Saturday, February 11, 2012

Treasure Hunters All - (Teremity Magazine Article)

This is a copy of an article I did for Teremity Magazine - published Feb - 2012

__ Treasure Hunters All__

Yes, I am a real picker.

I have been in the antiques biz, as my primary (and usually only) source of income, for half my life…20 years. Add to that the fact I have been “into” "treasure hunting" of one sort of another for as I can remember!

I briefly owned a metal detector, but it was pretty much the cheapest one on the market....I could see metal objects it had passed over, barely settled in the grass, which the unit could not seem to locate no matter how many times I carefully moved the head over the spot! 

Why did I buy such a crappy detector? Dreams of a kid, and one I wanted to fulfill as soon as was possible. My parents worked hard for every dollar, and had little to spare, aside from the 25 to 50 cents allowance I acquired every Saturday. Thus I worked hard for pretty much every cent I ever had, also.

That crappy metal detector was paid for with hard earned nickels and dimes. The dollars were painstakingly accumulated, 5 and 10 cents at a time. I searched for soda and beer bottles high and low on weekends, holidays, and after school. I dug them out of clumps of winter killed weeds on boulevards and rescued them from their precarious perches amongst thorn spiked hedge branches. On family camping trips I scavenged them from cigarette butt strewn campsites. I popped them up out of the sun baked mud of roadside ditches, snagged them from their hiding spots in waist high grass, all the while shivering, soaked to the skin, the result of early morning dew wicking off the switch grass into the denim of my jeans and shirt sleeves. I even tolerated the stench of the clumps of rotting cigarette butts, insects and mouse corpses, some of which stubbornly stuck to the insides of their glass walled coffins. I am all too familiar with the stench these mini-greenhouses can create out of the mish-mash of debris that may end up in them. The goo sometimes lost its battle with centrifugal force, mid-swing. I can vaguely recall moments when a piece of chunky slime would shoot out of the bottle neck, then, to my horror, took an unintended, but oddly graceful acrobatic arc, seemingly in slow motion! Sometimes I dodged the wad of rot, the ground being its final destination. Other times my shoes, jeans or shirt became the landing sites.

On my return home from such an outing, there may have been the disposal of a pair of favorite-one-sole worn-through-running-shoes. They were given a proper burial in the outside trash can. Sometimes a pair of knee patched jeans or shirt followed them.

If it was clothing I was fond of, or I knew I'd catch heck for throwing out, the article would become part of an existing laundry pile, usually in my bedroom closet. Sometimes they shared their odorous prize with the rest of the clothing until washday, on the occasions that I forgot to make mention of them to my mother.
(Sorry, Mom!)

I had found & cashed in literally hundreds of “deposit” bottles to pay for that detector.

I guess the word “found” is not actually correct. The term really should be "picked."

Hmmm, come to think of it,  I have been honing my "picker's eyes"  for a LONG time....since I was 6 years old!

That is the thing with picking, you rely on your eyes quite a bit.  However, a really good picker uses all his/her other senses, also. Yes, every sense we have, we use.

While walking on trash/debris strewn wooden floors of old buildings, I have learned to be highly aware of what is underfoot, not just being aware of things in my line of sight.  You never know, you could be
far closer to a real treasure than your eyes can see, or even your arms can reach. But, of course, safety is very important, too. I want to be able to go out picking for a long, long time.

I can be walking along, stepping gingerly, feeling the floor's boards give slightly, listening for the structure underneath the planks creak just a little more than in an average old building. I strain for that initial sharp splinter of wood fibers, groups of them simultaneously letting go of their 100+ year grip they had on their neighbors...sort of a timber's own  nearly-too-late-warning-scream of  "OH CRAP!"

Or, it could be the barely audible squish of waterlogged, sponge-like, rotten wood fiber, ready to imitate that trap door on a stage, and in a blink of an eye, recreating that classic magical illusion of "now you see him, now you don't!"

So, all the while I am walking, I listen carefully, feeling each step, making sure I am not about to fall through a floor to my demise, or in impale my foot on yet another rusty nail.  With the next step, the feel and sound of that footfall is noticeably different than the previous. The general "feel", combined with the tone, echo (etc) of the sound differed dramatically from my previous footfalls. It is likely not something anyone else who has tread on the same spot has taken any notice of in the room's 75 years of human traffic.

I realize there is metal beneath that foot's resting spot! No electronic metal detector required. Moving aside, still aware, but with some anticipation clouding my usual careful steps, I brush the debris aside.  What is revealed is a sheet of metal. Brushing away all the debris past the surface's edges reveals a streaked mix of smooth, streaked glassy, but grunge smeared surface. With a slight shift of my eyes, they follow the flashlight beam tracing the outer edge of the whitish smeared chunk of steel. Visible upon careful inspection, almost obscured by an oily floor wax/dirt residue, are holes at the corners and middle edges. Most people would not have even not noticed them, but the smears of green, indicative of verdigris growing on the brass grommets the holes sport, are obvious to me. 

The odds very high that it is an old enamel sign covering some hole! Maybe even a very VALUABLE sign!

Experienced 'digger's are familiar with these sorts of feelings, I am sure. The detector sounds, you bend or crouch down to the spot, and get out your equipment. With the first push of "whatever preferred excavation tool you use" into the ground, you hear/feel the pebbles, rocks, rotten wood, tree roots, and anything else it rubs against, or hits, including the target your detector sounded when it skimmed over the ground's surface.

Odds are you even have a pretty good idea of what it is, or at least it's composition. You may even know the object's shape and size, just from the feel of that little vibration.

These skills are the things we develop. We fine tune of our senses; hone them for, and by the pursuit of, our specific treasure hunting interests.  We really think little about them, until they are pointed out to us.  I am referring to observations by that friend/relative who tagged along with you. They come along with you on a hunt, maybe invited, sometimes out of curiosity, or maybe from pure avoidance of chores they needed to get done around the house.

Besides, it is a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Over the afternoon's hunt, you have calmly ignored their rolling eyes and their bored  yawns. It is mid-afternoon, and over the past 2 hours you have politely answered their moronic or/and annoying questions, which are getting close to being  akin to a five year old's whining queries of "why?"

As you bend down, and excavate the target your detector sounded on, you audibly mutter that you think the item is only a 1950s quarter.

After you excavate the prize, and show your companion for the afternoon, their eyes widen and with an amazed and almost incredulous tone say:

"How did you know it was going to be a quarter and not another bottle cap? And how the heck did you know it was from the 1950s????"

Yes, it is like that for me, as a long time picker, also.  I don't know how many times people have said things like:

"I can not believe I walked by that thing pretty much every day, for 40 years, and had no idea it was there!!!"



We are all part of a worldwide treasure hunting fraternity. The treasuring hunting experience is something that unites us in more ways than we realize.


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