diamond necklaces. (Well, sure, I am, but you know…that’s not my point here.) Rochelle Melander in her book on creative productivity, Level Up!, diagnoses my problem on-the-nose as Shiny New Object syndrome.
SNO syndrome basically shows up in the distractions that lead to loss of traction in my work. I’m writing a book, deep in edits of another, and get hit with brilliant ideas for ten more. I’m trying to pray and instead start planning next year’s Bible study. While studying or researching, I’m suddenly making a Christmas to-do list. Or checking my email or phone or a price on Amazon. And…what’s that noise outside?
You think I have a lack of focus?
And yikes, I’ve got only sixteen years left before I reach my biblical fourscore years (Ps. 90). Maybe not even that, right? And maybe more, God willing. But you see, I have a LOT to do before the hourglass runs out. I need to learn to ask for help and to just jot the brainstorms down before they fade and get on with what I’m really supposed to be doing.
Because, as the old adage says, all that glitters isn’t gold. And the real treasure doesn’t necessarily twinkle at me.
What is my purpose NOW? What is the most significant thing God wants me to invest my time and energy in at this moment? Where should I put my attention? These are important questions that Shiny New Object syndrome keeps me from focusing on.
Where Your Treasure Is
That said, some detours are God calling you and me to greater treasure. After all, “in (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3, NASB). Sometimes you just have to stop chasing your own tail and seeking your own treasures and pleasures and LISTEN. I did.
The seed thought sprouted in my mind while tuning into an online workshop at the Kingdom Writers Conference back in May. God wanted me to compile some of my Seaglass Blog posts on the subject of Chiloé into a single book. I’ve loved sharing about the island setting of my story world with readers, and this would give me a chance to expand and reflect further.
This was NOT the project I planned for this year. But I believe it’s the one God purposed for me. Return to Chiloé: Treasure from the Island will hopefully be launched and available sometime in January. I’ll keep you all posted. Let’s travel back to the Island together. Bring your pail and shovel.
God has also been speaking to me about praying more for my countries and for the next generation. I’ll admit I’ve been slow to respond. We’re talking about spiritual warfare and hard work here, not SNOs! I’m really more like the young visitor who accused our 90-year-old missionary of never getting much done because he spent all his time in prayer.
“This world’s shine grows dim beside You,” says a worship song we sing here in Chile. The sparkle of our lives is either a mirage—a shimmering fool’s-gold illusion—or it’s the real treasure. Many things that seem so bright and shiny have no worth, no meaning at all, apart from Jesus.
There Your Heart Is
What’s YOUR purpose today? What’s the purpose of burying treasure? I suppose the thief, pirate, captain, or otherwise-legitimate discoverer of such a prize hopes eventually to retrace his steps and regain his spectacular fortune.
But if half the tales are even half true, a return to the Treasure Island doesn’t happen often. The loot could lie and molder for centuries, of no use to anyone. How much better to pass our riches on or send them ahead to eternity.
“Time is redeemed on earth and treasures are accumulated in heaven whenever we as Christians do things on earth whose effects extend all the way out to eternity.” –Douglas McLachlan
Most modern islanders say you’re far more likely to find the “white gold” of Chiloé—abalone—hidden in caves near the cliffs and reefs than any cache of buried treasure. If it was a good season for locos (“fools and crazies” is also the word for abalone), then it’ll be stockpiled in secret for selling later. Hmm, reminiscent of Destiny at Dolphin Bay.
The treasure isn’t always what you think. It probably won’t be what’s trending. Not fashions and gadgets, breaking news, or the viral video of the day. You might find it, though, in memories, music, books, friendships, children. A smile? Not expensive, but priceless.
So don’t get distracted by peripherals, those SNOs. Focus on the true treasures—and better stockpile them in heaven.