"Even the brightest passions can be dulled by inactivity."
It's a good line, and true, from the pages of The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith, a novel I've read numerous times in the last 30 years. The characters are well developed, the adventurous plot keeps you on the edge of your seat, and the setting is Africa... sunny Africa... tropical Africa. Indeed, a far cry from winter here in the Northeast!
By the time you read this, spring will be here- but right now the frozen ground lies about 2' under the surface of the snow, and I haven't seen mud, or even soft ground, for the better part of six weeks. The only "digging tool" I've managed to pick up is a snow shovel! If they still "killed the messenger" for bringing bad news, there wouldn't be a weatherman alive east of the Mississippi. I'm wearing so many layers of clothing that I feel, not to mention walk, like the Michelin Man. The cute little chickadees in my bird feeders have transformed into voracious piranha, and I don't want to even get into the details about rescuing the neighbor's dog when he got stuck to the fire hydrant yesterday... again.
My deck creaks... my truck creaks... my back creaks... those are the only type of creeks we have now. I found out last evening what a Milwaukee Slush Puppy was as I stood on the iceberg-laden shores of the Hudson and watched the floes go out with the tide, an old ship went by. I knew it was old. The ship's band was playing "Nearer My God To Thee." No lifeboats were observed. Small campfires don't help, and all that can be said for big campfires is... well, they're bigger.
How's that for the world's biggest whine?
Let's just say it's been cold up here, and leave it at that. I know it must be colder somewhere... but where that might be, I don't know. What I do know is that when this issue is finally in print, we will have survived the worst of the season and be back in the field. That's the window ledge onto which the tips of my fingers are madly clinging!
I dismissed the idea of writing a column about "How to Beat Those Wintertime Blues"- did one of those years ago- and I don't plan on digging into any books or maps on a research expedition until I at least see the icicles beginning to drip. However, I did have this neat little story, told to me by Ken Maston, about hidden treasures. I guess you might call it an "indoor" treasure hunting story... and that's kind of fitting if you're looking out the window, watching the snow drifts slowly burying the local community.
By vocation, Ken is a contractor, specializing in vacant and foreclosed homes. He is hired by his clients to renovate, restore, and clean out the dwellings for future sale. According to Ken, it's an interesting job, and one that often revels some lost or discarded treasures. As you would expect, some of these homes are old, offering the detectorist a welcomed opportunity to test his skills and recover a few lost items from centuries past.
I don't think there is a coinshooter, relic hunter, or cache hunter who hasn't heard at least some stories about things that were hidden in abandoned dwellings. I've heard of caches found under loose sills and behind loose foundation stones, and I've held an old Springfield rifle that was found- along with a Civil War U.S. belt and cartridge and primer boxes, stuffed between the attic rafters of an old home- by one of my former students. You never know what is going to be found when you start poking around, and it certainly pays to be the owner of a curious nature.
Taking his detector on the job, Ken decided to search the grounds after his crew had completed work for the day. As Ken told me the story, he searched the surrounding yard for a couple of hours and was rewarded with some rusty nails, a few clad coins, and several dozen sandbox toys. "It was about that time, while sitting on the back porch and taking a break, that I noticed the old, dilapidated shed," said Ken. "I figured I'd concentrate the few remaining minutes of daylight on a quick search of the interior, in hopes of finding some antiques or old tools."
On closer inspection, it was found that the shed contained an odd assemblage of junk, and a quick check of the ground around the entranceway produced little except for some copper roofing nails. "I was about to head home," related Ken, "when I noticed the old and peeling latticework around the base of the structure, and decided to pull a section away and see if there was anything of interest beneath the outbuilding."
Most people would have headed home. I'd love to think that I would have crawled beneath that old structure, too, undaunted by cobwebs and whatever else might lurk underneath such uninviting buildings; but I sense that instead I would be heading up the driveway with thoughts of dinner, as Ken crawled into the darkness beyond the latticework.
"Removing the lattice, I found a maze of nooks and cubbyholes filled with old liquor bottles and rusted tools," continued Ken. "Then, pushing away some weathered pine boards, I spotted a large tin cylinder."
Dragging the cylinder behind him, Ken finally emerged from beneath the structure and into the waning daylight.
As Ken tells the story, "One of the first things I noticed was the weight of the tin. I knew it contained something, but just what, I wasn't sure. To be sure, I had my hopes, but I just didn't want to raise my expectations of the contents too much."
Ken's pulse began racing once he had pried open the top of the container with the edge of a quarter. Inside the tin cylinder was a moldy, brown leather bag. "The bag looked like it was at least 50 years old, and when I forced the zipper, several smaller tins tore through the thin, rotted leather."
The cans all had removable lids, and once again Ken used a coin to pry the first can open. Inside he was to find the fabric from which dreams are woven... silver... and plenty of it!
"I just rocked back on my heels and stared at the contents of that first can," Ken recalled. "I wish I'd had my video camera, as the following minutes are pretty much a blurred memory. All I know is that it didn't take me very long to get the lids off the remaining five cans!"
In all, the six smaller cans contained silver halves, quarters, and dimes, as well as a few Buffalo nickels... twenty pounds of silver! "Ever since I found that cache, my heels seem to have an extra little 'spring' in them. You just have to stick with it and give it the best shot you've got!" added Ken.
The snow is still swirling, weathermen are still smiling, the neighbor's dog is once again howling, and I'll probably need a blowtorch to get these longjohns off me, come spring. Yet somehow, the thought that the world is full of endless possibilities and hidden treasures seems to warm my heart and stoke the fires of the search...