Over the Labor Day weekend, things around Tri-Town got relatively quiet in the newsroom – not really what we newspersons prefer. Having said that, though, quiet times in Tri-Town make for a little bit of down time for the usually busy newsperson, and this particular newsperson decided to trot over to one of her favorite spots on Barstow Street in Mattapoisett to check out something kind of new at the Mattapoisett Library – and for once it was something non-book in nature.
Ever since Library Director Susan Pizzolato told me about the fun non-book items the library now offers on loan for patrons, I’ve been curious to try out one of the coolest things I think I’ve ever heard of a library lending out (besides books) – metal detectors.
“People have been having a lot of fun with them,” said Pizzolato a while back. “We’ve had a lot of people checking out the metal detectors and bringing back the objects they find and sharing them with us.”
So on Saturday of this past Labor Day weekend, I handed over my library card and in return was handed over a big black canvas bag full of infinite avenues for adventure. Beaches, roadsides, forest trails, riverbeds, fields, the backyard … metal objects lost, missing, or misplaced just laying around everywhere and I imagined how thrilling it would be to find that diamond ring, colonial-era coin, Grandma Hartley’s old gold tooth, or some underground lost city of Sippican.
Like a good book, the metal detector was equally as captivating of my imagination. Even though the aforesaid expectations are a stretch, the thrill of finding anything at all – big or small, significant or not – would in the end uncover a little mystery for us to ponder.
After testing out the equipment and finding familiarity with the manual, my male counterpart Scott and I headed to the woods of Rochester for our first stop.
Maybe it’s my short attention span or just the perceived long duration of time in between switching on the metal detector and still not hearing a noise through the headphones, but after a while my mind shifted toward the other things I could be doing at that time. The other stories I could be writing. I got bored. Or was it frustrated? Disappointed? How long should I do this, and were my expectations of a metal-detecting treasure hunt that ridiculously naïve?
Scott and I made our way down the hiking path and not a sound, not a squelch, not a squeal or a screech from the headphones. Back and forth I swayed the round search coil across the earth, swinging it like a farmer with a sickle harvesting the hidden, a miner of lost metal – and not one single sound. I tossed a few coins ahead of me to test out the device, and sure enough I heard the clicks and clacks one hopes to hear during the act of metal detecting.
After 40 minutes of metal un-detection, we meandered to the roadside thinking maybe we would hear some metal detection noises from there.
“Ok, let’s go,” I said about three minutes later, surrendering to impatience. “This is lame and I feel like a dweeb with all these cars going by.”
“Click, click…beep…beep!” said the metal detector.
“Ooh! Ooh! I hear metal sounds!” I cried out.
Scott rushed to the locus and we hurriedly spread the blades of grass with our hands. Another swipe across the ground and again the metal detector blurted some beeps. We combed the grass some more and roughed up the topsoil a little. To say we were excited would be an understatement. Neither of us cared what the object was, we were just happy that we finally were initiated. We completely lost ourselves in the moment.
Then at the same time, like a couple of duffuses who show up to a gunfight without a gun, we looked at each other. “We need a shovel. Why didn’t we bring a shovel?”
Scott found a nearby rock, thin and shaped like a spade, and started scraping at the ground like a Paleolithic man with his primitive shovel, both of us fully invested as he ‘dug’ and I scooped the dirt away with my bare hands.
“There it is,” Scott grunted, tossing the Stone Age shovel aside and scratching the bottom of the shallow pit with his fingers. He finally was able to get a grasp on the object and, wiggling it loose, the sandy soil fell away and revealed the hidden object – the object that we found, finally, together – and holding it up above face level, Scott and I beheld the glorious besmirched Budweiser can excavated from the side of Mattapoisett Road.
“Yes!” I called out, smiling at Scott then ‘high-fiving’ him on his lips. We found a can!
We joked about when and who threw out the can and why, probing the tiny mystery that only he and I held any peculiar interest in.
That was it for us. We felt alive and alert! Forgetting all about the futile quest in the woods, we knew the side of the road was where it was at. Beep! Then another Beep! Beep! Beep-beeep! There were so many subsequent beeps that we started marking them with bits of discarded litter. We actually witnessed a pattern looking back at the path of ‘beeps’ and Xs-that-marked-the-spot we made with tossed out plastic straws and decomposing discarded rubber cords.
“It looks like they’re all in a straight line,” pointed out Scott. “Maybe it’s the gas line, or the water main or something,” I said a tad sheepishly.
Or maybe it’s just the precise distance of an arm tossing a beer can from a car window and the trajectory it takes as it hits that approximate roadside line over and over again, Einstein.
And maybe that stretch of road is an inconspicuous beer can graveyard, which it is. We had to laugh – at it and at ourselves, still lost in the moment.
Decades of beer cans tossed out, in fact, all aligned by the roadside according to the laws of physics. Happy with what we uncovered thus far and having savored the slapstick of that Saturday, we left feeling satisfied and put aside the metal detector for another day.
I wasn’t quite done yet, though. Even though I didn’t have the time to go combing beaches for abandoned belongings or searching for valuables some unfortunate one lost in the sand, I had some time Tuesday morning to head into the backyard to see if there was anything out there. After all, my house sits upon a subdivided lot from the original land owned by Fairhaven’s own benefactor Henry Huttleston Rogers. (Think Elizabeth Taber of Marion). With a house built in 1928, there could possibly be some interesting ‘trash’ buried beneath the four-leaf-clover-laced grass of my lawn.
I surmised swiftly that metal detecting is quite different without an assistant. With every beep in the backyard, and there were plenty, I found myself hastily laying down the equipment to inspect the surface of the ground myself, slowing down the process considerably.
What I also lacked without my male counterpart was the balance in a certain logic, which likely would have (or perhaps not) advocated against digging holes in the lawn. But with all the beeps I got, out of respect for my curiosity and on behalf of due diligence, I removed the top layer of sod and, with an actual shovel, I dug.
First came the twisted rusty nail. Meh, OK. Then I found the silver toe ring I lost three years ago. Bonus! Then came the bottle cap – whatever, that’s cool. Then some innocuous rectangle of crumbling rust – not a treasure, but at least no one will step on it.
A few back-and-forths later the metal detector did pick up on a brick in the mostly-overgrown brick patio that I had partially unearthed last summer during a weekend weeding bonanza. It seems whoever laid that brick wanted it to be known that it was made in 1944, since the four metal numbers were embedded into a single brick hidden beneath the topsoil and years of weed overgrowth.
Later, while reflecting back on the metal detecting experience, I thought not so much specifically about the metal objects we found, but of the real treasure we found. Like a good book, we lost ourselves in the story as it unfolded. An actual story – not a Facebook post (neither of us even thought about looking at our phones) – but an experience worthy of having and worthy of sharing. Indeed, we found more than metal. We found … life. And we lived it on loan from the library.
By Jean Perry