Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's Left Behind

As I've been digging up old dump sites lately, I start to reflect on the items I use on a regular basis that will survive me.  Someday, like Hamlet examining a skull, someone will find pieces of this pot or these dishes or this car, and they will try to reconstruct what my life was like.  It's impossible to do, of course, which is why I don't like reading fictional accounts set in prehistoric times.  What gall!

BUT----I do love having that close contact with people's lives, handling what they've left behind.  Before I was horrified by old dump sites, found everywhere near old house sites, in nearby ravines.  I felt it was such a travesty!  And while I still do, I also, now, see them as an opportunity to explore the past.  Some things "sink," get covered up by inches of decaying leaves and roots and plants.  There they become part of the new lives of bugs and roots and mosses and molds.  Sometimes I'm reluctant to disrupt these new adaptations; I've found roots going in one end of a broken bottle and out the other, and I've found entire ant colonies living in old bottles.  I've found bottles that look like little terrariums, full of diverse plantlife.  But I do disrupt them.  I feel I'm healing the earth by removing broken glass and rusty metal debris, like splinters under the skin.

And sometimes things get uplifted to the surface, probably by frost heaves.  The other day I was walking in the woods and saw the side of a flask-shaped brown bottle.  I nudged it with my toe, and it came out whole, a beautiful antique medicine bottle, embossed with words.  I looked it up on the internet, and it's worth about $47.  It was made in the late 1800s by a doctor in Cincinnati for diseases of the lungs.  I started probing with a trowel in that area, and found several buckets of broken glass and rusty metal.  The latter included lots of big nails, some of them square; pieces of chain; and a broken spatula.  One bottle piece was a beer bottle embossed by the Cumberland Brewing Company, which was in business from the late 1800s until the early 1950s.

Here's a picture of the Youghiogheny River, which was up and muddy, near whose banks I found an old dump site:
And here's what I found:  the tip of the iceberg:

It was in what looked like an old mill race, parallel to the river.  Lots of crockery, glass, and a few metal pots.

This summer my husband and two friends paddled down a most pristine part of the upper Blackwater River in Canaan Valley, WV.  The river is narrow and meanders in a round-about way through a bushy nature preserve.  They did sixteen miles that day.
And THIS was the ONLY piece of trash they found on the entire trip:

They had great debates about what it was, and finally decided it was a golf ball!!!  Another example of how wildlife tries to eat and can be harmed by trash.  Imagine how like an egg this must have looked!