Hippie Archeology

Wren on November 17th, 2008

I’ve held my ground on this steep slope for fourteen years. This land’s been communal since 1965. And as runoff washes into our stream at the bottom, I’ve learned that the soil of this hill gives up the secrets of the residents who came before me: These hippies were freakin’ LITTERBUGS!!! Were they too stoned to carry a can up to the road on trash day? I mean, please!

For my first six years at Heathcote I lived in the springhouse (below), an idyllic stone hut on the stream, built into the hillside, over a natural spring. I was always finding new pieces of broken glass emerging like prima donna dinosaur bones out of the dirt. I never got ahead of the curve. More glass or metal coils or nails were always appearing out of the subtle erosion.

When I moved to Hina Hanta (below), my current cabin high above the mill, there were new and varied things to excavate. This cabin, formerly called Hillhouse, was built in 1972. Various families and singles have occupied it since then, including a professional environmental activist who lived here fourteen years himself. The building is not quite at the top of the slope, so erosion does uncover what composting leaf litter tries to conceal.

Coming up from the ground I get endless plastic seed pots and plastic sheeting and carpet pieces. Heathcoters used to garden a terraced plot where I now have a goat pen, before the woods grew in too thickly for crops. But much of the carpet isn’t from gardening. It’s just heaped in the woods, feet from the cabin. And it doesn’t compost quickly.

I’d always picked up little bits of plastic containers I’d find or lengths of wire or cord. But recently, while waiting for fencing helpers to arrive, I went walking in my woods with a workday energy. I was stunned to find bags of trash, laid out in the woods. They’d clearly been there many years. I’ve lived here eight and I didn’t put them there! The piles were low to the ground and the plastic on top had degraded, so each collection appeared to be laid out on a sheet of plastic that was, I guess, the bottom of the bag. Inside, no identifying papers to name any guilty parties. They could have already degraded. But what remained? Lots and lots of athletic shoes, actually in decent shape; plastic and metal food containers; many bug spray cans and motor oil jugs; a briefcase; a two-burner hotplate; stove parts; a bathroom scale; small electrical appliances and extension cords; building materials; clothes and linens; window panes; a tea kettle; pots and pans; a lawn chair.

I don’t keep new plastic bags just for carrying trash, so I reused bags from my wood pellets. I’d give you a count on the number of bagfuls the woods was holding but the work isn’t close to finished. Let’s call it ten and counting.

After the moral outrage, I was overtaken with curiosity. I became a detective working the scene. Who walked their trash out, one-hundred feet from the cabin and abandoned it? Did they come from the cabin, or did they trek it through the woods from the neighboring farm? Surely they weren’t Heathcoters! Some of the food containers were for meat items. I would like to believe that this proves the innocence of my vegetarian community. But if they could dump trash and not get busted by the hippie police, then they could sneak meat. Maybe that’s why they diverted their trash to the woods–They wanted to hide their carnivorous indiscretions! Oh, this is getting juicy!

Now, I’m not just a suburban chick gone feral in the woods. Actually, okay, I’m exactly that. But my point is, I know the history of trash. Generations of my family burned trash or dumped it in the endless limestone sinkholes on our Kentucky dairy farm. The practice continues with current generations. I remember my cousin knocking on my mother’s door: “Have you got any noxious substances you want to throw out? I’m heading to the sinkhole…” Much to the hypocritical dismay of my grandparents, people were always dumping pickup truck loads of trash, furniture, tires, chemical drums and anything else in the woods of our farm, which hugs a long stretch of little traveled country road. There’s even a car, maybe a 1930’s model, that someone drove up into our woods and abandoned. I used to play in it, ala Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Still, I want to believe that, since 1965, Heathcote’s particular chunk of our beautiful Gaia, our bountiful Turtle Island, was held differently by the tribe that settled here. And I’m annoyed that former residents may have left a mess I’m now having to live with or clean up. Quite a microcosm of the planetary issues we face, isn’t it? A previous generation’s expediency becomes our burden, even in Hippieland.

Not all trash at Heathcote is annoying. When we renovated the mill, we found bottles, dishes, etc., that may date back one-hundred fifty years. That was awe inspiring. But I don’t want to leave this trash in the woods long enough to become exciting archeology.

Anyone for a feel-good workday in the woods? Maybe we’ll find the clue that will close the case of the hippie litterbugs! I’ll supply the pellet bags…

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