Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Little Boys and Indians (Part 1: Buried Years)

In the spring of 1979, just four months shy of my fifth birthday, my father unearthed a ceremonial spearhead while roto-tilling our garden in New Florence, Pennsylvania.

“WHAT-THE-HELL IS THAT?” He cut the engine to the Toro and knelt down to retrieve the object that had just soared past his face.

The spearhead was about four inches long and approximately two and half inches across. From its base, the stone bowed outward like a bowling pin and about two-thirds up it tapered to a sharp point.

He turned the stone in his hands and used his thumbs to push away the dark earth clumped in its obsidian grooves. The midday sun reflected off the spearhead and dappled and danced over my father’s face.

At the time, my dad was a counselor at a Pennsylvania state-run rehabilitation center. The “rehab” employed a man by the name of Paul Moynihan whose hobby happened to be Indian artifacts. “Found this in the garden,” My dad handed the stone to Paul, “damn thing nearly took out my eye.”

Paul received the stone like it was the Holy Grail, “You found THIS in your garden?”

“Yup. Sort of looks a like giant arrow head, but more rounded—thought you might know what it was.”

Paul explained to my father that it was a ceremonial spearhead, the work of an expert craftsman and probably had taken quite some time and skill to carve. The fact that the stone was perfectly edged lead Paul to believe that the artifact had been buried alongside the body of powerful chief so that he could hunt on his journey into the afterlife.

“Remind me, where you’re living these days?” Paul handed the spearhead back to my father.

“New Florence.”

“Conemaugh River runs through there, don’t it?” Paul raised an eyebrow, punctuating the question.

“Sure it does, about half mile from our house.”

“Any fields being plowed down close to the river?”

“Yup, a farmer I know owns some land down in the Bottoms.”

“The Bottoms” consisted of 400 acres of forests, fields and marshlands, known mostly to local hunters for its abundant population of white-tail deer that grew fat off the river delta’s rich vegetation. For a child going on five years old The Bottoms represented a dark, cool mysterious nether-world where tadpoles could be scooped from car-swallowing mud puddles and chin-dripping red raspberries were plucked at will.

A few days after the meeting with Paul, my father obtained permission to walk the farmer’s fields.

The entrance of the dirt road leading into The Bottoms was only a few blocks from our house. Once on the road, we walked mostly in shadows, mottled by the leafy light of May’s easy breeze. Rain had fallen the night before and the dark, fecund earth seemed rich with life and possibility. Tangles of trees, vines, and briars threatened us from both sides and I walked down the middle of the path, imagining that we were archaeologists sent on an expedition through the jungle with hopes of discovering a lost city.

“Dad, what if the Indians see us?” I kicked a rock down the road with my tennis shoe and spun around to see his answer.

“I don’t think there’s any Indians back here anymore.” He held out his hand and I took it, “My buddy at work tells me that spearhead we found in the garden is probably six hundred years old.”

We walked a few more paces holding hands while I contemplated how long six-hundred years was.

I pulled my hand away, crossed my skinny arms in front of my chest, and looked up at my father inquisitively, “But what if they’ve just been hiding in the woods…what if they are waiting for us?”

“Hmmm…” he raised a hand to his face and massaged his chin pretending to ponder my question, "I think I see what your getting at—What if the Indians like small blond headed boys, like yourself, who ask too many what-if questions.” He laughed and tousled my hair with his hand.

“Daa-ad!” I smiled back, then turned and kicked another stone down the trail.

Around the second bend, about three quarters of a mile down, the road widened and the yellow sunlight glowed over the great expanse of the farmer’s fields. The corn had been planted only the week before, but you could already see green rows of germinating seed push their way from darkness into light.

We stopped at the edge of the field, “Now, we have to be careful,” my father instructed, “This field was just planted—see the corn growing already?”

I nodded in the affirmative.

“Paul said that the plow turns up the earth and in the process sometimes it reveals artifacts that have been buried for hundreds of years…” My dad looked out at the field, sensing its potential, “Now, I don’t know if we are gonna find anything out there today, but it just rained last night and I think this might be the perfect time to try.”

I looked at the field. It seemed to go on forever. My eyes widened.

(To be continued...)


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