Saturday, October 29, 2011


Only today did it finally show itself to me.

I had walked this portion of the rail trail over twenty times, I estimate. And only today did it give me a tangible prize. Maybe that is why we return again and again to the places we have come to love: the promise of something more, something that lay hidden, that will finally give itself to us. The views, the fall of the light, the smell of spring; all these wait for the patient watcher.

On the way back, after going down, then up (and up, then down) the river cut that was once spanned by a bridge whose ghost piers allow me to imagine it--train rumbling slowly through the woods, by the edges of farms--did I finally see what was there all along. A glint of glass. I could see immediately that it was broken. But beside it, emerging again from the leaf mold of decades, there was another bottle (patent medicine, probably) that was intact. These make nice bud vases for the bathroom sink. Or little things to fill the shelves.

I scrambled up the bank of the lost railroad, and I see it's a goldmine: a huge spill of a farm dump, probably from the fifties. Old rusty oil cans, broken tea cups, shards of milk glass, endless buckets with the bottoms eaten through. Oh, the things you can find in a farm dump. When you find something intact in one, it's like a gift from the universe; but it's really a gift from the past, from someone long dead who is reaching down through the years: "Here. I knew you would like this. See? It's usable. Go on."

I once found a bucket (this one unrusted) stamped "NY Water Supply," from a dump tumbling down the ravine of a little creek feeding the Ashokan Reservoir. I once found an enameled pie plate half buried in the stony dirt of an old farm I once owned, and it's made many pies for me since. I can't even remember all the other things I've brought home, stuffed with mud, to either give away again or place among my most beloved possessions. Uh, after a wash in the sink.

I don't quite know what drew me to scrape away a layer of leaves over something dully gleaming among the glass and rust. But there it was. The barrel of a toy gun. I pulled it out. Broken, without its grip. But wait. There's something next to it. The white-plastic grip (or something that was once white). A cowboy-hatted man in relief on it; Kit Carson. I carefully fitted the grip back over the handle, and there it was, except for one piece that contained the grommet that held it on the other side.

In the car later, waiting for the school bus, I absently picked it up off the floor. A stream of tiny ants moved from the inside of the grip, where they had found a tidy home, and up my wrist. And then I saw it: the other bit of plastic that had broken off, neatly stowed inside.

When it dries, I will try to make it whole again. If I do, I can look upon it anytime I wish, and wonder why it was that, today of all days, I found a prize from some boy's past, waiting in the woods.


Anonymous said...

Nice…and a reminder.

When my father died in ’98, at some point I went to the house he grew up in. The whole farm burned to the ground in 1945, but there are still two oaks and a weed covered mound that’s never been cultivated because of the rubble. I grabbed a piece of brick to keep, but somewhere in the woods – my aunt once told me – is their dump. I’m back in that area at least once a year, so someday…..I’m only 55, I can do this….



Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Yes, you can!

Let us know what you find, Bert.

Charles said...

let me know if you are interested, I may be willing to co-fund! :)

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Quelle idee! Charles, that's incredible; I had no idea such things were available. But of course they are. This is the best of all possible worlds.

I'll look for another old cap gun for you. Then we can have a shoot 'em out.

Kent said...

I get this same feeling when I go into salvage yards to rescue old motorcycles, something I've done far too many times in my life!

I think about the joy that they once gave someone...or perhaps many people! As I begin taking them apart, I look at pieces like the footpegs, grips, and brake/clutch levers. I get clues that tell me if the rider was experienced or a newbie to motorcycling. I look at how things were repaired, nuts and bolts replaced, etc. Most of the time, the owner took the quick and easy path, replacing metric nuts and bolts with standard sizes from the local hardware store. Bailing wire or even electrical wire take the place of rubber straps, long since cracked and discarded.

Lots of abuse and neglect and poor mechanical skills on display with these bikes. It gives me great satisfaction to take them apart and rebuild them, bringing them up to riding condition.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson said...

Kent, this sort of resuscitation is really the cycle of life (get that??) writ large, and real. I don't think you could stop, even if you wanted to.

I know many whose lives now depend--though they may not know it, and may not call it so even if they do know it--on searching the bike dump. There's new treasure, out of old, for everyone who has eyes to see.