By Paula Damon
“Born from the land owner’s natural instinct to protect his fields from soil erosion…farmers had to dump their broken junk and rubbish somewhere.” From Dump Diggers Blog Spot
At first glance, this benign assemblage settled below the edge of a cornfield appears quite innocent. Arms of twisted, rusted iron spiral hither and yonder. Once loose remnants of broken glass, bottles, jars; pieces of white porcelain form a grotesquely quaint sculpture protruding from thawing clumps of chocolaty compost and peeking through overgrown clumps of tall grasses, poison oak and mulberry trees.
This spot, a farm dump cascading onto a public park, is hardly noticeable, unless one should stop and study it.
I haven’t gone so far as to bring a rack or any tools to unearth this old trash hill; although, I am tempted to do so.
Instead, with the soles of my shoes or a sturdy branch, I lightly nudge broken bricks, cracked barrels and gnarled bed frames in a reverent attempt to resurrect pots and plates and pickle jars.
Once started on this path of discovery, I have difficulty stopping. So, it is with intrigue and a hefty dose of romance I fall victim to wonder over what I may find next: shards of green depression glassware, greatly dulled now, the base of what looks like a Mayer China coffee cup – tan with the trademark brown stripe around the outside and manufacturer’s stamp barely legible on the bottom.
I locate liquor bottles submerged under a half-foot of brush and bramble with only their necks visible. Caked and soiled by nature’s wear and tear, some are brown glass while others once clear are now frosted by time.
With arrested excitement, I nervously venture further on this embankment. Ever at the command of overbearing curiosity, my antsy desire penetrates deeper into the burn pile. Spoils belonging to someone I fail to put a face to, save a worn-torn forehead overshadowing sun baked cheeks that wrinkle down around a sullen mouth. And those eyes, despite dismal forecasts on futures, yields and weather, are forever faithful to the farm.
Visibly self-conscious of my probing, I nervously look over my shoulder to ensure that I am alone. I wait a moment in sudden stillness to listen for murmuring voices of hikers heading down the same path which led me to this ravine of hidden secrets. Halting my excavation, a brief interruption more like an eternity, I try to detect rustling leaves or grinding bike tires on loose limestone.
Even though I am on public property, the guilty pleasure welling inside me confesses I am treading on interior lives privately cast away, perhaps with bravado or shame, over the side of the field into this God-forsaken and forgotten burial mound.
Oddly covetous, I want this spot, some 20-square feet or so of brokenness discarded by generations, all to myself.
My thoughts race in hushed tones while uncovering physical evidence, sacred and useless legacies of farm families who lived and died on the other edge of those crop rows, which now are casting dusty furrowed brows over my compulsive rooting.
I am the newly adopted keeper of moored bed frames and charred porcelain potties squinting through infant scrub pines. I am the self-ordained minister of tangled barbed wire and broken Ball jars. I am the watchful custodian of melted metal lids and twisted cooking pots. I am the freshly minted curator of Wisconsin Premium Beer cans and angle iron.
I am the triumphant groundskeeper of this graceless resting place to which thousands of matches were struck in hopes of destroying all evidence of celebrating arrivals, mourning partings.
After a half-hour or so, my exuberant hunt takes its toll. I tire quickly. Suddenly, my initial digging with customary ancient wonder turns to brooding. My inaugural festive pride sours.
My once strident searching becomes grief, as I slowly step back away from this cemetery heap. Taking with me weary woes of these remnants of making and changing beds, birthing and swaddling babies, preparing and serving meals, blessing and breaking vows, soothing and drowning heartaches, dressing and undressing dreams – Model T headlight, glass Heinz ketchup jar and all.
I am a trespasser on this farm dump, sinfully trudging on holy ground.