Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Dirt Brain

No, this has nothing to do with having a dirty mind. Don't want to disappoint you, but there is no porn here. Not stooping to that level...yet!

Early in my picking career, a friend of my father owned a house near Number One highway that was going to be torn down. The land was sold to the federal government to enable the twinning of the highway.

A FREE pick....No cash required, just take whatever we wanted. Can't miss that.

I lived in "the city" (Winnipeg) at the time, and came "home" to check it out.

With it so close to the highway, it had pretty much been ransacked already, but we did some digging. I climbed into the attic, and pulled down some postcards, some other bric-a-brac, as well as couple dozen honey tins. I guess a former owner must have kept bees. Not a big seller at the time, honey tins, but I think I sold them eventually for $4 - $8 each. Ok for free, I guess.

So, we "did" the attic, "did" the rest of the house. Just the basement left...if it even had a basement. No basement windows on the outside, but that is not necessarily an indicator that there isn't a basement. Basically the only evidence of an entrance to a basement was the edge of a line in the the tongue and groove floor, partially obscured by dirt and debris. It was just visible near the edge of the ancient linoleum. The linoleum was loose, so we just lifted it up, and VOILA, a trap door!

My blood always flows faster when I get into a basement or attic that looks like no one has been in for years. The potential of "treasure" is greater. This particular cellar door was jammed shut good, so it was unlikely anyone managed to get in to ransack its contents. Kind of like a locked vault, the combination required was a hammer, screwdriver and a crowbar...something most random travellers who had explored the place don't carry with them.

So, once it was popped open, a musty, earthy smell arose in our noses. Years of being sealed. Mmmm. Good smell, to me.

So, I knelt down, looked in the hole with my flashlight.

A note of caution and advice to you amateur pickers. You ALWAYS look closely before stepping into any cellar hole! I have opened up cellar doors and found water a mere foot below the floor I was standing on. Other times, there is a single stair, and in the darkness you can not see the fact the rest of them are long gone. Sometimes they are so rotten that any pressure at all and they crumble. Other times they are barely holding together, and the sides are falling away, threatening to drop all the stair treads at once with your first (and possibly last) step. Plus, you need to use all your senses. Does it smell VERY wet? Is there a half foot of water on that floor or 10 feet of water? Does it have an odor of skunk? An odor of animal urine or feces? Even a chemical smell? A "crap-smell" (methane)? All can be a big issue...and dangerous in their own ways. A half foot of water in a basement dangerous? Yep. A half foot of water, even with good rubber boots, in a basement with a dirt floor can trap you in your boots like glue, in some remote, dank corner. And who knows what is under that water. Yes, you may be able to see down in it now, but after taking a few steps, that silt that has been undisturbed for the last 50 years is now making the water near black, or at least so cloudy it is impossible to see anything below the surface. The next thing you step on is a long shard of glass from that old sealer jar you kicked over. You might as well run your boot & foot across a long razor blade. Plus, that muck can be as slippery as grease. In the least you will possibly slip & fall, get your ego bruised, and just become uncomfortably wet, lightly bruised & slightly odorous. Worst case scenario you could end up impaled on a chunk of steel hidden in the darkness, jutting out from some rusting hulk of gawd knows what, or be knocked unconscious and simply drown.

Well, no worries here....No stairs at all...and it was maybe 4 feet deep, no debris on the floor visible within the confines of the light from the opening. Walls seem solid enough, not likely to cave in, especially if I keep my hands off of them.

Bent over, grasping one side of the opening with one hand, flashlight in the other, I poked my head in the hole.

Upside down, blood rushing to my head, I turned my head, side to side and around, trying to determine what the cellar was like.

What I saw were 2 tunnels, one right, and one left. Both seemed to each lead to a room, and I could just make out shelves with some junk on them.


I lowered myself down through the hole, and assumed the position.....the Duck Walk position.

The place was a little creepy, as abandoned homes always seem to be, to varying degrees, if you let your imagination go.

But, I don't let the creepiness factor stop me. So, I waddled down the tunnel towards the room. Once of the reasons it was so tough to see what was on the shelves, was all the cobwebs hanging down, breaking the beam of my flashlight. I brushed most away, but others were starting to drape over me, catch on my hair, shoulders, chest, back, sides of my face, etc. Annoying, and I likely looked like I was getting ready to star in some zombie flick.

I get to the room. It was tiny, maybe 4 or 5 feet wide. Basically 3 shelves across the one wall. And on those shelves?


Well, not literally. Just label less Cheeze Whiz jars and not much else.

Oh well, still have the other room. Might be a nice crock, Beaver sealer or something else valuable and/or interesting there. Got to be optimistic, you never know.

Anticipation helped my now cramping legs push me to go back, past the opening and down the continuing tunnel. I kept my flashlight focused directly on my destination through the cobwebs, occasionally lowering it to make sure there wasn't broken glass, or worse a gaping open pit, or other hazard a foot in front of me. He died, cobweb covered, duck walking into a pit. Good line for my tombstone...NOT.

Suddenly, I felt as if the earth was closing around me.

I looked to my right, and realized the earthen wall WAS closer. I looked to the left, and realized the same. I thought that was a little CREEPY.

The weirdest part was that it looked like there was 2 huge dirt brains on either side of me.

All these intricate folds weaving in and out. Really weird.

Either way, it was just BIZARRE looking. Like two two giants were buried head to head, with their skulls lopped off. I put my imagination in check, brushed away the excess cobwebs draped over me, and kept to the task at hand. Hope and anticipation kept my cramped legs moving, and I made it to the second room, also lined across the back with 3 shelves.

More Cheeze Whiz jars.


I crawled back to the opening, as my legs were not interested in doing any more duck walking. We wandered around the yard, checked out the sheds, picked up a couple other knick-knacks, and loaded up and left.


Yep that is it.

What did you expect, the brain would be from some fossilized Mammoth?

I assume they were shrew tunnels, but they might have been some kind of bug tunnels, maybe some sort of burrowing beetle.

Hey, I am a picker, not a entomologist!

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