My birthday is in a few weeks, and there’s just one thing on my list: The Bounty Hunter TRACKER IV. Some girls want jewelry, I want a metal detector to find it. Well, I really hope my Bounty Hunter turns up a Revolutionary War coat button, although jewelry will do. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than finding treasure on the trail. That’s what I stumbled upon during a hike last weekend at Woodchuck Hill Field & Forest Preserve in Manlius, NY.
I set out on the trail with Ben (boyfriend), Rufus (beloved mutt), and Ringo (sheepdog on loan for the weekend from Montreal-bound friends). The trail descends through cedars to a wetland which it follows on the left for about a mile. To your right are the big cedar-filled backyards of Woodchuck Hill Road residents. Every few hundred feet, old limestone fences that divide their properties intersect the trails. You’ll see beaver dams, hear the sound of wind rustling the marsh grass, and jump at the occasional shot from the nearby range. Otherwise, it’s dark, cool, and quiet on the trail. That is, until you come upon an old backyard junk pile. Then you might say, “ohh treasure!” like I did.
Treasure is a personal, intimate thing: You learn more about people from the objects they value than from a peek in their medicine cabinets. Before you label me a dumpster diver, you’ve got to understand my treasure definition. An old junkyard is the mecca for my kind of treasure: Old objects with an interesting story behind them. It’s also the venue of choice for archaeologists. And if I wasn’t an advertising professional, I’d be channeling Indiana Jones for a living. On my recent trip to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I spent one afternoon playing archaeologist, walking the outskirts of a sugar plantation where I figured waste would be: A slight brush of dirt revealed the top of a rum bottle and a piece of pottery, both around 200 years old when the plantation was still operating.
Old junkyards are not like today’s; in fact, you won’t realize you’re at one until you start poking around. What clued me in at Woodchuck Hill was a broken dish, then, a shoe sole so old it had stitch marks, and a rusted-out pie tin (the ceramic coating revealed its age). I picked up the plate fragment, and looked at the inscription: Buffalo China made for New York Central Lines. The story here was that this plate came from one of the first railroad lines in America; the New York Central Line started operating in the 1830s. In the nineteenth century, Central New York was a major transportation hub with both the railroad and the Erie Canal stopping at cities and towns like Manlius.
While being out on an unexplored trail is a treasure in itself, it’s always exciting to hold little pieces of history in your hand. (Although I always put my treasure back where I found it, yes, even the rum bottle piece). To me, the most valuable objects aren’t necessarily worth much money – although an intact piece of Central New York Line china can bring a profit. I see value in the trail that leads to treasure, and the story behind what I find along the way. Even if I won the lottery, you’d still find me with dirt under my nails, Bounty Hunter TRACKER IV in hand, and a story to tell you.
While I’m curious, I respect boundaries – I’ve never even peeked in Ben’s journal although it sits on his nightstand. Woodchuck Hill Preserve is adjacent to the big backyards of Woodchuck Hill Road residents, so please respect their privacy and stay on the trail.
Also, check yourself for ticks after hiking at Woodchuck Hill - Rufus, Ringo, and Ben each inadvertently brought home an unwelcome tick treasure.
What Do You Treasure?
Everyone has a different definition of treasure (arrrgh, matey!). For example, my grandma prizes possessions that were flippantly discarded. The less a former owner appreciated a useful or beautiful object, the more it’s worth to my grandma. Growing up in a farming family during the Great Depression, Grams was forced at an early age to access objects as potential treasure. She channeled her definition of treasure into a successful antiques business.