Thursday, October 25, 2018

George Washington Slept Here

Wonder of wonders, my last Dirt Girl post about losing my longtime job actually netted me a rather sweet freelance gig. Little did I know that my long and somewhat whiny plaint (illustrated with stuff I dug out of the ground) would find its way to the desk of a Cincinnati media company that started shooting me advertorial work right away. It’s not what I need long-term, but writing about financial planners, travel agents and endodontists is fun and is keeping me and Al in ramen noodles and guitar strings for the time being. Thanks to all 32 of you who commented! I appreciated the kind words.

(Me being responsible: Anyone looking for a copywriter can check out my portfolio at

OK. This post is just going to be a breezy little recap of recent finds. Also included will be some not-so-recent finds because I dug a LOT of cool stuff during the THREE YEARS I ignored this blog. You deserve to see these magnificent, dirt-encrusted items!

At the end of the post will be some Big News.

First, here is a random picture of Pearl. I didn't dig her up. (Digging is her job, as my yard can attest.) I found her a year ago at Nashville Humane and I love her so much.

Pearl, wondering what and why.

There’s a road near my house that I just never get tired of. It runs along a high bluff overlooking the Cumberland River. People have been walking along that river for… well, as long as there have been people walking. I think I’ve detected 70-80 yards along or near this particular road. In fact—and don’t tell Al—I’ve had something of a love affair with one yard. Been digging it for years and yes, every now and then, I bring the homeowner brownies. I’ve found lots of Colonial stuff there. Here’s a smattering. Longtime DGU readers will recognize some items from previous posts.

What I originally thought was a broken Colonial
flat button turned out to be an India-Bengal
Presidency "pice" circa 1810. The writing is Persian.
This is perhaps my favorite find of all time, and the
inspiration for my song, "How'd This Get Here?"
OK, I didn't actually find this; Cheryl Clark did, about 20 feet
from where I was standing. Grrr. This is an actual "piece of eight"
(a cut Spanish real coin.) Can't tell the year, of course, but
probably late 1700s. I'm including it here because it speaks
to the date of the activity that once took place on this
mild-mannered, suburban lawn. I, myself have found three
Spanish reales (two whole, one cut) on this road over the years.

Lovely buttons.

Not sure what this was; possibly a heel plate.

Bone-handled implements.

WWII-era knapsack buttons.

Not sure what these little shields are. Possibly
saddle or bridle decorations. You'll see another
later in this post, from the lawn next door.

Another of my favorite finds of all time. Found these Colonial-era
items way out by the road, next to the mailbox, amid all
the usual modern roadside detritus: bottle caps, can slaw, etc.
These "TALLIO" cufflinks, showing a fox jumping over a log,
are found all over the Eastern seaboard, anywhere there may have
early settlements. The fact that there are two here, linked for the ages,
makes this an absolutely stellar find.

As you can see, I love the lawn, and the lawn loves me.

Of course, the logical step would be to get permission to dig the next yard over. I’d left messages in their mailbox, but never heard back. In my own little head, I decided that those people were mean, angry people who would NEVER let a dirt girl onto their property. Their house was too pristine, their yard immaculate. I gave up.

Silly me.

Turns out, the homeowner is the nicest guy ever. Out of the blue, he texted me and was 100% into having his yard detected, plus he wanted to try it himself. I loaned him a machine and we’ve been exploring his yard together for about 6 weeks now. I’ll let the finds speak for themselves.

Awesome homeowner with his first find. I think
it was a penny. 

I'd be lion if I said I wasn't thrilled to dig this item, right up
next to the house. I think it's part of an old drawer pull.


OK. This was next to the driveway, literally five feet from the
bumper of my 1999 Toyota Camry, and maybe 8 inches down.
 I was pretty sure it was something special from the get-go,
as I'd never seen such a big button. Turns out I was right.

Friends, this is a George Washington Inaugural
button, the extremely rare "Dotted Script" version,
made in 1789.
It's pretty toasty, but, heck, I hope I look this good after 229
years in the ground. (Not that I have any intention of getting
in the ground anytime soon.) And the shank is perfect.
I could sew this bad boy on a denim jacket and go
to a show, and I just might do that. 

Here's what it looked like back in the day.

No guarantees, but I'm fairly sure this beautiful item will be featured in the "Just Dug" section of the upcoming issue of American Digger Magazine. And yes, you may touch the hem of my garment.

Here's more (minus the GW button). Notice all those flat buttons
on the lower right and buckles to the left. All Colonial era.
 Also notice that "shield"thingie--just like the ones I found next door.
Oh, and that thing that looks like a cut coin (upper right)
 about made me bust out into the Macarena or some such,
but alas, it appears to be just a broken metal copper disk.
No markings of any kind. I like it, though.
It can't help it if it's not special.

All of this begs the question: WHAT WAS HERE ON THIS SPOT BEFORE ALL THESE RANCH HOUSES? I’ve looked at all the expected old maps, but find no mention of a house or farm on this site. Ideas, anyone?

Here are some other delightful finds from random different sites.

A realtor friend allowed me to check out a
property she was selling and it delivered.

Love this old buckle. It'll clean up real nice.

Know what this is? I didn't, but now I do:
a Civil War powder flask. So pretty.

This old log-splitter I pulled out of a Civil War encampment
is back at work in our yard. Strong and functional. Clearly
glad to be of service, ma'am.

Pretty sure this was from a West Nashville yard from last year.

A friend let me detect her East Nashville backyard. Didn't find much except this beautiful earring, which, it turned out, had been lost during a Halloween party years before.

Here's the moment when the woman who lost it learned she was getting it back. Happy feelings!

OK, the Big News. As many of you know, a few years back, I released "I Dug It Up"-- a record of 13 songs inspired by metal detecting.

If you think this photo was taken on a certain beloved bluff
overlooking the Cumberland, you'd be right. My buddy Jeff
Thorneycroft designed the whole album. Nailed it.

Everyone says CDs are dead, but I dunno; I sure sell a lot of them, both at gigs and from my website,

Well, presto-chango, I’ve turned I Dug It Up into a musical. Four characters, two acts, a whole lotta time travel, and most of the songs on the record—plus several new ones.

Nope, never done anything like this before. (I started the process by googling “how to write a musical.”) Oddly, I found I could only actually write the thing at SIP CafĂ©, near my house. Despite my powerful introversion, that loud and uncomfortable environment, with hits of the ‘70s or ‘90s blasting away (depending on the age of baristas), allowed me to write without stopping for SIX hours a stretch. Anyway, it’s done. Had the first reading in April. 

Many thanks to the actor friends who brought my characters
to life for the very first time, and to those who watched and
gave such excellent feedback.

I'm planning another reading soon. Stay tuned. Love, your Dirt Girl.

Monday, June 25, 2018

I Lost My Job

Can I write about the loss of my dayjob on a metal detecting blog?
Let’s see.

Later this week, I will submit my last stories to the University of Michigan Office of Medical Development and Alumni Relations. In one way or another, I’ve been employed by the U-M (my alma mater) for 22 years – a relationship that has supported me and my family with varying degrees of generosity. Despite its many distractions (and the cognitive dissonance of dayjob vs. artist), my work for Michigan has buoyed me through the creation of dozens of dance/theater pieces and hundreds of songs. Because of this job, I have a (very) modest retirement account that I never would have had if not for those “golden handcuffs.” Because of this job, I made some stellar friends I adore to this day.

This is one of those stellar friends,
on casual Friday.
What did I actually do? From ’96 to ’01, I was the public relations coordinator for the U-M Museum of Art. I also organized community arts events that were tied to exhibitions. That was fun.

In 2001, I took a job as a development writer for the Medical School. As part of a feisty, supportive, brilliant team, I wrote campaign copy, research descriptions and donor bios (hundreds and hundreds of donor bios, which I LOVED!) I interviewed and wrote about billionaire philanthropists. I ghost-wrote letters for various deans and administrators, and historical articles and (more) research descriptions for our beautiful alumni magazine.

This is not an example of the kind of writing I
did for the U-M Medical School.

The health insurance was dreamy. After years of dancing, I had my right hip resurfaced in South Carolina in 2006. It set me back $150.

This is money I dug up. I did not have to dig
up any money to pay for my first hip surgery.
Due to dreamy U-M health insurance. 

Here's an example of one story I loved every minute of writing:

All the while, I was writing more and more music, zooming to Nashville to record demos and get the lay of the land. Al was touring the world with Bettye LaVette and I was home with the responsible dayjob/health insurance, feeling increasingly bitter, pulling against an oceanic current of longing to be part of a bigger songwriting scene.

In 2007, I asked my boss if it would be possible for me to move Nashville. He didn’t hesitate. “Sure!” he said. A year later, we did, with the full blessing and understanding of my amazing office mates and administration. Not only would I be writing from my home office in TN, I’d be driving all over the state visiting alumni. I set up my computer and worked 9-5, just like everyone else. Far from the distractions of the office, my productivity soared and my annual reviews reflected this.

Metal detecting a construction site while I should have been
at my desk working for the Medical School. SUCKAHHHS!
I am totally joking.

Things happen, though, don’t they? (The next part is boring. In fact, I’m pretty sure this whole thing is boring. That’s why I’m illustrating it with items I’ve dug out of the ground.)

Like this beautiful, brass instrument mouthpiece.

In 2013, there was a sweeping deck-shuffle back in Ann Arbor. A new director was hired to reorganize the entire office and in the process, it was “discovered” that there was a full-time employee (little me, trying desperately to keep my head down) in Tennessee of all places. Outrage! 

Look at this OUTRAGEous haul from a Nolensville-area
construction site.

A new supervisor, oozing great, smarmy “empathy” made me an offer. I could keep my job, she said, if I moved back to Michigan. I declined. They couldn’t terminate me right then because I was in the middle of a huge, multi-year writing project. But when that ended, I transitioned to free-lance.

(Even though it is beneath me, I feel a strong urge to hint at the identity of that smarmy empath. Her name sort of rhymes with “Buy me lunch” and soon after she terminated me, she was gone too. Such is OfficeLand.)

I feel a little bit bad about making fun of the name of the lady
who terminated me. Pearl is clearly embarrassed too. She
thinks I am not being the best version of myself.

I love that the word “free” is in “free-lance.” Did I feel free tho? No, mostly terrified. When you’ve had phenomenal health insurance for years, the lack of it brews up a stew of anxiety that, in turn, makes you sick. I’m not going to rant about health care in America – not here – except to say “Thank you, ACA.”

Found this awesome 1910 City of Chicago
"Vehicle Tag" in a northern Michigan field
last fall. The man largely responsible for the
ACA is said to have ties to the Windy City.

I augmented my income with lucrative assignments from renowned medical schools in Gainesville, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chapel Hill. And of course, I taught a zillion dance classes – gritting my teeth through the pain in my other hip joint. All of it was never quite enough to pay my part of the bills, but Al, bless him, kept touring.

Me, at DancEast (where I teach), in full
detecting/songwriting regalia. Even I
am not sure why this photo exists.

I’m no innocent. As I knew would happen, the U-M freelance work began to evaporate. I’ve been physically gone from the office for years, my accomplishments and my genuine belief in the place mean nothing now.  A week ago, I got a very nice call from the truly lovely man who now heads communications there, snipping my final connection to the place. Something about a budget.

Part of someone's budget a century ago.

And so here I sit, trying to figure out what’s next. In the other room, I have two shelves of books about the history of the University of Michigan Medical School. I have thick files of research for all the stories I wrote, stories I cared about. Why did I care? Because I’m a carer, and it all seemed so important at the time. Even as I wrote the stuff, I tried to remember: this won’t last forever and won't mean much in the long run.

These items used to mean something to someone.

This Civil War gunpowder keg used to "belong"
to a soldier.

A man wore this against his chest, then lost it.

These things were useful. They had value. Then they were dropped.
And then I dug them up.

I think about health care. Who knows what will happen to the ACA in the next five years? I’ve got other some stuff going on in my body that could get rather expensive and it sure would be nice to feel like simply existing isn’t dangerous.

Me, pondering the future. Or perhaps just looking at a tree.

I’ve been applying for weeks, for work I could excel at with my eyes closed, and have not heard one thing back. I picture the 30-something HR lady looking at the year I graduated from Michigan and doing the math. 

I teeter back and forth between “go get ANY JOB” and “why bother trying?” (While filling out a recent application, I was asked to answer the following question: “Do you believe in the Eternal Lake of Fire for the Unsaved? Check yes or no.”)

I really can't think of anything to say, so here are some figurines.

Notice that I haven’t said anything about trying to support myself through my songwriting? That is some pondering for another time, but suffice it to say, I’m a realist. When you blend the current state of the music “industry” together with my innate introversion and cosmic lack of drive, you get a whole lotta overwhelm. And song after song, written simply for the writing.

Me at the Bluebird Cafe, feeling grateful and happy.

Goodness! That’s enough introspection to last me a good, long while. I’d walk the dogs now, but it’s too hot. Al comes home tonight after two weeks touring Europe with country music royalty Carlene Carter, whose music always makes me feel like good things happen. So maybe they will.

Here are things I’m good at (in no particular order):
Development writing
Artist promotion
Teaching songwriting
Dance teaching (babies to adults)
Metal detecting
Metal detecting blog-writing
Driving (’99 Camry, baby...)
A particular kind of gluten-free cookie (Note: I am not GF)

If you hear of anything, let me know. Meanwhile, I'll be OK. I have a shiny, new left hip and am just about ready to plunge a shovel into the ground.

It's gonna be OK, Whit.

Saturday, January 9, 2016


I had a dream that I knocked on a door, seeking permission to metal detect. Inside, the homeowners were about to sit down to dinner. Clearly I was bothering them. It was awkward and I left. Then, I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror. Not only was my hair in large pigtails, there was a third pigtail sprouting out of the top of my head. And I remember thinking to myself, “Well. No wonder.”

It’s been nearly a year since I last posted. I’m not going to delve into the reasons why, as I’m not even sure what they are. Instead, I’m going to do a quick recap of 2015 which included some fun finds, a minor crisis of faith, and one major personal accomplishment.

Since the last blogpost was last February (!), we begin with March.

Perhaps you’ve forgotten how miserable last winter was. Snow, then an interminable ice storm. My cousin, Susan, came up for a visit and – weather be damned – wanted to go digging. I took her to “the Farm” where Cuzi enjoyed digging a ice/mud hole clear through to Papua New Guinea in order to liberate part of an old plow blade.

Isn't she just the cutest thing on legs?

I managed a few sweet finds that day, and a few weeks later.

The University of Nashville existed from 1826-1909. During
its history, it operated at various times a medical school,
a four-year military college, a literary arts college
and a boys' preparatory school.

Odds and ends. Love the keyhole.

Token from Earthman's Mercantile -- a
combination saloon and grocery in White's
Creek. It was there, in 1881, that the local
constable arrested Bill Ryan, alias Tom Hill
(no relation) -- a member of the infamous
Jesse James gang. And yes, that is a dog hair
in the upper left corner.
Happy to be out of the ground.
Also another dog hair.

Really just my favorite kind of find.

That hook thing was under a root and about made me cry.

They don't make suspender clips like they usta.

Sometime in early April, Cheryl and I made plans to dig but her car finked out on the Clarksville Pike. Waiting for the wrecker to come, we decided to explore a nearby creek. Sure was fun.

A new friend, songwriter Jerry Vandiver, invited me to check out a vacant lot he owns in East Nashville. Found way more than I expected over several trips.

Silver cross with sweet plastic "berries." I'm
thinking shop class project?

Very shiny but deceptively so. 

As the weather warmed, I intensified my efforts to get the word out about my new cd, “I Dug it Up” which features 13 songs inspired by metal detecting. Rehearsals commenced for a mid-May cd release at Douglas Corner. I was so excited. And then,  a virus decided to go metal detecting into every cell in my body, inserting snot and inflammation every which-where.

Never in all my years of performing as a songwriter have I canceled show. But I did. My husband, Al, took the slot and rocked the place, which was great. But it took me a long time to get past my disappointment.

Here’s a pic from the DancEast showcase at the end of May. Yup. When I’m not digging in the dirt, I teach li’l chilluns to dance.

Our circle is SO BIG!

Dirt Girl, as a wee ballerina.

June was spent in Ann Arbor, Michigan, readying our old family house for sale. On my way back home, I stopped just outside of Cincinnati to visit some sweet friends. I’ve known Grace since she was four teeny years old. She and I once went detecting around my house and she dug the fabulous penny shown below. Now she’s in serious, full-time training to be an Olympic gymnast, but, as they say, once a detectorist, always a detectorist.

Look at that form.

Just found pennies, but had fun.

"V" is for victory. And when you see Grace
compete, the word "victory" does come to mind.

On June 26, the Supreme Court of this country ruled that same-sex marriage is a right, nationwide. It was a joyful day, a triumph for love and common sense. Maybe I will finally dig a wedding ring,  now that there are going to be so many more of them flying off of fingers during backyard volleyball games, or at the beach, or whilst digging in gardens.

Over the summer, my dad again rented a big, old rambling house on Cape Cod. I tried my absolute best to unearth something fabulous, but all I managed to find is arranged, artfully, here.

I spent 10 hours as "the weird lady on the beach"
for this?
Back home, Cheryl and I got permission to detect a modest lawn in a neighborhood on the outskirts of CW activity, “outskirts” being the operative word. Cheryl was attacked by bees, but survived.

Here are two small digressions. The first: Hazel.

Sometimes, I get a powerful nudge about a random dog that needs a home. When a post about a little muttly cur appeared on Facebook in July, that nudge nearly knocked me down. Soon, Al and I were driving to a Franklin shelter to pick her up.


I'll have what you're having.

While she recuperated from her spay, I got busy playing matchmaker.

Hazel with her new family.

Digression #2: 

In June, an angry, not-very-bright young man with a bad haircut and access to a lot of firearms, killed a bunch of lovely, peaceful, praying human beings in an historic Charleston, S.C. church.  Amid the national grieving and disbelief, the Confederate flag was removed from the city’s state house. (I always wondered what that was doing there – or anywhere.)

At the next meeting of our local metal detecting club, the usual discussion of the Finds of the Month, dues, and other club business suddenly devolved into a heated discussion of the "true" history and meaning of the Confederate flag, how wrongheaded it was to remove it, where would this PC nonsense end, etc. The discussion ended with some heartfelt language about President Obama.

It really was unfortunate. There were some new faces at the club that night, folks who haven’t been back. My heart raced a little, but I didn't leave. It’s my club too.

For a few weeks after that, I thought a lot about the words “tradition” and “heritage” and “pride” and what it means to “honor our ancestors.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I honor my ancestors by being the best person I can be.

Now. In this life.

(And, in truth, I don’t think my distant ancestors are floating around demanding my attention. I think they are long gone to wherever we will go. But you know, I could be wrong about this.)

End of digressions.

In September, Cheryl and I got an interesting permission: an old farm south of town. Didn’t hit any kind of motherlode, but managed a few good finds. We’ll definitely go back.

Nice bridle rosette!

Not sure what this is. I would like someone
to tell me how rare and valuable it is.

One October afternoon, I scored a nice permission in my neighborhood: a beat-up little cabin with a huge front yard, right across the street from the Cumberland bluff. Cheryl came and brought her grandson, Trey. We dug for hours, pulling out a thousand bottle caps and pulltabs. Just... nothing. And then, this. It's a 1792 Spanish 8-real piece.

To be honest, I thought it was a stainless-steel
washer at first.  Then the profile of King Charles IV
(or "Big Nose Charlie," as Doug Drake used
to call him) became visible and I made
some muffled high-pitched noises, and all
was good and right with the world.

I've been told that people used to drill holes
in coins so they could run a string through
them to prevent loss. Obviously, not foolproof.

On October 31, my daughter, Maya, was married in Ann Arbor, Michigan to her Michael. What a party it was: a Halloween costume ball in an old, cobblestone barn. It was a joyous weekend and I only thought about sneaking out to detect the farm grounds maybe three times.

The lovely bride.

In early November, a reporter from WPLN, the local NPR station, contacted me about my detecting and my new record. He interviewed me at home, then asked me to go digging. Hmm.

I certainly didn’t want to take him somewhere and then not find anything. (“Oh! Everyone loves a vintage pulltab – it’s just part of the fun!”) So I did some serious reconnaissance. Got permission for a Really Good Yard belonging to some musicians who are famous enough that I will not mention their names, as much as I would like to do that.

Scoped it out by myself and found and Enfield bullet just lying on top of the ground.

Well, that's not something you see every day.

Dug several more then backed off, leaving some really delicious signals undug. (For the record, this is hard to do.)

Came back the next day with the NPR guy, handed him my Tesoro Cibola and let him have a go. He immediately found two more Enfields and a bunch of camp lead. Then he held the microphone as I dug through tough roots, self-conscious about the amount of unladylike grunting that was being recorded For All Time.

Couple of Enfields and a pulled 69 minie ball.

The next day, the NPR guy came to our monthly club meeting where he got to see some interesting finds and talk to some interesting people. There was no political commentary that night, for which I was grateful.

The cd release show for I Dug it Up took place Wednesday, November 18 at Douglas Corner in Nashville. Backed by an ace band and a slew of my dearest friends singing backup, I sang through the entire album. There were lots of people. There was cake. There was an NPR guy. It was one of the best nights of my life.

Here we are singing "Can Slaw" -- my ode to chopped up
Mountain Dew cans everywhere.

I am thinking about becoming a professional cake decorator.

(I will post a link to a youtube video of the whole show at the end of this blogpost. It was recorded on a phone so the sound is not pristine, but it's pretty cool. Thanks,  Dave P.!)

Here are a few odds and ends from random yards near my house.

Just grand.
Someone was fascinated by transportation.

Which brings us to January. Only nine days in and I’ve already dug this

Confederate Gardner bullet -- precursor to the
more accurate Enfield. 

And this, just yesterday.

Huge yard full of nothing, then this.

My hopes/plans for the new year?

1.     Finish a new writing project
2.     Get permission for a certain vacant lot on the Cumberland bluff. I’ve been trying for a year.
3.     That the NPR guy will finish and air the story of I Dug it Up so that all the world can hear my grunty root digging.

And one other thing: I hope to travel to Fayette, Alabama where both my grandfather’s grandfathers had farms. One, Willis Harvey Whitley, was a captain in an undistinguished Confederate regiment. The other, Buck Farquhar, owned a prosperous farm, including two enslaved human beings. I’d like to locate those properties, perhaps run my detector over the land and find something that belonged to my ancestors.

Will it make me feel closer to them? Maybe, though that closeness would be a fiction.

Will I feel pride? Shame? I don't know.

Will it make me want to better understand the times they lived in, their particular spot in the river, the rot and the grit and the glory of history? Absolutely.

And if through some miracle of dimensions, Willis and Elizabeth Whitley are there in some form, floating beside me as I swing my machine over the scattered bricks of their long-demolished farmhouse, here are two things they may say to each other:

1. "Elizabeth Jane, why does our young descendent not have a Confederate flag bumper sticker on her Toyota Sienna minivan? The omission of it is so disrespectful." 

I believe this is unlikely.


2. "Willis, what on earth is growing out of the top of our young descendent's head? Lawd, Lawd, but it looks like a third pigtail. The poor girl should wear a bonnet, for decency's sake... " 

This is more likely. I shall report back.