Saturday, July 5, 2014


As I write these words, a cool and gentle Nashville night is being punctuated by bottle rockets and … (gosh, I cannot think of any other fireworks names due to wine from Costco. I’ll make some up: clackers, giant sky roses, frenetic street snakes, smokesters…).


So, yeah. It’s the Fourth of July and in honor of The Birth of This Great Nation, I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt trying to find things that used to belong to people who actually lived back when the nation was born.

I found a pharaoh. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Not long after I wrote the last post, I ventured back to the Ranchion for one final pokearound. It was hot and buggy and I could only last about an hour. Dug foil and a few clad pennies. So disappointing!

Until I got home and one of the clad pennies revealed itself to be this:

An 18?? Shield Nickel (can't read the date).
These were issued from 1866-1883 and
were the first five-cent coins referred
to as "nickels." So you can
stop wondering about that.

The above coin bagged me THIRD PLACE in the monthly coin competition at the June meeting of the Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club. 

One morning, Cheryl and I set out to explore the East Nashville yard of a charming young man who plays with the Nashville Symphony. Here’s my haul.

Cheryl found a different-looking tag with the same number.
We think they were tags off of telephone or electrical poles.
Who doesn't like a good tag?
But the real prize of the hunt was when he invited us inside and played a beautiful Brahms piece on the piano AND gave us each a quart of black raspberries. Way to own a home, homeowner!

We were having way too much fun to call it a day, so we headed to a lawn south of town. Cheryl and Doug had dug it before but it was new to me. The homeowners, an elderly couple, are the kind of people who say, “Oh, heavens, sweetie…  y’all come by anytime you want to! You don't even have to call ahead. It’s just grass; you can’t hurt a thing!” which is to say that these homeowners are saints of a special sort. Their footprints glow – that kind of thing.

I had a good day. It had rained recently and the ground was perfecto. Here’s what I found.

Clockwise, from top: uniform eagle button, cool buckle,
bumpy lead thing possibly pounded from bullet
 (any ideas?), 1911 penny, boot tip, two Minie balls,
one Enfield bullet, two Spencer carbine shells.
Center: Brooke ratchet plate sabot.
Whenever I'm digging on a battle site, I am very mindful of what went on here. One friend told me that this spot was particularly bloody. "Dead upon dead" as he put it. It's hard to reconcile with the gracious, verdant, quiet neighborhood it is now. 

Here are some more views of the item in the center, which caused quite the flurry on Facebook when I posted a photo of it wondering if it was maybe a piece of plumbing or lawn equipment.  Turns out a Brooke ratchet plate sabot is quite rare – a very particular bottom of a very particular artillery shell. People collect these items and I shall sell it, eventually, but for now it’s hanging around on my desk. I wrote a song about it.

Here’s another view of that beautiful buckle, in situ.

It's dated 1856 (?).

Also, the Enfield bullet.

Needless to say, we went back another day and I bagged a beautiful, huge horse shoe.

I like to imagine it was from a heroic horse in the Battle of Nashville, but that land was farmed long before the Civil War and long after too. So it might have just been from Old Bessie. I’ll never know for sure. It's currently taking a long, leisurely bubble bath in the electric soup, getting derusted.

Alone one day, I paid a quick visit to a house on Brush Hill that I bet I’ve hunted 20 times. It always delivers, particularly after a good rain. I’m also way more skilled with my Fisher F75 now and that results in new finds at old, “hunted out” haunts.

Here’s some of what I pulled out:

Some kind of shield (maybe off an old bike?), three
flat buttons, spoon I broke....

The gilt on that center button is really gorgeous. You know, back from the day when tradespeople put decorative patterns and gold gilt on the BACKS of buttons, so the muslin could enjoy looking at it.

Really love this too. Looks like a tiny lock from an old box or desk. If you look up close, it's covered with beautiful carvings. I just stared at them through my loop and thought about the nameless artisan who decided to put floral carvings no one ever notice on a tiny lock.

I honor thee, long-ago artisan. You were
really good at curlicues.
But this find really schnockered me. It was a delicate but consistent signal, right down by the road. Initially thought it was maybe part of a costume jewelry earring and threw it in the bag without really looking at it. But later, up close...


Also called sleeve-links!

Here's the back!

Late 1700s-early 1800s cufflinks with a picture of a leaping
fox and the word "TALLIO" on the top. I spent an embarrassing
amount of time researching the "Tallio" family of Italy
before learning that the word is an early version of "Tally-Ho!"

Hands down, one of my favorite finds of all time. Love thinking about the man whose fingers fastened them through the cuffs of homespun cloth, so long ago. And imagining the moment he dropped them, unknowing, hundreds of years ago. 

(Plink... they said, hitting the soft dirt; he never heard a thing.)

A couple of days ago, I got permission to explore a property I’ve been curious about for a while – a large, but very overgrown lot (think billions of ticks) right on the Cumberland, just north of where I live.  The homeowners had lost their keys and had been asking around the neighborhood for an MDer and, due to my stellar reputation (pushiness and borderline rude self-promotion) called Dirt Girl, (not realizing how much saliva had been dribbled re their property by same.) Though I tried valiantly, I never found the keys, but through the delightful kindness of these lovely people, permission was granted to hunt their yard and The Double Lot Next Door, so this afternoon, newbie Laura and I went over there.

It is an amazing spot, high above the Cumberland and not at all as overgrown as I’d thought. The chimney of an old house reached up out of the brush to the sky. This had been the summer cabin of a wealthy Nashvillian, who, according to his dirt, liked nothing better than to fire guns into the Cumberland. Yes, there were hundreds of shells – NOT THAT I’M COMPLAINING.

Laura and I valiantly dug them up for an hour or so along with a couple of other fun items.

Here’s some of our haul (we left out the pulltabs and crushed Miller cans to protect your gentle sensibilities).

Add caption

Really liked this:

Cool old brass hanger thing, shown here
against a photo of Stephen Gaskin, who
died a few days ago. Stephen was the
hippie iconoclast who founded The Farm
in Summertown, TN. His teachings
and those of his wife, Ina May, inform
my life in every way.

And this:
Piece of a pocketwatch from the American Watch Company,
Waltham, Mass. shown here against the cover of
my friend Korby Lenker's new CD.

And here, as promised, is my pharaoh. 

Posted it on FB so that other people could do my research for me, as I am a lazy ne'er-do-well. Turns out it’s a link in a 1920s-era belt. Love it!

Thanks for the ID, Johnny Pryor!

But the best moment of the day was dear Laura, walking up to me tentatively holding HER FIRST MINIE BALL!

"I think this is a bullet?" she said.

Yes. Yes, it is.

To celebrate, we went to Dairy Queen.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Fame Comes A-Callin'....

First, free legal advice:

If you go to a Civil War battlefield and strike the ground with your hand and record the sound for a record of metal detecting songs, you will be fined $40.

So… don't do that, says Dirt Girl’s dream.

Just a few tidbits to share.

Yup, you read the headline correctly. Cheryl and I were contacted by a New York City casting agency. Someone (not sure who because it is apparently a HUGE AND IMPORTANT SECRET) is developing a pilot for a treasure hunting show. "Sort of like American Pickers but for treasure hunters!" Would we like to fill out an application?

No! I responded. We are not like those dumbasses on Diggers who bellow about "Nectar!" and hang from trees when they unearth coins that have been clearly planted by the production interns the night before. We are not like that at all.

But, I countered: might they be interested in some metal detecting songs? I have a few of those. Not their department, they said. They just do the casting. Why not just fill out the application?

So we filled it out and the next day, they requested a Skype interview.

I made it clear that Cheryl and I aren’t treasure hunters, specifically. That is to say, we do not slither into crawlspaces, tear apart walls, get dropped down wells, etc.

We do metal detecting. We are really good at spending hours being utterly boring to watch: swinging our Fisher F75s, then crouching down, then peering at something without the benefit of reading glasses, then looking disgusted and disappointed. Maybe once an hour we will look happy.

Not like this. This is sarcasm.

But despite this honest caveat, the 14-year-old casting lady still wanted to interview us.

The day of the interview, I flat-ironed my hair – OF COURSE – and updated Skype to the latest version. At noon, Cheryl came over and we did what anyone would do an hour prior to a potentially life-changing Skype interview: we went and got delicious margaritas.

At 1 sharp, “Melissa” appeared on my screen and started asking us questions.

I really, really tried to record this monumental
event for posterity -- or at least this blog-- by
having Al take a picture of us being interviewed
but "Melissa" would have none of it. She
saw him point his phone at us and said, "NO!"
and clicked her "hide" button. Apparently,
taking photos during a casting interview
is not OK. She remained hidden for the
duration of the interview, leading us to
suspect there was Someone Else With
Her who wished to remain anonymous.
WHO COULD IT BE? We never learned.

 I have to say, Cheryl and I were almost dangerously adorable. We love to talk about MD and shared some of our more bizarre and funny stories. We laughed and joked, finished each other’s sentences and showed “Melissa” some of our more interesting finds by holding them up to the camera in my computer screen, sometimes making sound effects.

Forty minutes flew by. When we signed off, we were high as kites. We knew our chances were slim to none, being as how we are MIDDLE AGED WOMEN and therefore invisible to American media, so we just appreciated the experience for what it was.

It’s been over two weeks now, and we haven’t heard anything more, so it (whatever “it” is – we have no details…) is probably not going to happen. If I'm disappointed at all, it's not because we won't get to be on TV  (anyone who's read my memoir, Not About Madonna, knows how I feel about that) -- it's that they probably could have scored us some really good places to dig.

But you know, we seem to be doing pretty well on our own.

One beautiful Saturday, Cheryl and I decided to check out the Bank of Harmonica again (see last post). As we pulled in, we noticed a man mowing his lawn two doors down.


We took a little stroll in his direction and engaged him in polite conversation. Turns out Luis is a delightful, friendly homeowner and allowed us to detect his sizeable property, which more or less abuts the bank. He had halfheartedly MD’d his yard some years back, had dug a bunch of horseshoes and a log-splitter, then returned the detector to the dealer. Not his thing.

Not a problem. We had a lovely time. Didn’t find much, as we were trying to be very careful with his lawn (it hasn’t rained in weeks) but I did find this lovely axe head.

Pre-electric soup.

Post-electric soup. I am delivering this beautiful
axe head to Luis as soon as I finish this blog.

I thought this was a piece of foil until I got it home and cleaned up.

Badge from the Improved Order of Red Men.
Not a whole lot to say about that. You can
look it up.
Also found these interesting goodies.

These were mashed together with a rusted
ring (since broken). I'm a little confused...
top one looks like a New York State dog tag
 from 1932, but the other one says, "Virginia"
on the side. Was that the doggie's name?
Or the state? I do think it's very polite of them
to refer to her as a "female dog."

I challenge you to look up Challenge overalls.

Waffles, anyone?
Other odds and ends. Loving that buckle.

Newbie Laura continues to show great enthusiasm for this hobby, peppering my phone with texts like, “Are you finished with work yet? Can you sneak away?”

Laura, sneaking away.

But not me. I would never.

Last Sunday, I took her back to a farm in Hermitage I’ve been slowly exploring.  It’s a huge property with a long walk through ticky, snaky woods to an area that’s got “old home site” written all over it. (The ground is full of iron and mason jar lids.) But Cheryl and I have never quite found THE spot, as it’s very rough going and quite overgrown.

I think we're getting closer, though.

Flat button, buckles, thing with daisies.

One of Laura's finds, all cleaned up. Wish I'd taken a "before"
pic. It looked like the Mickey Mouse of Rust.

 Laura and I swung, crouched, scrabbled and examined for hours, then limped back to the car in the fading light of a luscious Tennessee spring. As far as I know, neither of us had a tick. 

That night, I lay on the sofa and caught up on some back episodes of “Nashville” while sensing a demonic presence or two nearby.


Happy Memorial Day, all! 

Any bullets or buttons I find this weekend will be even more meaningful than usual.

Bullets. Buttons. Fossil.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Ranchion and the Bank of Harmonica

Glorious: that’s the kind of spring it’s been here in Nashville. Your Dirt Girl has been busy with a slurry of pleasant and/or mundane activities. These include: 

  • The Boring Dayjob (I write at home for a university medical school)
  • Teaching Sticky Little Chilluns to Point Their Feet (I’m a ballet teacher.)
  • Writing Songs (I think I wrote or cowrote 11 in the last month.)
  • Going to Song Gatherings (Critique sessions, rounds, etc.)
  • Socializing (This has become very important to me due to my delightful friends.)
  • Working on my Metal Detecting Record (SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS!)
  • Digging Dirt (I think you are not surprised.)

I continue to be enchanted by the strange serendipity of this endeavor – the way the finds somehow seem to have a sense of humor, a sense of irony. Is that even possible? Why does this hobby feel so connected to something … intelligent? The coincidences and oddities are so frequent that it’s hard to ignore.

For instance, remember (from a Dirt Girl post a couple of years ago) when I was working that NY Times crossword puzzle and couldn’t get the 5-letter answer for “vintage toothpaste”? I thought about it for days, and it was on the tip of my brain… and then I went into some northern Michigan woods and dug a tiny, metal toothpaste cap that read “IPANA”?

That kind of thing seems to happen a lot. And I love it.
Here’s a recap of recent finds, both ordinary and magical:

One sunny Sunday in early April, Cheryl couldn't join me so I headed out alone. First stop: a lawn near Shelby Park. It SHOULD have been a great yard – on a hill, overlooking the river and downtown – but I found nothing but bottle caps. Poked around in the park for a bit, and found this...
This is so very not gold.

then headed down Riverside Drive (a real misnomer of a street, as it does not follow any river at all). Amid all the ‘50s ranchers and more modern homes on this street, I’d noticed a really old Italianate home trying to hide behind some very high shrubbery. I’d done some research on this house; it’s one of only four surviving antebellum homes in East Nashville. Originally surrounded by hundreds of acres of land, it’s now hemmed in by suburbia on all sides.

I was far too shy to knock on the door but had a sudden Epiphany. I drove around to the street behind the mansion and began driving past (stalking) the ranch homes there. If I could find out which rancher was directly behind it, well… the back yards would adjoin. Soon, I was talking to a nice young homeowner who was out mowing his front yard. Yes, his house was directly behind the mansion. Why, sure I could metal detect the whole place – any time!

Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham.

I had a lovely time at the ranch house behind the mansion (“The Ranchion.”) The back yard was massive. I’ve since been back with Cheryl and we will be returning. Here are some of the goodies:

Just the handle, sadly. So pretty.

Pie, anyone?

This beautiful bell is very old. Also very broken.
But it is one of my favorite finds of all time.

Also found a minie ball that I insisted the homeowner keep even though he clearly didn't want it. 

One Friday afternoon, I returned to a yard near my house that I keep as a default site. Pulled this out and it was only later that I realized that not only was it Friday, it was Good Friday. 

I love digging Catholic medals.
And let us not forget the 1980s 10 yen
coin that was near the Catholic medals.

Progress on my collection of metal detecting songs is going well. I’ve never been so excited about a project. One song, written a couple of months ago, is a silly one that I never dreamed anyone would like, but it has proved very popular and I’ve started performing it. The first verse goes like this:

I have never lost a belt buckle in my life
I have never lost a harmonica,
I have never left a mason jar in the yard
I’m perplexed at these phenomena…
And so I cry… How’d this get here???

(We detectorists do expend some brain energy wondering how all this stuff got in the ground and I must render this robust pondering in song. Because who else will???) 

Last week, in the midst of a busy day, I went to the bank. My branch is very new. They tore down a really pretty 1920s-ish house on Gallatin Road to put it in, which really pissed me off at the time but I seem to have adapted. As I got back in my car, I looked closely at the strip of green grass on the edge of the parking lot. It occurred to me that it was a really big strip of green. With old trees. In fact, it looked suspiciously like the back yard of the old house, relatively untouched by ‘dozers.

I went back in the bank and talked to the security guard. Yes, the strip belonged to the bank. SURE, I could detect it!

Let me tell you that at 5 p.m., your Dirt Girl returned to the bank and made many, many withdrawals.

Including a buckle, multiple harmonica reeds and a mason jar lids. (See song lyrics above…)

I always smile when I find harmonica reeds.
BUT the item on the top right corner is NOT a harmonica
reed. It is, according to the president of the
Middle Tennessee Metal Detecting Club,
 some kind of clip, but I cannot remember what
he called it. Sure do miss Doug Drake at
times like this. Also many other times.

Still dirty. That spoon part is massive.

Cincinnati, after a bath in some electric soup. Not
sure what this is. Ideas?

Cool find! Not sure what it is... some kind of strap clip?

Bummer. Cool, old brass ring thing with
giant tree root going right through it.
I know my limits.
(Wait a minute: is this vaguely pornographic?
No! It's not. Stop it.)

I don’t know for sure if soldiers were camped there, at the site of the future Bank of Harmonica – I didn't find any bullets – but some of the stuff is definitely CW. It was crazy to sense the history on this spot, on a busy Nashville corner, next to the drive-thru teller, with hundreds of cars whizzing by. This stuff is OLD.

(One other interesting item: I noticed that as I dug, a couple of robins were watching me carefully. They followed me from hole to hole, looking for worms in the black moist dirt I’d turned up. Wrote a song about it.)

A dance tangent: we've had Flo Speace staying with us for a while. Flo is a redbone coonhound we dearly love. She’s a nervous little canine, but an absolute dearie-dear. We have been working on our tap-dancing routines. Sometimes she likes to rehearse with me, but other times, she prefers not to rehearse.


Today after work, I met up with my new friend, Laura, a wonderful singer-songwriter from Oregon who has been in town about a month. She had a detector as a child and loved it and asked if she could go digging sometime. Yes.

We visited a friend’s huge Inglewood yard for an hour or so. I gave Laura my trusty, old Tesoro Cibola and she went to town and thoroughly skunked me, finding a key with her last name on it.

Yup. Curtis. A Curtis key. Welcome to Nashville, Laura Curtis.

Also this cool item:

Pretty sure this is a clasp from a trunk or

Later in her own back yard, she found a 1940s-era toy fire truck and a car. Don’t have a photo to share but trust me: they are ever so cute.

My non-junk haul for the day (complete with message from the Lovely Beyond):

"Put Purity in your Life"
This is probably from the Purity Dairy -- an iconic
Nashville business. But I prefer to think that I am being reminded
to embrace PURITY (freedom from contamination or adulteration).

I will be thinking about this while I drink a delicious
Lagunitas IPA at next opportunity.