"Okay, boy-o, it's up to the top with you!" ordered the grizzled
veteran of innumerable campaigns.
"But Sergeant, I spent last night on watch... me an' the owls. HOOO
HOOO HOOO, and..."
"Hooo Hooo Hooo, is it, Private William? 'Tis far better than the
sounds you left behind in Birmingham, and the air far cleaner, to boot.
Aye, smell the freshness of it, lad... these lofty pines... 'tis perfume, a
bouquet to y'nose!" Grizzled and hardened by war, though he was, there
were times when even the Sergeant could wax poetic.
"'T'was not the smell aloft last evening, Sergeant! T'were none of
those striped creatures lurking in the mews, last I seen home!"
"Home? Now there's a word for you. Had one... once..." There was a
pause in the sergeant's words, and a sound, unnatural, as though something
caught in his throat, issued from between his lips as he continued, "...a
long time ago. There was a little cottage near the banks of the Shannon... a
river so clear y'could watch the trout a-eyin' y'worm. Me ol' Mum would
set the pan a-sizzlin' and it'd be trout an' biscuits on a summer's night..."
Again the sergeant paused, his memories picking up where his words left off.
"Something in your eye, Sergeant?"
"No more than a small cinder from the fire, lad. An' belay that
order, Private William. I'll stand the watch this evening."
"Are y'sure, Sergeant? 'Don't want to be thought a shirker."
"I'm sure, lad, an' shirker y'not. 'Tis a warmish kind o'night,
and I'll beggar sleep with me thoughts of the evenin' anyway. 'Tis too
many years... an' too many miles of wanderin' an' soldierin'."
* * *
It must have been a chill wind that rose from somewhere to cause
the sergeant's shoulders to quiver so, and as another unseen cinder was
caught in his eye, he turned on his heels and headed for the slope.
"Too many years of what, Sergeant? I'm sorry, Sergeant, I didn't
hear what y'said!" called the young private, in the growing darkness, to
the quickly receding shape of his sergeant.
And the only answer came on the night breeze, "HOOO HOOO HOOO..."
Sometimes we are defeated by the obvious.
For many years I had searched that plowed river bottom with a
steadily diminishing number of good recoveries. Newer equipment... bigger
coils... all aided to give the site a couple of final "curtain calls," but I
knew the days of finding my boots planted in that loamy soil along with the
seeds were quickly coming to an end. I had tried a good number of
different search strategies, some with success, others meeting with dismal
failure, but my bag of tricks for making additional recoveries was now
There was a certain affinity that had grown between myself and this
particular site over the years. I don't think it was just the close
proximity of the river, or the wall of pine-clad slopes to the west... nor
was it the solemn silence, only occasionally broken by the hoot of an owl,
on those days when I would arrive just before dawn. I think it might have
been a growing sense that I had been there... a different time... a different
To some, that thought, that feeling, might appear to be a little
strange. Not every site generates the same sense experience, or aberration,
but there's a kindredness to some sites that relic hunters feel. You can
ask them about it... they might tell you. It's serious stuff. We don't
shout such tales of eerie sensations from rooftops... and we're not "half a
bubble off plumb." It's just the way it is, sometimes, and we know we
can't change it.
I guess it had something to do with the feeling that I had once
known this site that gave me the very clear message that I was missing
something. (No, other people hear the voices- I don't.)
The layout of the site was pretty simple: small garrison... minor
post... small, shallow ford in the river for bringing supplies to bigger
garrisons at major posts... kind of a small footnote in history. The fields
where the stockaded fort had once stood had been heavily searched over the
years, revealing everything from British, French & Indian War era pewter
buttons, to buckle fragments... musketballs and the occasional piece of grape
shot... rum bottle and pottery fragments of European origin to arrowheads and
spearpoints from earlier Native American occupations. It had been a
cornucopia of relics at one time, but that time had long passed.
Standing mid-field, on what I suspected would be my last day of
searching the site, I glanced up at the steep rock wall to the west. There
was a very prominent ledge near the top, and while well out of musket or
rifle range from the fort, it would surely offer a wonderful view of the
river and surrounding flatlands. My mere musings produced a thought that
ran through my head as if I'd been shot with a crystal bullet. It was the
ideal place to post sentries. I had been too busy looking at the ground...
searching the ground, to have ever looked at the cliff face with other than
a casual eye. I had been defeated by the obvious!
To remedy the situation, I broke down my detector, as I would need
both hands to make the ascent, and stowed it, along with my digging tool,
in my backpack.
Slowed by some thick brush and brambles at the edge of the field,
and some very awkward footing, it was better than a half hour before I
found myself standing on the ledge and looking down on the field where the
ford had once stood. Behind me I could see that the ground rose about
another 30', but this area was more heavily wooded and offered a very
limited view of the valley below. If a sentry had been posted on this
height at some time in the past, I was standing where his boots had once
stood. Dropping my pack beside a tall pine, I began assembling my
detector, ready to turn my assumption into fact.
I don't think I'd swung my Shadow X-5 more than three times before
I had a solid target signal, and my digging tool struck something with the
first thrust. From the effects of the wind on the ledge, the soil was very
thin, little more than a covering of very heavy moss. Digging beneath the
surface at an acute angle, I literally lifted a section of the moss from
the layer of rock beneath the surface. As I flipped the mossy flap over,
like a bad hairpiece, I could see the bottom of a large caliber musketball
protruding from the underside! Seven more large caliber, dropped balls,
along with two pewter buttons, were recovered in the same fashion on the
ledge. From the surface of the exposed rock I was able to recover the
fragments of a clay pipe which must have been dropped and broken on the
ledge those centuries ago.
The area of the ledge was limited and didn't take a great deal of
time to cover. I decided to search the elevated areas behind the ledge.
Assuming that perhaps a squad of soldiers would be sent to the summit
instead of one lone sentinel, I searched for a convenient area that could
harbor a small campfire and offer some comfort to those not standing the
watch. I followed a short section of deer trail toward the rise.
Had I been born with the gifts of a Rembrandt, I could not have
painted a picture of a better setting for a campfire than the one I
stumbled upon. Imagine a small, rock-walled amphitheater, perhaps 20' in
diameter. The rough, lichened, gray walls provided protection from the
wind, but stood no more than 5' high. The interior floor was thick with
humus, small bushes, and the remains of an ancient pine that had fallen
across it many years ago. I would have bet a week's pay that I could find
at least one relic within the confines of those rocky walls...
And I would have won that bet! The first relic to reach the light
from that spongy matrix of humus was a perfect Colonial shoe buckle... soon
to be followed by a clasp knife, a flint striker, a small handful of
dropped musketballs, and over a half dozen more hollow, pewter buttons, all
in near-perfect condition. Pewter buttons of the type I recovered were
identical to those I had found on two other French & Indian War era British
sites, so it came as no great surprise when several British coppers were
found just outside the rocky enclosure. What was really unique about this
undisturbed site was the fact that in several areas I could easily notice
the remains of charred wood, even after all those years!
It was near dusk when I started making the descent from the ledge
overlooking the fort site. I didn't dare wait any longer, having already
suffered one broken arm in the recent past. As always, the descent was
quite a bit faster than the climb, and as I once again reached mid-field I
looked back to that lofty perch and wondered about the men who had been
stationed at this desolate outpost... so far from family... so far from
friends... so far from home.
My wondering questions were echoed from those limestone walls,
returning on a breeze from the past... across time... from a different then... a
"HOOO... HOOO... HOOO..."