This is my post for the3six5, a very cool project. You can also find the post here: http://the3six5.posterous.com/april-19-2011-clark-knowles
The people who built our farmhouse weren’t contractors. They had no permits, just muscle. The exterior boards were cut with a pit saw. First they dug a pit and placed a log over the opening. One worker went into the pit, one stayed above. Together they pulled a heavy saw through a log to make an inch thick, twenty-two inch wide board, repeating the process until the frame was sheathed. This was their home. There were no dumps, no garbage trucks. They burned trash in pits. The barn is long gone, but today, along the foundation near the back fence, I scoop into the earth, searching for ash. Where there’s ash, there’s treasure.
I begin digging where dozens of bricks—part of an old cistern or burn-pit—rise to the surface. I uncover only more bricks, layer after layer, unyielding to my pickax. I try a new spot and dig down a foot, two. Black dirt, clay, sand. No ash. Elsewhere, I strike metal: rusty clasps, horseshoes, hasps, hinges, bent eye-bolts, a bicycle crank, two paint cans, two hulking, corroded fuses, a passel of nails, lengths of chain, and a leg from a wood stove. No bottles. In my archaeological quest, I was at first a careless and unsubtle detective, often breaking bottles. Now I’m more careful. I dig for another hour, inching along the fence, breathing heavy, swinging up and over until the dirt is no longer brown and red, but white and grey. I spy mounds of glass and broken crockery, reach into the dirt and sweep away the flotsam and gently free the old ketchup bottle with its cap still affixed, a rust colored liquid sloshing inside. Soon, others appear: squat patent medicine and flavored syrup bottles from Grand Union Tea Company and Foss. Finally, I free a whiskey bottle. Air bubbles pepper the glass along its single seam.
I’m exhausted. When we first moved, my daughter asked if anyone had died in our house. Probably, I said. That’s what people did. Of course, people were born here, too. Probably some of them lived nearly their whole lives within walking distance. I’m digging, in part, to find out who they were.