This past week here on the farm we had a small group of ladies stay for a few days poking around, looking for buried bottles and old ‘trash’. They had special metal poking sticks to pierce the ground, shovels, and other digging tools. I gave them a quick tour and within ten minutes they had unearthed an old tea kettle.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

We excavate to remember, to renew the wisdom of generations. (montage: J Fowler)

“So what do you call yourselves? Treasure hunters? Trash Diggers? Archeologists?…,” I asked.

One of them replied: ” We call ourselves pickers and diggers”.

Apparently the good stuff is down deeper- that’s where all the old cork top bottles are and other more valuable, dated antiques. Long time ago there were no landfills and so on rural land like ours, any un-redeemable items were buried.  I know of several places where there is old wire and metal pieces sticking out of the ground. We’ve found animal traps, nails, bottles, all kinds of small items, but we’ve never seriously set about to excavate.

I was impressed with these women because they value what is hidden and lost and they are willing to seek it out. They value the items they find because they value history. In our day and time we tend to value what is new and novel- the latest technology or the newest entertainment- but to seek out that which is buried and forgotten because of it’s historical and cultural value- that seems important somehow- like breaking the spell of the Modern mind that long ago said goodbye to the relevance of history and all that is old.

We often forget that we exist in a continuum of time. We often forget we are not self-made men and women. Generations before us struggled to build and grow our communities and give birth to the world we know now- with indoor running water, grocery stores lined with shelves of continually stocked food, electricity, tractors and cars, and all that the Industrial Era afforded us. Maybe it’s just because we who live in America live in such a young country- maybe we are just too caught up in the ‘here-and-now’ of all that our current culture provides us. Maybe we have some kind of collective amnesia. We pave over graveyards. We tear down old buildings. We build concrete condo jungles where family farms use to be. We are forgetting our roots, our history, and along with this forgetfulness – we may be losing our humility and wisdom as well. We live and breathe on the ‘real-time’ Web with Facebook and Twitter piped into our iPhones- no wonder we have no time to consider what came before us.

I’m not saying that the past is valuable because it was better -in some ways maybe- but I really am not a traditionalist. I value the past because it is a part of us- it is a part of our learning – the development of wisdom- in it we see what has nourished our roots- the unseen that has shaped us without our knowing- the good and the bad. I value history because at heart I am a futurist- my mind is always going to the future and straining to see what is emerging on the horizon. But what good is it to think we can set a viable course into the future without bringing with us the lessons and wisdom of previous generations? Shouldn’t we too be picking and digging through the buried past for the wisdom and understanding we need today?  Has not GOD given us the gift of time- the ability to learn from what once was?

Last night as we went for a walk around the pond our visitors were coming out of the woods with armloads of found treasure. They found some cobbler tools, old leather, a broken arrowhead, cork top bottles, some with green-tinted glass and other old things. One of the ladies said that if you put them in sunlight, the green bottles will turn more green. Something about the chemical in the glass. They only unearth purple bottles where they are from. “Fascinating,” I thought.

J. Fowler

J. Fowler is the website editor and co-founder, along with his wife Pamela, of the Sustainable Traditions project. The Fowlers live with their seven children on a farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This