In Search of Monkeyshine

I’d never heard of Monkeyshine before that day. I don’t even think I knew that it was the Lunar New Year. But a text message from my girlfriend’s father got me interested. “Look up Monkeyshine Tacoma,” he said. Within 15 minutes I was out the door; on a modern-day hunt for buried treasure.

Monkeyshines is a wonderful and peculiar event in Tacoma. It started in 2003 and is organized by the mysterious Miss Monkey. One day a year, after months of behind-the-scenes work, thousands of hand-blown glass floats and medallions are strategically hidden throughout the city on the eve of the Lunar New Year for residents to find. Each unique piece is stamped with an emblem displaying the Zodiac animal symbol of the coming year. People hit the streets as early as 4 a.m. to comb through trees, bushes, and local landmarks in search of elusive Monkeyshine – because if you’re lucky enough to find one, you get to keep it.

The game was afoot.

As a newbie Shiner, the odds were stacked against me. I started five hours later than the hardcore scavengers, but I was determined. Online buzz suggested that the Proctor District, University of Puget Sound, and the median strip along the center of Union Avenue were all emptied of glass prizes.

I needed a win. I was frustrated at work and felt a cold coming on. It was the tail end of a terrible week and part of me wanted to give up and go back to bed. But something else had stirred deep within me — a hunter’s instinct, a shot of raw adrenaline. It seemed that the whole dismal week could be redeemed by a few ounces of glass.

So, I headed away from the popular areas. Instead, I struck out north, to nondescript Jane Clark Park in Tacoma’s North End. I was not alone. Another Monkeyshiner was prowling the perimeter. After a few tense seconds, she headed in one direction and I took the other, splitting the park in twain. My canvas shoes were quickly soaked in the dew that clung to the grass. I came up empty-handed.

I headed east, making for Puget Park as a light drizzle began to fall. Families were gathered around the playground nestled between a bridge and a wooded trail leading into a deep, mossy ravine. If there was any Monkeyshine hidden there, it was long gone. At that point, I had been at it for a couple of hours and I was starting to think I was too late, that all the glass art was found. A small team of fellow seekers arrived soon after me, armed with walkie-talkies, a detailed search plan, and military precision.

I retreated to the nearby business district — little more than a barbershop, a dive bar and a garden supply store. The sidewalks were lined with planters. If I couldn’t find something shiny there, I was ready to call it quits and head home. I had articles to write and bills to pay.

Again, I came up empty.

I headed back to my car, defeated, when a glint of light caught my eye. Something gleamed in the shadow of leaves under a potted shrub. I pushed back a branch and there it was, a beautiful glass medallion four inches across, embedded with swirling tendrils of vibrant orange and red. A running horse was stamped on its face.

For the first time all week, I felt alive. I’d found a one-of-a-kind piece of local art and it was mine to keep. It was incredible. I couldn’t have been happier if I’d stumbled across the Holy Grail itself. In that moment of discovery and joy, I felt connected to the artist and to the city of Tacoma in a real, tangible way. All the stress of the week dissolved away as I safely tucked my prize into the pocket of my damp pea coat.

That’s the power of art. It binds us together and serves as a lens through which we can see the world in a radically new way. Next year, I’ll be out early, flashlight in hand, searching for another treasure. Once you’ve found a piece of Monkeyshine, you’re addicted. As long as there are artists to make and hide these beautiful keepsakes, I’ll be hunting for them.

— 30 —

Jonny Eberle is a first-time Monkeyshiner, newly-minted Tacoman and writer of many words. Special thanks to Exit133, Post Defiance and Roxanne Cooke for providing background on the event. You can follow my quest for meaning and shiny things on Twitter. Thanks for reading!

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