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.


  1. I remain a strong fan. I benefit from a perspective on Nashville, the civil war, personal relations/negotiations, local history in general, and dirt, quite distinct from anything I'm likely to conjure on my own. I wonder what lies buried in my own backyard, but unfortunately power lines render the trusty Tesla 3000 virtually useless in my area. Dangit.

  2. Sometimes it's just about the fun. A fun read...thank you.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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