Sometimes going through that box of old pictures... remembering those past hunts... reliving the memories of previous adventures... well, sometimes it just doesn't seem worth the bother!
You thumb through the pictures and look at all the great finds that were made. Some you recovered... some recovered by others. You check out pictures of apparent camaraderie- the smiling faces, at times no more than masks, disguising hidden agendas, and ulterior motives. You're forced to revisit your own naivete. That's one of those fancy French words that translates, in common English, as "trustfully dumb."
It's not an uncommon experience for those of us who relic hunt, to look back and find that on more than one occasion you wound up, despite your best intentions, holding the short end of the stick. We learn a great deal out there in those relic-filled fields... we learn strategies of the past and how to apply them toward successful hunts... we learn more about relic identification than most museum curators... we learn the historical importance of unique finds... we learn of the thriftiness of our ancestors with each repaired item we uncover... we learn about the past and the impact it has had on the present. We learn an appreciation for all that has gone before us.
With that appreciation comes a certain way of thinking, a philosophy, of sorts... a kind of relic hunting code that most of us try to practice and live by. At times we might find that "walking the walk" is a little more difficult than "talking the talk," but after a while it becomes an ingrained behavior, inseparable from our true character.
Maybe that's the reason I sometimes find it unavoidable to keep my perception of what relic hunting is, and what it should be, out of some of my columns. To be sure, I don't have all the answers, and have never laid any claim to being any kind of expert. I've always considered myself to be just an older student of relic hunting who had to learn a new lesson every day. However, not all of those learning experiences in relic hunting have been pleasant ones.
I've always been of a mind that we can learn as much from our failures as we can from our successes- sometimes more- and that relic hunting, as much as most other aspects of treasure hunting, often teaches us a great deal about human nature: the heights to which it can aspire... the depths to which it can fall.
At the time of this writing, I am still unsure how to title this piece, but "My Worst Best Hunt" is right up there at the head of the pack, along with its sister, "My Best Worst Hunt." I had an inspirational title reminiscent of my old horror comic book writing days, "Digging with Vampires," but didn't think it stood much of a chance at getting past the editors. "Wrath of the Relic Raiders," was deemed too alliterate, while "How I Was a Dum Idjit Reluck Huntor" proved too illiterate. Any title I give this column will be only tentative. You can choose the most fitting one after you've read the tale. And remember, the names have been changed to protect... the guilty.
My entire life has centered around my main occupation, that of being a teacher; and I've found it's rather easy to take the teacher out of the classroom, but almost impossible to take the teacher out of the man. Perhaps that was one of the main reasons why I ever got involved with this particular group of potential relic hunters. They displayed a genuine interest in the past, and they lived in an area that I had been relic hunting for the better part of two decades. They were full of questions... I had a couple of answers, and the ability to point them in the right direction to make their hunts a little more successful. They were well known locally, and I looked at this as a big bonus toward getting permission to relic hunt on some new sites. The relationship was a symbiotic one... each side of the team would benefit. At least that was one of my initial perceptions.
I should have realized from the first day in the field that all was not what it should be. They brought us to a site that seemed to have, at first outlook, great potential... and indeed, it probably did at one time. Within ten minutes of that morning hunt, I knew something was a little awry. You couldn't walk more than two feet in any direction without seeing an area that had been dug. I took my partner aside and mentioned this fact. We were in agreement. We had rarely run across a place that had been systematically and relentlessly dug. We figured there might still be something left in the ground, so we pulled out every trick we knew. After three hours, I think the total number of relics resting in the bottom of our collecting bag was a single battered musketball.
Returning to the truck, we mentioned the fact that the site was really hammered hard. The response we received from one of our hosts nearly floored me, and a red flag began to rise, "Oh yeah... we've been searching this site for months. Found a lot of neat stuff. We just wanted to see if you could find anything that was left before we crossed the site off our list."
That night they visited our camp, bringing along an impressive number of artifacts they had gleaned from the site during the previous months. As I examined each relic, I could hear the same question being asked, "What's it worth? What's it worth?" As the "parrot" droned on, another red flag began to rise. I did my best to explain the value of historic significance, but my words were falling on deaf ears. Yet, I didn't give up on these new relic hunters. After all, I am a teacher, and I realized that some lessons to learn might prove difficult to learn at first, and repetition might be the key. Sadly, it wasn't.
The next morning we were told that they had a site to hunt... but, they couldn't bring us along to this one. They mentioned the general location, and the fact that it was difficult to search because of all the iron signals. I looked at my partner. He looked at me. There was disbelief in both our eyes. "Better dig those signals," we advised. "They're probably cannonballs and mortar fragments!"
Arriving home that night, tired from the long drive and having spent the better part of an hour stowing away camping gear, I received a call. "Hey," said the all too familiar voice of the parrot, "you guys were right. We dug almost a dozen cannonballs and mortar bomb fragments!" Before I ended what I believe to be the shortest phone call on record, I heard the parrot promise, "One of these days we'll get permission to bring you guys along." That day came... several months later.
When the day to search that site finally arrived, my partner scoped out the lay of the land and figured where would be the most likely spot to find a cannonball. He then headed down a ravine, over the summit, and into the next ravine, and returned with a 12 lb. cannonball before I was able to begin my searching. That's how fast it happened. In the background I could hear the parrot telling his buddy, "I don't know how we could have missed that one."
We were a lot more successful on that relic hunt, due to the fact that we concentrated on all the spots that would have proved difficult to search. Experience told us that there was a reason for all of these fired rounds being in this area, and that the object that was being fired at couldn't be very far away. My partner and I headed into the open field and looked around. It was as plain as day to anyone with relic hunting experience. Not 200 yards away, on the other side of the road, was a stretch of high ground. You could see the wooded slope, but beyond that lay flat, open fields. I asked if the same farmer owned the lands on the other side of the road. The answer came back in the affirmative. "Well, that's where we should be searching."
"We've never hunted up there," said the parrot.
"All the better," I thought.
Once we were able to hit those open fields and begin running search patterns, we knew we hadn't been lied to on this occasion. Again, we weren't in the field more than ten minutes before my partner pulled his first Revolutionary War silver officer's button from the ground. He called me over. He was so excited he couldn't stand still. "Wait until I show those guys what I found!"
"I have a sense about this," I cautioned. "Wait until the end of the hunt before showing them what you found." My partner decided to heed my advice, and an hour later recovered his second silver officer's button. I was very happy with my three, numbered enlisted men's buttons.
About an hour before the hunt was over, my partner decided to reveal the great luck he was having in the field, and to thank these fellows for making it a truly great hunt for him. I let him go... and watched. I was fast becoming a student of human nature, and had a bad feeling about how all this was going to play out.
My partner returned. Nothing would have been able to take the smile off his face. I continued to observe, and what I saw didn't bode well for our half of the team. We had set up two days of relic hunting, and I could see from the discussions being carried on across the field that the chances of our being able to get on the site to search for a second day were two: slim and none. My partner never saw it coming.
As Parrot & Co. approached us from the far side of the field, I said to my partner, "Watch this." He didn't have a clue as to what I was referring to.
The Turning of the Screw
(With duly noted apologies to The Bard)
Act One/Scene One
Parrot: Gee, guys, I knew we were supposed to relic hunt tomorrow, but I just got a call and I have to work tomorrow! (big smile spreading across lips)
&Co: That really stinks! Maybe I'll just go fishing tomorrow. (said in serious fashion so as not to appear rehearsed)
Ed: (in an attempt to salvage a second day of relic hunting) Yeah, that really messes things up. We wouldn't hunt this site without you guys. How about that open field all the way down at the end of the road? You said the farmer owns that one, too. Maybe we could swing a detector down there for a while tomorrow morning, so the entire day wouldn't be wasted?
Parrot: Gee, I don't know. Yeah, I'm sure the farmer wouldn't mind. (displaying poorly hidden glee in the knowledge that the site we put them on would be theirs for hunts during the succeeding weeks)
& Co: Yeah, the heck with fishing! I'll meet you guys there. If anyone stops to ask any questions, just tell them you're with me. I might be a little late. (delivered with heartfelt sincerity... this guy was good)
Well, as I said, I saw it coming as clear as day. I had a feeling that they wouldn't mind us doing some relic hunting as long as it wasn't on that particular site... and our being down the road half a mile would sit just fine with them. However, one of them was savvy enough to know that I probably had a card up my sleeve... and I did.
The open field would have been in a direct line from the small cove that was used to land the assaulting troops. There was a small pond at the far end of the field. A large portion of the assault troops would have marched through the field to reach the main position we had searched on the first day. Many would have stopped to fill canteens, and it might have seen some prolonged activity as officers attempted to straighten up the ranks in preparation for the march. It was a spot I had thought about for years, and now I would have an opportunity to search it, if only for a day!
The Turning of the Screw
The Final Act
(The scene opens with Ed running search patterns in the open field. He has just recovered his first numbered regimental button and several dropped musketballs. His partner has just left, entering the woods, after finding a pewter, Spanish coin button.)
Ed: (looking up at the sound of an approaching vehicle) What the heck?
(A car door slams loudly at the edge of the field) WHAMMM!
New York State Trooper (in a loud voice): C'mon over here!
Ed: What's the problem, officer?
New York State Trooper: You have permission to be out here?
Ed: Yes, sir. We're with & Co. and he should be joining us in a few moments. We have permission from the owner of the property. He lives in the farmhouse just at the end of the road. You can check with him if you like.
New York State Trooper: I will.
Ed's Partner (coming up the road, metal detector slung over shoulder): What? Are we under arrest or something? (punctuated with a little chuckle)
New York State Trooper: Only if you want to be. I can arrange it. (lack of little chuckle duly noted by relic hunting team)
* * *
(Same field. Only the time has changed. It is five minutes later. The trooper has returned. His manner serious.)
New York State Trooper: Farmer says he knows Parrot & Co., but he doesn't know you. You will be charged with trespassing if you don't leave immediately.
Ed and Partner (in unison): Yes, officer. We're on our way.
And so ends this little play of events. My partner contacted Parrot that evening and told him what had occurred. He mentioned that & Co. had never shown up.
"How could he? We were searching another site!"
My buddy mentioned the fact that he had told us, the previous day, that he had to work, and that a liar better have a pretty good memory so he could remember to tell the same story twice in a row.
To my dying day, I will never forget the Parrot's reply:
"I'm young and I'm still learning."
That was the very last incident and contact I had with Parrot & Co. I've left out a lot of the really nasty stuff. The entire experience left me with a very bad taste in my mouth, and it took me a while to regain my enthusiasm for relic hunting. I kind of shy away from establishing new relic hunting relationships now, but I hope that aspect doesn't last too long. There's a lot of great people out there digging... and I just ran into a couple that weren't. Greed is a terrible thing to witness when you're out in those relic fields searching for America's past!
I'm older... but I am still learning!