Saturday, December 31, 2011

Oh no... the Po-Po!

Today's hunt ended badly, but with valuable lessons learned and Cheryl and I shall sally forth with renewed vigor and, perhaps, a bit more understanding of the word “trespassing.”

My holiday break was drawing to a close, as is this spell of mild and sunny weather, so it seemed prudent to heed the call of the wild and get out there for some last-day-of-2011 metal detecting.

Met up with Cheryl at a church in a town that, for reasons that will soon become clear, I decline to name. She had hunted there briefly yesterday with a couple of veteran digging buddies who insisted it was perfectly fine to park in the church parking lot and wander around in the woods behind. They found good stuff there – bullets, a couple of rings, an 1884 Indian head penny (go Cheryl! I am ever so jealous) so we decided to go there first.

Dived into woods. It was another splendid day, on a cliff high above a river. Who could possibly “own” land high up above a river? Isn't that considered “shoreline”?

Dug a little trash, then hit a good signal and pulled out a mystery item. Any ideas?
I have no idea.

 Looks like some kind of iron mini-chastity belt with garter attachments. I was pretty excited. But a truck pulled up to the back of the church and a man said a wedding was going to start in about two hours. He didn't mind our being there, but we left anyway.

Went back to a farm we had permission to hunt, but it was so huge, and we were so few and so small and so ineffectual and there were giant, shiny cow turds everywhere so we left.

Don't worry. This is going to get better soon. Something will actually happen.

Drove down the road to a house Cheryl knew backed up to a small river we will call “Whit's Branch” for want of a more accurate name. Word on the street was that the Great Flood of '09 had churned up the creek and revealed bucketloads of bullets and other goodies. We pulled in the driveway and, as usual, tried to get up the nerve to ask permission. What always gets us over that particular hump is this pithy saying: “If you don't ask, the answer is always no.”

Which is sort of true. And sort of not, as you will soon see.

We gulped and drove up to the house where we were met by two big, black dogs. A woman came out and was exceedingly friendly. Sure, she said. Four other groups had been down there recently and hadn't found a thing, but we were welcome to try. We set off toward Whit's Branch.

How beautiful. A sweet little wading stream, surrounded by tall, tall trees, including one that must have been around 150 years. A real queen of a tree. On the other bank was a steep hill up to some train tracks. The stream flowed through a giant tunnel we could have walked through, but we didn't.

Oh Lordy, did we dig a lot of trash. After pulling out a large, corroded can of scary mystery liquid which I couldn't just leave there, it was time to pack it in, despite all of nature's beauty.

We chatted with the friendly lady (who said we could come back anytime) and went to McDonald's where I had one of my twice-yearly fish sandwiches and Cheryl and I talked about cultural divides and also about how quickly fries become uninteresting.

Refreshed, we headed back to the church to see if the blasted wedding was finally OVER. (No really, folks, I hope you are very happy together.) But there were still cars in the driveway. WHAT TO DO?

We decided to drive further down the road and see if we could park somewhere, then hike backwards through the woods to that particular area.

About ¼ mile down the road was a house. A vacant house. The conversation went something like this:

Cheryl: This is perfect. Let's park here and walk back.
Whit: I don't know. This is clearly somebody's house, even if it is empty.
Cheryl: Well, there's no No Trespassing sign. The worst that can happen is we'll be asked to leave.
Whit: Well, when I'm being gang-raped in the women's prison, I will hold you accountable.

We parked, grabbed our machines, walked behind the house, forded a tiny stream, then climbed up onto the high ridge that led back to the church.

It was just so beautiful in there. Quiet and perfect. My fears dissolved into excitement as my Tesoro Cibola metal detector blasted my ears with solid signals. I pulled out three CW bullets in 10 minutes. About 50 feet away, Cheryl was having similar little victories. This was a camp. And one that had not been hunted out. Oh, the possibilities.

Oh, the Po-Po.

No, gentle reader, it was not to be. I looked up to see an officer trudging through the woods towards me. Poor guy. And he thought he was going to have a nice, quiet, New Years Eve afternoon.

At this point, I will admit that every part of me, down to my core, wants to describe this Po in sarcastic terms. My fingers tremble with the desire to use my words in unkind ways, to paint his (short) appearance, his (self-important) demeanor, his (snippy) behavior in an effort to make my guilty self feel better. But the truth is, we were trespassing, even if we were just middle aged ladies with metal detectors.

Pushing back images of being gang-raped by check forgers, I bumbled something about how I just thought this was “state land” which made the Po laugh out loud. No, we were trespassing on land that belonged to the “Smiths” – who basically owned the whole town. They lived across the street from the vacant house (their vacant house) and had seen the car and they were piiiiiiissed....

We smiled and apologized profusely and hiked back to the car. We saw the Po drive up to the “Smith” house so Cheryl followed him up there. The lady of the manor stormed back into her house and slammed the door so we apologized to the lord of the manor who yelled at us a little bit then accepted our apology but threw in a “And don't come back” which I didn't think was very Christian of him.

Officer Po provided a thoughtful escort as we drove back to the highway. Bless his heart.

The bullets of shame.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Jack Dodson's Army Air Force ID Bracelet -- Christmas Day

Christmas Day, 2011

Dogs don't care at all if it's Christmas. If it's 8 a.m., (and, yes, they can read a digital clock) then it's time to click the toenails loudly all 'round the bed, then place front paws on the bed and stare at you while breathing. So I got up, fed the beasts and got coffee going. Even though it's a little sad not to have wee kiddos in the house on Christmas morning, it's also kind of sweet. As in, you can do what you want, when you want (except for aforementioned dogs).

So, I drank coffee, poked my toe at the modest pile of presents under the extraordinarily fragrant tree, and waited for Al and Sam (wee kiddo, all grown to manhood) to wake up. They did, I made biscuits and eggs, and we opened our presents and had fun.

That done, I saw no reason not to go metal detecting (an activity I increasingly refer to as “um... I'm going out for a while...” and which Al never dissuades me from because my absence allows him unfettered access to Pro-Tools.)

Headed over to a nearby yard where a nice gentleman had given me permission to hunt (loot, pillage) his nice-sized yard. This was my second time investigating his property and I had high hopes.

It was an absolutely lovely day. Sunshine, maybe 50 degrees. Christmas in TN.

After about an hour of digging little more than trash, I got a nice signal and flipped back the dirt and bent down for a look. At first I thought it was a dog chain; I've dug a few of those. But as I gently lifted it out, the black dirt fell from the links and it was so bright and clean, as it if had been burnished, polished by its time underground. And then, there was his name: Jack Dodson, in a fine, old 1940s-era font.

It was Jack Dodson's Army Air Force ID bracelet from World War II. Thick, sterling silver. Right at that moment, the home owner came out to see if I'd found anything and we talked about the find. I told him I'd see if I could find out who Jack was. Maybe get it back to him, or his family.

Went home and while baking corn pudding, started researching and quickly discovered that there sure were a lot of Jack and John Dodsons who served our country during WWII. And quite a few of them were from Tennessee. Checked the online records of the nearby veterans cemetery. My next step is to go down to the city archives and find out who lived in that house in the 1940s.

Thing is, Jack could have been a friend visiting from Maine. A workman planting trees. Somebody's cousin from Albuquerque. And his bracelet just slipped off into the dirt and was slowly covered up by dirt and leaves and time. I may never track down the right Jack Dodson.

It didn't escape my notice that Jack's ID bracelet “returned” to the air and sunshine just as thousands of Iraq War vets returned home to be with their families.

Anyone know Jack Dodson?
I am in love with this bracelet and grateful for the privilege of holding it in my hands.

Somewhere in Tennessee, the Day After Christmas

A .69 (the monster), a Williams "Cleaner" and a cut-off bullet. Creepy.
December 26, 2011

Look, I had to sleep in, so I told Cheryl and Doug to start w/o me. Got a good, solid 8 hours and it was sublime. Up around 8:30 and was on the road by 10 ish, heading for a small town west of Nashville.

Pulled into the parking lot in the deserted little downtown and waited until D and C met me. They'd been … somewhere, I never quite learned where – down by the RR tracks. Doug made me drool with jealousy with his two 1910 dimes and super old nickel. He said he'd gotten them all, but I'm not so sure.

We all piled into D's car and after a few twists and turns, ended up at a tiny cemetery. We walked thru, looking at the stones of little babies and old people, long ago people. Sad.

Found a place where the barbed wire fence was broken down and walked into some woods on a bluff high up over a river. So pretty. A gray, silent day. The day after Christmas. Water flowing quietly below us.

We split up and got started. It was hard going, as the brush was fairly thick. Couldn't swing easily, but we did our best. Must have dug one place for 20 minutes and never found it. Found a bullet that a soldier had cut the top off of. “They were bored out of their minds,” explained Doug, later, as to why a soldier would do that.

My best find there was a big, fat, .69 bullet. A real monster. I hate bullets. Fuckers.

We regrouped, then drove out of town about ½ mile and parked. Had an amusing time trying to climb up the RR embankment with our gear, then, once across, up a rocky incline to a hill where, 150 years ago, there was an encampment, possibly a fort. Stayed there about 90 minutes, but didn't find much. I pulled out what Doug said was a “curry comb.” Sure looked like trash to me. Walked out of there with some RR ephemera that I hope to turn into candlesticks. Someday.

Not much else. Some modern shotgun shells and rifle thingies.

Back at the car, we ran into a retired schoolteacher who owns the farm x the road. He gave us permission to search the foundation of an old building on his property. I have high hopes for that.

Doug went home and C and I went to a little bar, had Diet Cokes and Christmas cookies and talked to the owner and an elderly couple while the man played old timey songs on an out-of-tune piano. I strummed along on a guitar. Much fun.

Triune Hunt, early November, 2011

Early November. Triune Hunt

Flawless fall day in middle TN.

Drove south via 24 to Nolensville area and met Cheryl at an agreed-upon spot. The plan: check out some soccer fields that were being dug out; a member of the club had said they were good hunting.

But when we got to the spot, it was all roped off with No Trespassing signs. Dang.

We stood around awkwardly for a while, then decided to just hunt around the area, but not cross the lines. I went off to a creek and found a bunch of trash. Cheryl was out by the road. When I checked on her, I saw that she was talking to a tall man in overalls who had just driven up. I stopped what I was doing and went to investigate.

That man was Doug Drake. He's been md-ing around here for 50 or so years and is considered one of the grand daddies of the practice in these parts. But we didn't know that. He was very friendly and gestured to where there'd been a huge encampment on a ridge along one side of what was now to be a complex of soccer fields. He said he'd show us a good place to hunt. We got in our cars and followed him. He pointed down a dirt road, then drove off. I followed Cheryl down the road that dropped rather steeply down, then leveled out. It dead-ended at a house with a NT sign, so we pulled over and got out to review our options.

A man came out of the house and Cheryl, with her excellent Southern friendliness (and knowledge of the Titans, who were playing that afternoon) made the perfect emissary. We were given permission to hunt behind the house.

Plunged in. It was thick woods, but doable. Very lovely and peaceful. As always, I had an almost overwhelming awareness of the fact that hundreds (thousands?) of young men had lived in these woods, bored out of their minds, homesick, horny, probably hungry, probably scared, waiting for orders that might very well end their lives.

Swung my machine about a million times, back and forth. Walked up and down the ridge, always trying to be aware of where Cheryl was. We lady detectors have to take care of each other.

Found a cannister shot thing – white like a dusty marble – as well as the usual junk: wire, can slaw, pull tabs. This is a dirty world masquerading as a pristine wilderness. Towards the end of the day, I got a not-very-strong signal and got to work on it. It kept jumping around. I'd think it was in one clump of dirt, but then I couldn't find it. Almost gave up. Then there it was: the word “OHIO” in bright silver, right there in my hand.

It was really sweet and beautiful, but I didn't know what it was. For one thing, it felt too strangely light to be silver. I tucked it in my fanny pack. It was getting dark and for a last blast, I moved down the ridge toward where we'd parked the car. Found a good-trashy area and right away got a nice minie ball, part of a uniform button and a couple of '70s-era toy cars. How cute is that: historic detritus all hanging around together, partying.

Back home, I looked and looked online for some kind of mention of the OHIO. What to call it? A “Civil War state tag”? Couldn't find anything like it.

A couple of weeks later, I drove over to Doug's house to pick up some maps he said we could have. What a treat. He has an impressive collection. He went through my finds and really lit up when he saw my OHIO. He got right on the phone and called someone else. I had pretty much decided it was junk – maybe something from a Cracker Jack box, but he got quite excited about it. Said it might truly be worth something.

Next morning tho, he left a message on my phone and said he'd thought about it all night and thought it probably wasn't old. It just didn't feel right. I agreed. But he said he'd be at the relic show the next weekend in Franklin. I should bring it by.

That Friday, Cheryl and went to MTMDC meeting and I showed OHIO around. The editor of American Digger was there and was intrigued, as were a few other folks. A couple of guys looked at it and shook their heads. Naah, it's nothing. Probably from a reenactor. Naah.

Oh, ye of little faith.

The Franklin Civil War Relic Show was quite something. For one thing, Cheryl and I were just about the only female humans in the giant building. Booths and booths as far as you could see, filled with relic stuff for sale. It was starting to hit home for me: this is a culture of its own. I felt like a visitor to a far-off galaxy.

Doug was there, manning his very impressive booth with his lovely wife, Brenda. He was excited to see us and immediately started taking us around, introducing us to other hunters, dealer, experts. It was very quickly established that this OHIO was the real deal: a “veterans tag” sold by sutlers (itinerant storekeepers who followed the troops around). Once we knew what I had, we went to the American Digger booth and had it photographed. I bought a subscription too. My find will be in the March/April issue.

Things were heating up. Apparently these things are collectible. The dealer who had identified it immediately got on his cell phone and called a collector in Brazil (seriously... Brazil?) and left a message. While Cheryl and I were up on the second level trying on some bonnets (and greatly annoying the man selling them), my cell rang. It was the dealer offering me $700 cash money for my OHIO.

I said I'd think about it and get back to him. Talked to Doug and some others. I knew it was a fair price, but I just wasn't ready to let it go. Especially if it was going to be featured in American Digger. So I said no for now.

I've never been in this for the money, though God knows, I need money. Somehow, it felt right to wait. Maybe I'll sell it some day. For now, I keep it close. I hold it in my hand because it's so pretty. I like to think about it pinned to that blue uniform. And how one day, it fell off on a ridge in Triune, TN. And lay there through 150 winters and summers, waiting for a girl like me.
The day's Civil War finds, courtesy my Tesoro Cibola metal detector...