The Homeplace: Fragments from the Past

2016 1-27 Fragments - Cast iron garden furrow tool and well-worn horseshoes. (2)Jill HendersonShow Me Oz – On the ridge behind my house is a small meadow encircled by towering trees.  A short, but well-worn path leads to a small pond clinging to the steep slope.  The pond is circled by a grotto of ancient oak trees with branches so big around they dwarf the trunks of almost every other mature tree on these 42 acres.  As I sat and stared into the massive reaches of these ancients, I wondered why this handful of trees had been spared from the saws of men when so many on the property clearly had not.  Obviously, the pond had been here a very long time – perhaps even as long as the trees themselves. And judging from their size, they had been there for about 200-250 years.  It wasn’t long after that first encounter that answers to my question began to emerge from the land itself.

The first indications of an early settlement on our property lay right beneath our feet in the form of rugged, hand-made bricks that someone used to bolster the concrete piers supporting the workshop below our house.  The first time I saw them, I knew they were very old – I just didn’t know where they had come from.

2016 4-18 Fragments - This delicate porcelain bisque doll's leg probably came from Germany in the  1800's. Notice the hole where the leg was strung onto the body. (2)The next clue came from below an old second-growth oak in the valley.  This tree had two huge parallel trunks reaching 60 feet high. Heavy boards had been nailed between the two trunks to create a ladder for what was likely a deer stand – a common practice in this neck of the woods.  The deer stand was long gone, as were most all of the boards except a few at the bottom, now pinned in place by the growing trunks.  Dean and I had been cleaning up around this low area because it had apparently been used for another, less attractive and more recent practice – a trash dump.

Below the tree we found all kinds of modern rubbish, which had already mostly been scraped off and hauled away to the dump by the previous owner.  But one day, as I was digging around beneath the deer stand tree, I happened upon a most lovely and very heavy cast iron pulley buried in the dirt.  At one time, it was probably used to pull gear up to the deer stand.  The puzzle pieces quickly began to come together and I knew then that someone had lived here a long time ago.  Now all I had to do was to see beyond the obvious, look for scars in the earth, signs of roads, buildings and other goings on that had long been obscured by erosion and vegetation.

2016 1-27 Fragments - Green, blue and pink glass, glazed pottery shards, square iron nail and a small porcelean doll's leg.Once I began to look, the signs were everywhere and a lot more obvious than I ever imagined.  And they all led back to the overgrown meadow on the ridge behind our house, which I began to explore in earnest.  Shortly afterwards, Dean and I were walking to the pond with an older friend of ours who grew up in the area.  We stopped to show her a curious hole in the ground along the meadow’s edge.  This hole was about 10 feet in diameter and apparently had been used as another rubbish dump in the not so distant past.

Brambles and trees had grown in and around the spot and huge rocks were strewn everywhere.  She took one look at it and said, “That’s an old well or a cistern.  See the way those rocks at the bottom look like they’ve been stacked? That’s the lining.”  Sure enough, she had seen what we hadn’t.  Later, I would meet a young man who had grown up on this land and he confirmed that there had been a house of some kind up on the ridge, but that it was gone before his time.  He told me that when he was just a boy, his father and a couple other men had dug out the well looking for treasures from the past.  And when they were done with it, they just tossed the rocks, unburnable trash and whatever else they could find back in the hole willy-nilly.  Apparently, those who came after that had followed their lead.

That winter, after a snow had laid low all the vegetation in the meadow, I could finally discern two long man-made earthen mounds that acted as the foundation upon which a house or cabin had once stood.  And when the spring came around, two small clumps of spectacular double ruffled daffodils bloomed exactly where the front stoop would have been.  Yet, despite my many attempts – including a go-round with a metal detector, which I thought to be defective because it went off every few seconds but produced no artifacts – I found absolutely nothing except a few broken bricks in the nearby woods.

2016 4-18 Fragments - Brand name coverall button from the 1800's.Then, last winter, we had some trees cut and the original ridge road and side roads opened up so we could have better access to the entire property.  The meadow was cleared of brush and stumps and used as a staging area for the logging truck.  After the job was complete, we had them level the meadow a bit so we could keep it brush hogged in the future.

Suddenly, the bare ground was littered with thousands of fragments from what was clearly an 1800’s-era homestead.  Porcelain canning lid liners; pink, green and blue glass; the bottoms of thick green half-gallon canning jars, chunky shards of heavy glazed and unglazed earthenware crocks and jugs, more demure earthen plates and bowls and a single beat up tin plate.  There were draft-sized horseshoes, a cart pony shoe, and even a split shoe made for oxen.  We found a rounded harrow tine and a broken-off plow point in the nearby woods and heavy fragments of a cast iron parlor stove.  Most of the artifacts were everyday fare at the time, but others, like the blue willow china, or the bisque porcelain doll leg, or a tiny glass button that may have secured a child’s blouse seemed more delicate – more intimate and personal.

There were so many fragments lying on the surface of the ground and pushed up into the piles of dirt that it was hard to believe.  Yet, the one thing that I expected to find the most of – square nails that would have been used to build a house – were almost completely absent.  To me, this meant that the house was not a framed structure, but a log cabin, which would have fit the time frame very well.

Over the course of the winter, I searched for interesting or unusual fragments of the lives long past.  It was an odd, but compelling pastime rooting around in the trash left by people who lived here 200 years ago.  But as I wandered the landscape I thought about the people who had lived here and what their lives on this ridge would have been like and what it looked like then compared to now.  Then I sat in the shade of those now-massive trees surrounding the pond and realized that back then, they would have just been barely big enough to cast a bit of shade on their horses as they stood and drank from the pond.

2016 4-18 Fragments - Fine porcelain china stamped with makers mark from England.The fragments I gathered are just that – small, shattered bits of real people and real lives that are long past.  Artifacts from when things were simpler and harder all at the same time. They are also a reminder that nothing in this world is truly permanent – not even the fragments, which will continue to break down, crack, shatter, erode and rust right back into the earth from which they came, leaving little or nothing to tell the story of their time on this earth.  It makes one wonder what kind of fragments might be left of our lives here 200 years from now…and what the world we live in will look like to those who find them.

© 2016 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


AJOS-214x32813A Journey of Seasons

Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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Share Subscribe Enjoy!
…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from

 


AJOS-214x32813A Journey of Seasons

Filled to the brim with colorful stories, wild walks, botanical musings, and a just a pinch of “hillbilly” humor A personal and inspiring tale of homesteading in the Ozark backwoods by noted author, naturalist and plant organic gardener, Jill Henderson.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


DID YOU LIKE THIS ARTICLE?
Share Subscribe Enjoy!
…and don’t forget to tell your friends you got it from

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4 responses to “The Homeplace: Fragments from the Past

  1. Jack E Barron

    I enjoyed your article. Another reason you may not have found any nails would have been due to wooden “pegs” being used, to join wood together. They actually held better than nails, over time.

    • Thanks, Jack. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. And thanks for the clue as to why I found almost no old nails. That’s brilliant! Also, I think we are slowly uncovering the story behind the old place and I’ll share it with everyone as it fleshes out. It’s pretty exciting so far and has taught me much about the history of our little sleepy village, which apparently was once the biggest town around with several hotels, a railroad line and canning factories – all completely gone now.

  2. This is pretty much my dream! I love anything old, and am fascinated by the lives of those who lived before us. I am pretty sure I’d be out there every day, digging. So fun. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

    • Me, too, Erin! I am captivated by the lives of those who came before us, and how they did all the things they did without the modern contrivances we have today. And, trust me – I’ll be back up there digging around throughout the winter months (after the ticks, chiggers, and copperheads go to sleep!). 🙂

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