By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index
‘Tis the season for that most unique of Tacoma traditions – the unexpected, one of a kind and, in every sense, unpredictable serendipity of Monkeyshines.
What is Monkeyshines?
As with almost everything else in Tacoma and its history, don’t expect anything like a standard explanation.
How do most traditions begin?
In the case of Monkeyshines, and perhaps most holidays and traditions; it just started.
Back in 2004, the Year of the Monkey, when founder “Ms. Monkey” (and a few accomplices) decided that Tacoma needed a few bright, unexpected discoveries around town.
In most cities and situations, the term “monkey” might be perceived as an insult, but in Tacoma, as you might expect, the term “monkey” is more like an honorific – if not legendary – designation.
In the beginning, “Ms. Monkey” hid bright, multi-colored glass-blown orbs (called monkey balls) around town for residents to find and keep.
Every year since, around the Lunar New Year, “Ms. Monkey” and her so-called friends have hidden the glass orbs – and other pieces of indescribable art in unexpected locations throughout the city.
Since then, even more artists and hiders now add their own evanescent creations for even more unexpected adventure – one for all ages – especially those who, at any age, are open to the unpredictable and beautiful in unlikely places.
The Lunar calendar
Each year in the lunar calendar is tied to a specific animal or creature and its defining characteristics (all, except for the dragon, are familiar earth-bound creatures).
The lunar calendar is, as you might guess, tied to that most ancient of time and seasonal reference points, the moon.
This means that the new year is not based on the solar/Gregorian calendar most of us live by, but the always shifting phases of the moon.
And like the tides, also pulled by the moon, the boundaries of the year, within limits, change every year
For most of 2020 (January 25, 2020 – February 11, 2021) we were in the year of the rat, in 2021 (February 12, 2021–January 31, 2022), the year of the ox.
2022 (February 1, 2022–January 21, 2023) is the year of the tiger (to see some background on the animal related characteristics of each lunar year, look here: www.parentmap.com/article/chinese-zodiac-for-kids-and-parents.
In general, these literal objets d’art reflect the theme of the current creature, so look for tiger-related art pieces in various corners and cubbies around town.
Rules of discovery
As you might expect there a few “rules” and guidelines wrapped around this tradition.
First, Monkeyshines community’s strict code of conduct: “Keep only one find per searcher, per year.”
If you find more than one, do the community (and the tradition) a favor and put any extras back “in the wild.” Or, even better, take a photo, then pay it forward by re-hiding it for another searcher to find.
Monkeyshines are hidden in public spaces such as parks and waterways. So don’t trespass — they’re not on private property anyway.
Monkeyshines, marbles and various other treasures are found at all times of day, but early-morning searches tend to be most successful.
Look up, look down, look all around. Monkeyshines may be found off the ground in trees, on sculptures or signposts.
And perhaps the most important rule of all – never give away a Monkeyshine.
If you have one to share it put in an unexpected place for someone to discover.
As with most of life, the experience and adventure is more important than the object.
Monkeyshines have been reported in the neighboring communities of Steilacoom, Lakewood and University Place, but most Monkeyshines are in their native habitat in the odd corners of Tacoma.
The hunt centers around Lunar New Year (February 1 in 2022), but treasure can be found a few days before and up to a week after the actual day — give or take. Some treasures avoid discovery and remain hidden much longer.
And, for those keeping track, next year is the year of the rabbit, and following that year is my personal favorite – the year of the dragon; the most eccentric and unpredictable of them all.
As I mentioned, each year is presumed to reflect and embody the characteristics of its animal icon.
The Chinese zodiac goes in a 12 year cycle: monkey, rooster, dog, pig, rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, and ram.
I don’t know about anyone else, but most of 2020 seemed to express its “rat” qualities with upheaval and scurrilous behavior seen or presumed everywhere.
2021 seemed to lumber through like an ox, and 2022, for better or worse is expected to fulfill its tiger-like destiny.
A tradition that began by a combination of impulse, frustration and creativity with two anonymous artists tucking away 200 glass creations and now, in 2022 about one hundred artists and co-conspirators are spreading about 2,400 pieces of art – Tacoma-style – who-knows-where and accessible to all.
And, if you haven’t found one yet, keep looking. There are monkeys everywhere and, when you most need a piece of handmade sparkle in your life, you just might find one.