The Pearl


Well-known member
Jun 11, 2007
Hi everyone,
The following is last week's blog post about A Pearl that I still think about, 20 years later. I just posted part two on my blog if anyone is interested. Thanks all! :D

"Are you sure?? This seemed crazy to me. I searched Julien?s green eyes for any sign of him kidding around. His sun blackened face was typically animated by a faint mischievous smile, infused with good nature but sometimes you wondered. Julien was a Paumotu (person of the Tuamotu Archipelago) and one of the tiny handful of farmers who had started farming Tahitian pearls around the same time as our farm, circa 1990.

But he was dead serious. ?If they all die, no problem.?

Julien had accosted me on the quay where the people from different far-flung parts of the atoll came together every week. Essentials like food and gasoline arrived on the weekly supply ship, making it a great excuse to put work aside and catch up with fellow farmers. This was often a less-than-sober occasion but today Julien and I were both clear headed. A year or so earlier a Japanese graft technician had done a trial run at his one-room farm and the pearls were in need of harvesting.

Julien could have killed the oysters and harvested the pearls as most would have done but word had reached him that I had been recently instructed in the secret craft known locally as the ?surgreffe.? The surgreffe involved making a tiny incision in the flesh of the oyster and gently extracting the pearl. The pearl is then replaced by a nucleus that mimics the pearl and boom, the process starts all over again but with a much bigger nucleus, consequently resulting in a larger and far more valuable pearl. At the time it was the strict domain of Japanese (and one Australian) technicians that jealously kept the secret. It requires a steady hand, very specific tools and a knowledge of where and how to use them. I had all of these but was lacking in a last crucial piece of the puzzle: experience. My instructor in the surgreffe, the Japanese technician Yamamoto, who had taught me had let me do a couple in front of him. I had the basic idea down but without practicing I felt like I was thoroughly unqualified to risk the lives of another farmer?s oysters. It is said that to begin to master pearl seeding or the ?first graft? of oysters, it requires having done a minimum of 10,000.

Despite my objections, Julien insisted and the following Saturday found me leaving our bumpy windward side and crossing the atoll?s lagoon to his farm on the east side, grafting tools in my pack and butterflies in my stomach.

His farm consisted of nothing more than a ramshackle hut on crumbling wooden stilts with a short walkway that led to his motu, a segment of the chain in the mini islands that make up the atoll of Ahe. The east side of the island is what you might imagine a coral atoll to look like. Dark green coconut trees arc away from a thin strip of cream colored sand that meets water so clear you aren?t sure where it starts. It then blends into every possible shade of blue and turquoise and is further enhanced by the wild contrasting pinks and oranges of coral gardens that span off into deeper water. Fat parrot fish languidly crunch coral near the surface and flip their blue/green and sometimes orange/yellow tails out of the still water. The peace that infuses life on this side of the atoll is due to the lack of wind and chop on the water. The prevailing wind comes from the East so the east side of the atoll is typically in the lee, especially where there are trees to block it.

As much as his property invited leisure, all I had on my mind was how I would best do what I came to do. My primary concern was the well being of his oysters but I knew that sooner or later I would have to start on the road to being experienced in the craft. Also, grafting outside of one?s farm publicly places a pearl technician within a quality continuum. I wanted to be sure I was at the right end of the continuum and yet I was stepping into unfamiliar territory with no safety net. Despite my friend?s nonchalance I knew that a botch-job here could stick to me like a bad odor for an indefinite amount of time.

The oysters had been placed in retention nets that allowed Julien to know that what he brought me was guaranteed to have pearls waiting inside. This is a common way that farmers have of getting an early indication of the quality of their technician?s work. The nets are on the oysters for the first six weeks usually, then removed so that the health of the oyster isn?t affected by the mesh that will quickly clog with marine growth.

While he was out retrieving the oysters from their holding lines I got my tools together, sharpened my knives and was ready for him on his return. The operations of the 20 oysters he brought me went surprisingly well and a year and a half later found us back on the wharf of the port for the arrival of another supply ship. He told me that he had harvested the pearls and that if I wanted to come and see them I was welcome to.
Great story! I went to your blog to read part two, and found I was holding my breath...
That was a wonderful Read and a great story!

Hindsight, whaddya gonna do? It sure was an ambiguous moment...I don't think I'd have been sure what to do either, especially at your young age. Is Julien still a pearl farmer?
just read part 2 - and I kept refreshing the page, and scrolling down for a bit I must have missed - then I thought oh no, that's it - this is the pearl I've heard Josh speak of before - the 'lost' pearl

hey, what can you do, life plays these little tricks on us, they're just moments, but sometimes they linger on..... I think it's a lovely story though
Thanks Louise, Pattye, Lisa and Alex for your kind words. :) Yeah, it was an unsatisfying story to write because the happy ending was missing. A friend of mine who read it said that he thought Julien was a jerk. I kind of agree but at the same time he put the "ball" in my court. Chalk it up to the idealism of youth. Now, I'm old and cynical. :D
Lisa, Julien stopped farming pearls a long time ago like many of our colleagues.
A friend of mine who read it said that he thought Julien was a jerk. I kind of agree but at the same time he put the "ball" in my court. Chalk it up to the idealism of youth. Now, I'm old and cynical. :D

Haha Josh, youth is so wasted on the young!

Revisiting this experience tells me you have a healthy respect for the man who took you under his wing long ago. He gave you things much greater than a single gem. A perfect example of cruel to be kind.
Mmmmm... As a mother (and respecting that fathers seem to have the job of toughening up the young) I'm more angry that the adult wasn't more mature. Either respect the boy and give him the epitome of his work (pearl)in lieu of a wage, or another pearl...but age doesn't always confer wisdom, and julien obviously had some ambivalence, and indulged himself. Whatever, right?

I think Josh showed his true colors (as well as youthful inexperience); he was respectful, not presumptuous and that speaks well of him, absolutely. Maybe he ascribes it to wimpdom, and regrets it, but life's about learning and balance, right? I think he's coming out on the plus side, all said.

How 'bout that Josh? How we take liberties and go into character analysis! didn't expect that byproduct to come from telling a story, eh? At least I do it, oops. Well - you come out on top!
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Had a thought, maybe it's already been put out there - I just remembered, apprentices paid for apprenticeships.
Thanks for the thoughtful thoughts Pattye, Dave and Lisa. I think what was so troubling about it was that I didn't expect anything. Nothing. Nada. Period. Then there was The Pearl. It possessed me with it's beauty and changed the game that I thought I was the master of. In retrospect I wish I had written that into the story. I felt like the story fell kind of flat.
Apprentices paying for apprenticeships adds a dimension I hadn't considered too.
Thanks everyone, fun stuff! :D
Can blogs not be edited? There are big gaps in my knowledge:confused:,:eek:.

Yeah, the Giveth-ing then the Taketh-ing away before you get a chance to wrap your mind around all of it...

You're good stuff Josh, and quite a writer too!
Thanks Lisa for your comment about editing. An editor friend of mine poked at me for one of the lines in there so I went back and made some edits. I guess you need to practice the writing muscle to make it stronger. :)
I do too!

By editing, I meant adding your new insight to the story. Like the 'coming of age' stories where they're told using the kids as actor/driving forces, but the adult adds hindsight/insight.

Your prose is great, your narrative carries your personality to the reader and your writing is nice and tight, no waste.

Editors are marvelous! I read book one by an author, thought it was good so read book two. Hoooooly Cow! Book two was awful, don't even ask in how many ways! It was so different I could only conclude she lost her editor, or decided she didn't need one. Book two was a complete, total mess.
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Thanks you two. The positive feedback is much appreciated. I've got a lot of those stories kicking around in my head. It's time consuming pulling them out, but I enjoy it and will keep at it if there are eyeballs reading! :)
Thanks Art, feedback appreciated!
Sorry it wasn't more obvious. The blogging template I have is not the best and I'm going to change it out soon. If you click on "Go back to the blog" at the bottom it will get you there or you could just click here. Scroll down under the more recent post about Octopus versus Rat. Thanks for reading!