Deep in the heart of Arizona atop a flat desert floor rests a very large mound of rocks. So vast is the pile, it is called a mountain. Most mountains are named after an individual or describe a major feature, but this mountain was likely named by someone with fingers crossed and clutching a rabbit’s foot. The rocks would be called The Superstition Mountain range.
Just a few ticks east of Phoenix is where you’ll find the Superstition Mountains. Surrounding the rocks is Saguaro and his mighty band of prickly cactus. They wave cautiously possibly warning we humans to beware. If not sufficiently persuaded to look but don’t come crawling around, snakes and mountain cats, and javelinas patrol the Superstitions 24/7 (javelinas are indigenous desert beasts and distant cousins to the common pig). With such an ominous name for a mountain, these critters must know something. Some have possibly met their maker having fallen into the big hole deep in the mountain, which blows mighty gusts. Legend has it that ancient Apache Indians thought it a portal to Hell.
It is not unusual for a setting southwest sun to turn the mountain a bright fire-red and often does. A much rarer event is a mid-winter cold spell leaving an inch or two of snow on the top. Soon the photographers arrive with tripods where they scramble up a small outcropping called Silly Mountain for a closeup. From Silly Mountain, they take pictures of Superstition Mountain with little thought of the possible irony.
For many, superstition is not silly. It is real. A fella once won a few thousand dollars in a scratch to win lottery ticket. He left the 7–11, sat cross-legged on the sidewalk, and scratched himself into a wad of cash. Believing the way he sat contributed to his good fortune, he insists on sitting precisely the same way with each new scratch ticket.
The belief that sitting cross-legged had a meaningful connection to scratch ticket holder’s good luck is called ‘synchronicity.’ Carl Jung, a Swiss psychoanalyst, coined the term to describe how two seemingly disparate events become a ‘meaningful coincidence.’ It is similar to when the phone rings, and it happens to be the person you had just been thinking about. Dr. Jung saw these examples as an argument for the existence of the paranormal. Others would argue the explanation lies in the law of probabilities.
Behavior based on superstition is not above the intelligent and sophisticated. The late favorite son of Arizona, Senator McCain, was well known for his superstitious quirks. He would avoid having a salt shaker handed to him. His aid always carried his ‘lucky’ pen with him. He would never toss his hat onto a bed. When talking of his prospects, he was known to look for wood to touch. He believed the ‘knock on wood’ approach would improve the probability of good luck. Considering his remarkable accomplishments, maybe there is something to his superstition. Maybe?
Maybe but not always. When running for president, Senator McCain rented the entire 13th floor of an office building for his campaign headquarters. Before he would sign the lease, he insisted that the 13th floor be renamed to ‘M’ floor. His request was accommodated, but his presidential bid failed. Probabilities?
Number 13. Who amongst us doesn’t hold some antipathy to the number 13? Apollo 13? The movie ‘Friday the Thirteenth?’ Come to think of it, I don’t know many people who don’t hold some superstitious belief. Even subtle barely detectable preferences have their roots in superstition. Our preferences or avoidance of certain numbers and colors or which side of the airplane we prefer to sit on are held together by some thread to our past experiences. Even at the subconscious level, our brains are remarkable analyzers of patterns that guide us in seeking the affections of lady luck.
If you are a recreational angler, a lover of the battle between a wild fish and yourself using just a rod and line, you know of the bad luck a banana can bring. Seriously, bananas are forbidden on nearly every charter fishing boat that floats in the world’s waters. They are worse than the number 13. So universally held is this contempt for bananas, that charter websites warn of bringing bananas with you. They will be confiscated and left onshore. One can purchase large stickers with a picture of a banana crossed out with a red line. Online, you can find story after story of how bananas brought grief and despair to fishing folks everywhere.
I recently clamored aboard a small charter boat with a party of 5 other family members and a promise of a salmon or twelve swimming in the magnificent waters of Puget Sound. Fishin folks like to start early so it was still mostly dark when we set sail. By the time we found that one magical spot divined by a geographical feature of an upsloping bottom, tidal currents, and the hint that the presence of dozens of other anglers give you, the sun started turning the clear sky blue.
Fishing started slow. In two hours, we had one salmon and a bunch of dubious bites and some crossed tangled lines. Maybe we caught the only fish in the sound. When asked about yesterday’s fishing results, the skipper mumbled something about catching just one fish because of some intent to only catch ‘big’ fish. Right. The skipper reminded me of Robert Shaw who skippered the fishing boat in the movie ‘Jaws.’ If I recall, Jaws the shark, used that old wooden boat for a toothpick. Shaw played his role well- crusty, salty, humorless, and, if provoked, could stare a hole through a lead sinker ball. For a brief moment in the movie, you thought Jaws was making a mistake by messing with Shaw. For now, our skipper was roaming the deck, changing lures, and appearing a bit impatient.
Because fishing requires patience, we all had brought a few things to munch. In my icebox was some peaches and a half loaf of sliced banana bread. In a weak moment of exuberant generosity, I offered to share my banana bread with all aboard. Unfortunately, the skipper, upon hearing of my offer, stopped what he was doing, turned and looked at me. It was not a look of ‘yes please.’ Rather, it was an icy stare. So serious, so cold, Jaws would have broken off the attack and headed for deeper waters. He then slowly approached me, pointed at the sign with a picture of a banana crossed out, sighed loudly, turned and walked away shaking his head in disgust. I felt like a piece of chum.
I left the banana bread open for others but had no takers. It was possible that they thought I had just cast a spell on ever catching another fish. Might as well reel in and head home. I just wasted all their money and ruined a great time. Just tie me up to the back of the boat and use me for bait.
As calm returned to the boat, another salmon swallowed a hook. Once aboard, pictures are taken and the rod and line dropped back into the water. Soon another. Then another but always on the right side of the boat. The skipper changes the lure to a slightly different shade of lime green. Success! The left side notches a victory. Over the course of the next two hours, 10 salmon are hauled into the boat. We catch a total of 11 salmon just one shy of our limit. In a moment of pure blasphemy born of redemption, I hold up a piece of banana bread for all to see, turn towards Superstition Mountain, and offer a toast to the banana gods in thanks. Everyone laughs except the skipper.
A day or two after our fishing expedition, the state of Washington released data on the number of fish caught per boat. On that day; our boat 11. Average per all other boats; less than 1. Go Bananas!
Oh great Konpira please, hear my plea I am sorry for my mistake A banana I brought to sea it was an honest gesture a noble means of nutrition I had no ill intent I brought fruit of my own volition Please forgive my idiocy I meant my friends no harm We just want to go fishing and go home with a sore arm We beg of you to release the curse upon which I have brought In your honor I consume these bananas a sacrifice all for naught