It will be a year next month that the Redhead gave me the key to discovering where I’m now at. Until this past week, I have not had the courage to see what it would unlock.
Perhaps, it is age more than mere curiosity that makes me now wonder how I came to be here in this particular place at this particular time. I am a city boy through and through, feeling more at ease surrounded by concrete, asphalt and steel than deep woods. Red says I’m a baby by refusing to take a hike in a forest. No, I say, I’ve just been “Deliverenced”. Darn Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, that movie would have dissuaded even Thoreau from spending the briefest of afternoons at Walden! Squeal, Baby!
So, City Boy I was born and stayed…until now. Don’t get me wrong, Staunton, Virginia is not the Wilderness – at least not for the past 300 years or so. But, to put it into perspective, it is about 1/5 the size of our former hometown in Connecticut or about the population of ½ square mile of Manhattan! Yet, The Redhead and I still chose to live outside the City limits into the County and thus we have far more livestock than people as neighbors. True to my nature, however, I still crave civilization, now, especially, that of the past. Tumbled barns, remnants of stone foundations, depressions in a field’s landscape now surrounded by trees and occasionally overgrown, wild ornamental plantings give evidence that somebody was here before us. Why they came and what made them leave or disappear may answer my question: Why am I here? Is there something more than the natural beauty – so reminiscent of my family’s home place in Ireland’s West – and the gentleness of the people that drew us, after a few false starts, like a magnet to this land of both Peace and Rebellion?
Read all you want about a place, nothing gives more clues about its true nature than the artifacts, the tangibles of those that came before. Study Pompeii ‘til blue in the face and nothing will give you a clearer sense of that place or those people than actually seeing the chariot ruts and street-side “cafes” or the menus inscribed onto the walls of the “guest houses”. View the bleak stone slopes of western Ireland and one can instantly comprehend Cromwell’s curse of those refusing to submit. Thus it is with every place, past or present: it must be touched to be known.
And so, this past Thursday, I finally made my journey into the past that now surrounds me, using the key that The Redhead gifted me last Christmas. I unpacked and charged up my long-desired but intimidating metal detector. A few Readers of this blog are actually quite astute in the use of these machines and have experienced both the joys and frustrations of combing through fields, parks, beaches and, well, just about anywhere they can get permission to search for the past. Some seek “treasure” in the form of jewelry or coinage – both ancient and not so much so. Others, while never turning their nose up at things of value, mostly enjoy “the hunt” for the past. I’ve read their blogs, watched their YouTube videos and enjoyed and even became hooked on the wonderful British television series, Detectorists. I was ready. Or so I thought!
My machine, (just saying it makes me feel, “part of the club”, lol) a Nokta Makro Simplex+ is designed to be just that: Simple, yet “advanced”. Perhaps it is. Cradling it under my arm and carrying a canvas ditty bag containing gloves, “pointer”, sharp-edged mini-trowel and a zip-lock enclosed instruction manual (just in case) I walked down to the property of our neighbor whom had given me the all-important permission to “hunt”.
He said to wear old clothes since his land was a bit rough. Unlike the fields and pasture lands of the videos I had watched over and over, Old Kevin’s land was a mire of brambles, saplings, old growth trees, ruts, abandoned “privies” and cesspools, a tumbled down shack and enough blackberry bushes to feed several bears for a season and enough thorns to keep everything else away. Except for Moi, the newbie “detector”. And all of it was, it seemed, located on a 30 degree slope!
By the time we reached the back of the property, the site I would begin searching in, I looked, thanks to the blackberry thorns, to be auditioning for the lead role in a Passion Play. Oi! Selecting a relatively clear area, I turned on the machine and began the search.
What the…? Not using headphones (why bother) the air was filled with static, crackles, pops, screeches and toots of every sort. Selecting a spot that emitted a steady screech I knelt down and began digging with the trowel. Rocks. More rocks. This can’t be, I thought. I held the machine up to a few and yep, the signal was louder than ever. There was a ton of iron in those rocks. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I had read of there being so many pre- Civil War small iron smelters in the area . Well, I thought, let me move to another likely spot, with a different tune playing, so to speak. Ah, for the love of Pete. I can’t get up. My knees have locked! Trying to look just inquisitive rather than flummoxed, I root around a bit more until I spy a nearby sturdy looking branch and knee-waddle over to it to hoist myself upright. Jaysus!! The fookin’ thorns pierce my leather palmed gloves. Bugger me! This is rough work, I’m thinkin’. But, I’m up.
Eeee, eeeee, Eeeet. Now, That’s a signal, I’m sure. Down I go, much faster than I had just gotten up, I assure you. Scratch, dig. Retry the signal. Eeee, Eeee, EEEEEE. Ah, you’re onto something now, boy. Dig a few more inches. Aha! I can feel something. Coins? Old musket balls? Oh… Well, a pile of old nails is something, at least. Not wanting to grab another palm full of pain, I decide to use the trowel for a bit of leverage to get up. It sinks into the only soft dirt for probably several yards around. I look at the detector and hope it will not bend or break if I use it as a bit of a crutch. It holds and I’m up again, even if a bit slower than before.
Navigating more ruts and brambles, we come to a bit of a clearing and then it happens…a new signal, different than those of before. Oink, oinnk, ahoink. This has got to be gold. Or silver. Or an old Civil War relic. Kevin is nearby rooting around with a stick and unearths a skull. Animal, for sure. But, what else could be lurking nearby? We are, after all, only a few hundred yards from a compound of “Odd Ones”, as the locals call them, who find it rather amusing to hang deer butts from posts in their front yards. Nothing like a little “local color”, I suppose. But, the oinkking doesn’t quit and neither will I. The trowel hits something a few inches below the surface. An iron fence-wire guide emerges. I keep digging . Good thing, too. Something big is struck. What the heck! An old hinge of some sort is pried out. Maybe part of a buggy. Maybe an old piece of some machinery. Beats me. But, wait, there’s more, as the old TV commercial used to taunt. Is it wood? No. It’s a bit soft. Ah, an old leather satchel lost in the heat of battle? Hmm. No, not that either.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, to know a place or a people or a particular thing you must touch it to know it for what it is.
After only one afternoon of being a “relic hunter” (as painful as it was) I found something – quite by chance – that generations of historians, archaeologists and scientists have devoted their careers to either proving or disproving. I held in my hands proof that the believers were right. I did it.
Unearthed in this Valley of the Shenandoah, on the outskirts of Staunton, was irrefutable proof that not only does The Mighty Sasquatch, The Yiddi, The Bigfoot exist, but that he, too, like us, has a life cycle. And a not yet considered intelligence.
For the first time in known history here is the proof:
Believe! And keep hunting.
Here are just a few of the blogs on metal detecting that I follow and you may find interesting as well:
The North Essex Detectorist (UK)