Friday, September 12, 2014

"One of Them There Things..."

That's right: two Dirt Girl posts in as many days.

This one is short and to the point.

In April of 2013, my dear friend (and renowned Michigan videographer) Terri Sarris, came to Nashville to make a short film about me and my metal detecting. Here's the finished product. I just love it. There was hours and hours of footage, but she has edited it down to a compact 10 minutes that says so much, so beautifully. And seeing the great Doug Drake again is just so cool.

Here's the link.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

I had this dream the other night.

I am going to the airport to pick up a friend. For some reason, Al and Jakson (dog) are in the car too. We get to the airport and pull into one of the spaces where you can only stay a few minutes. Sure enough the guard lady comes over to us but instead of telling us to open the trunk or needlessly circle the airport, she starts talking about DOGS, of which she has six. She tells me that her friend is looking for a new dog. Well, I say. I know someone who is fostering a stray dog that needs a home! Here… I say: here’s my card. Email me and I’ll get you the info.

The guard lady takes my card and studies it closely.

“Dirt Girt?” she asks, puzzled.

“What? No. Dirt GIRL,” I correct her.

“Well, this says ‘Dirt GIRT’ – with a ‘T’,” she says, handing me the card. Which I notice does in fact refer to yours truly as “Dirt GIRT.”

And then I woke up.


It’s been way too long since I’ve posted and there’s lots to tell you.

In the middle of July, my family gathered on Cape Cod. It was kind of a homecoming for me. I started going there when I was a toddler and spent all or part of every summer there for decades, in a little gray-shingled cottage owned by my godparents. My first husband and I moved to the Cape to live in 1980 and my daughter, Maya, was born in the front room of an 1830s home in South Yarmouth the following year.

Brand-new Maya, brand-new mama, 1981.

When my godmother died in 1998, the summer cottage was sold and I hadn’t been back since. I was a little afraid that being there again would unleash a torrent of tears, and that did happen, briefly. It also unleashed a torrent of family fun, swimming in the salty, seaweedy sea, playing “tennis” with a grownup Maya (anyone watching us play would know why quotes are needed), late-night games of Mexican Train Dominos, and eating a lot of really good food.

Of course, I had to engage in some serious graveyard skulking action.

When I was a kid I spent countless hours
doing gravestone rubbings on the Cape.

Thankful. That's a nice name.

Really, these stones were the Facebook of the 1700s. 

I also spent many hours swinging the old Fisher F75 in a beautiful but somewhat creepy “nature preserve” near where we were staying. I’d heard from the locals that it was a place where the militia practiced during “the war” which, this being Massachusetts, actually meant the Revolutionary War. But all I found for my efforts was part of a spoon and an old file.

Wow. Cool file. Yawn.

Also did a whole lot of beach detecting and found a ton of clad but no jewelry. 

Pretty disappointing. Where was the jewelry???

Oh well. At least I looked like an idiot.

Hello! Have you dropped any jewels? Can I
stand here until you do?

My father and my son, attempting to tolerate my hobby.
My dad and me, shortly after I knocked
over a peerless vodka martini.

Back home in Nashville, it was dry and hot, but Cheryl and I got out once or twice. My girlfriend, Kira, recently bought a house in East Nash with her boyfriend, Sailor Glen, and we hit that yard hard. I found a ton of 70s-era toy cars and trucks but not much else.

Carwash... workin' at the carwash, yeah...

For the record, Kira is not particularly spacey.

One desperate dayjob-hating afternoon, I ventured back to the Never-Fail Wonderland Yard near my house and pulled out this sweet little cufflink, so similar to the “Tallio” cufflink of the last post. Happy happy.

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean... roll!

In August, I had two rapturous days up on the beach in northern Michigan where I spent virtually all daylight hours doing You Know What.

At one point, a man came up to me and asked if I’d go look for his wife’s wedding ring; she’d lost it last summer. Sure, I said, and walked a long ways down the beach to the spot he indicated. I never found the ring but found this, instead.

A flurry of posts on various MD sites identified it as a pewter rattail spoon, circa 1750-1760.

Then I queried Wayne Hilt, a renowned pewter spoon expert. Here's what he said:

Nice find.  The spoon is in my opinion an 18th century item...The shape of the bowl an elongated taper oval originated around 1720+_.  This form of bowl was used both in England and the Continent as well as America through around 1760-1780.  During those latter years the design developed into a more tapered form.

The cast decoration on the handle is interesting.  the raised "shell" on the face was undoubtedly produced when the mold was first made.  the additional decoration shown in photo 3 are likely additions cut into the mold by one of its owners.  The quality of the shell is superb while the back of the handle work is far cruder.

The rib up the back of the Bowl is typically early 18th century, while the shape of end of the handle design is more a mid to 3rd quarter design...The form in general reminds me of a European rather than English/American design.

As this is a "relic" I would not attempt any "fix" of the crack...if handled with caution it should be fine.

Thanks, Wayne!

I just can't get over the fact that this item was found about 30 feet from the water's edge, about 12 inches deep in the sand.

Also found this honking pile of rust and almost threw it out, but decided to take it home and de-rust it.

Hmm. Numbers...
This is a silver-plated something or other.
Any ideas? Ashtray? Spoon rest?

Finally, this cool old souvenir thing.

Hard to see here, but there is an image of a
Native American man on a horse, looking
up to the sky.

Summer is over. I’m back to writing (the dreaded dayjob) and teaching the sticky little chilluns to point their feet (wonderful dayjob).

Sigh. Sure do miss the beach…

Last weekend, I ventured south of town to a 100-acre construction site I had permission to hunt. It had been pretty much scraped clean but I managed to find a smattering of the usual ordinary old home site stuff: parts of oil lamps, mason jar lids.

Also found this.


I won’t be exploring it further, but it got under my skin and I wrote a song about it which I'll post later.

That’s it for now.
Oh! I know! One other thing. Recorded THREE more songs for the metal detecting record. They are:

How’d This Get Here?

They sound fantastic. I think we might actually meet our early November deadline for getting this thing out into the world.  Where it is so badly needed.

And that dream at the beginning? That wasn’t a dream. Every single business card I have handed out over the past year has referred folks to Dirt GIRT Unleashed.

New cards have been ordered.

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.