Friday, October 9, 2009

…or how a tired mind works during a long bus ride at 5:30 in the morning…

I always have the news on in the morning before I leave for work. I like to know the weather for the day, road conditions, and any little news tidbits to share with co-workers, especially since, at 5:00 AM, I can’t depend on my morning paper arriving before I leave. One morning this week, just before I turned off the TV, I heard the announcer mention that the largest dinosaur footprint ever found was discovered in France. I think he said it was over 4 feet across!

I was sitting outside waiting for my bus and I thought about that discovery. Now it’s not like the dinosaurs disappeared last week so I have to wonder, why didn’t anyone find this giant footprint before? Of course, that got me thinking things buried in the ground. And no—I don’t mean dead people in cemeteries.

Growing up, I lived across the street from a creek on the outskirts of town. At that time, in the 19 s, all us kids played in the woods, in the creek or in the dirt. Over the years, I was rewarded with multiple finds of flint chips (from the Monongahela Indians, from approximately 1200 years ago) and ‘commies’, early fired/non-fired clay marbles (from as early as 1880’s). After 20 years living there, we moved to the other side of town.

Flash forward to present.

There were two houses on our new property and the backyard was divided with a fence. Every year I planted a vegetable garden on our side. Just a couple dozen tomatoes, a couple dozen sweet peppers, celery, Swiss chard, basil, and everything in that song… parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. All enough for our use.

The grandson of the former downstairs tenant played in the yard a lot. I don’t know why and maybe I’ve always been afraid to ask why, but he used to smash match box cars and chop those little three inch green plastic soldiers into pieces.

Shortly thereafter that tenant moved and a young guy with a German shepherd moved in. The dog didn’t spend a lot of time in the yard, but when he did, let’s just say he knew how to dig. That side of the yard looked like a mine field—full of holes. We eventually had to get a truck load of top soil.

Eventually my girlfriend and her parents moved in. We removed the fence dividing the property and I expanded my garden. That’s when the finds started.

For years I dug up car wheels and plastic body parts. My first big find was a TOOTH! It wasn’t human and it was too small to be a dinosaur. Since I had taken an archaeology class in college, I knew how to draw fossil specimens. So, with trusty Sharpie and ruler in hand, I proceeded to draw my tooth to scale. Cover letter ready, I sent it off to the Paleontology Department at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

Several weeks later, I received a response. After reading through the complements for my detailed drawing, I was told I found a pig’s tooth. Did I live near a slaughterhouse? No, but it’s a sure bet that’s where the top soil came from.

Since then, I found another tooth (didn’t send an inquiry to the museum), marbles, and one year, I found an Indian-head penny. Every year, I’m still rewarded with something that had worked its way to the surface. But after all these years of digging in the garden, I have yet to make a major find!