History, memoir, fantasy. Ask an academic and they’ll tell you there are clear lines between the three. Three distinct and maybe slightly overlapping, maybe only tangential, zones.
For me the three are strands in the stuff of reality, existing, together, within and of each moment.
An archeological team was coming to do a dig on the island that summer. The Abbe Museum in Bar Harbour was sponsoring a survey of island sites. The sites along the shores of the islands go back several thousand years. Each year storm surges, development, and rising sea levels take their toll. The museum wanted to catalogue them before they shrunk or entirely slipped away.
I had been digging in the old shell heap since I was a kid. Ted, who had dug as a child himself back in the Teens and Twenties and who owned the land gave me permission and I squirreled away. By the time the team arrived I had a small box of finds. Mostly they were the small chips flaked off as part of the tool making process. But I did have one treasure. In the path the three-wheelers had carved down to the cobble beach I had picked up a green copper pendant. It was about three inches long and shaped into a tapering rectangle. The edges had been carefully serrated and a hole had been punched in the thinner end so it could be worn on as part of a necklace.
Carly, who was just 2 then, rode on my shoulders and we proudly took the box to the team. The archeologist in charge was politely grateful for the flakes but genuinely taken with the pendant. He said it likely dated back to the time of the first contact with Europeans. Maybe Portuguese cod fishermen back in the 1300 and early 1400s who landed on the island to split, salt and dry the cod they caught in such plenty around the ledges and shores. The pendant may have started as a strip cut out of a leaky copper kettle. A treasure then to a people using bone and stone and skin, coarse clay and wood. A treasure now. I handed over the box a bit reluctantly.
The next day after I hauled my lobster traps, I stopped by to see how they were getting on. The archeologist was quite excited. The evening before they had walked the site and along the edge of the bank where the layers were exposed they had found a copper breastplate. He told me that frequently the best finds were made before they started, or on the last day. He felt that the size of the ornament indicated that this may actually be a major site. A leader of some reputation or standing perhaps, given the detailed markings and cut-outs. They would get some new insights into early symbolism and art work. Perhaps it was a more central trading and interaction site rather than a seasonal camp to escape from the black flies as they first thought.
He sent in a write up of the early finds to be printed in the local paper.
I was jealous as hell. I walked that stretch of beach after every storm looking. I had stopped digging years ago and only picked up what was exposed by wind and weather. How had I missed it?
I watched their neatly squared holes set along string lines. Noted the brushes and tiny trowels they dug with. The precision locating. The earth they dug out bit by bit carried over to be screened through fine mesh. They didn’t miss a thing.
It was a while later that the story came out in the paper. Seems the copper breastplate was the back of an alarm clock. The symbolic cut-outs were where the key to wind it up fit through and the tab to set it slower or faster. It wasn’t even an antique. Just some crap tossed over the bank during the last 20 years or so. The enigmatic engraving - ‘Made in Japan’.
25 years later I still walk along the edge of the exposed bank above the beach after every storm. Some years I just pick up a few flakes some years more. It must have been 10 years after the dig that I picked up the matching pair to the copper pendant I gave the museum. Right there where the three-wheelers have carved a road through the layers to get down to the shore.
Its all there. History. Memory. Fantasy. Take your pick.