by Pat Piper
I was planting blackberry bushes at the Jug Bay community farm along the Patuxent River. Just a day earlier, the land had been tilled and now I was assigned to set the young plants in a hole and dig an area around the stem where water could settle rather than run off. The dirt still felt cold from the winter months but, like the air, it contained obvious optimism about warmer days to come.
While planting the sixth blackberry my right hand touched a clump of dirt with a sharp edge. For just a moment, I thought about tossing it off to the side and pressing on to get the remaining 30 plants in the ground before calling it a day. But I stopped and explored the soil, and thats when I saw the shape. It was an arrowhead. A quartz arrowhead.
Working in this dirt for the past five years, Ive heard people talk about finding clay pipes used in trade with the Piscataway Indians. Quartz was a common material used for arrowheads because it was readily available along the riverbank and could be shaped as needed. I wiped the dirt away and looked at the work someone maybe two hundred years earlier had done as a way to stay alive. It could have been used for hunting food or it could have been used as protection from people trying to take over the land. The blackberry planting stopped for a while as I took in the times that made the shape of this rock in my hand necessary.
When, I wondered, did the sun last touch this surface? I had heard tales of the Indians soul never leaving the land upon death, choosing instead to stay with the wind and the soil because one is part of the other. The thought made me look around, into the thick oak woods near the farm and out across the Patuxent in a way Id never done before. It was this moment when the wind blew a little warmer on my face, I knew.
The arrowhead went into my pocket and I continued on among the blackberry bushes. I thought how whoever spent hours at work on this piece of rock would be pleased with what we are doing in the soil today. Indeed, theyd have gathered to partake of the lettuce we had grown or the peas we were planting or the potatoes that had been in the ground since March. And I thought how we could have fixed broken legs or wounds better than they while gathered for a meal.
But there would have been questions from them about how we live. What is an SUV? Id have explained it is used to transport families around after school and is designed to drive through snow or rain and bring everyone home safely. Well, why is there only one person driving them? Id have said nothing.
Why such a big house? Id have answered our home is our castle and we build them huge because homes are such a good investment when you want to sell them 10 years later. Well, why do only three people live in the 10 rooms? Id have said nothing.
Why all the crab pots? Id have said we celebrate the crab just as they no doubt did and we have great crab feasts during the summer. Well, dont you ever think about overfishing the crab? Id have said
Well, you know what I would have said.
I thought about all of these conversations and wondered about the folks 200 years from now who will one day dig up an SUV bumper or a cell phone or a Sony Trinitron. Indeed, they will say how much better they can mend a broken bone or cure a disease or prepare a meal. But none of them are going to ask what the day might have been like when one of these things last saw the sun. In fact, nothing will be said.
The arrowhead travels with me ever since leaving the soil. I may not have any Piscataway in me, but these days its healthy to have some Piscataway with me.
Pat Piper spends weekends at Jug Bay with others tending to the soil and seeking new lessons from those that were there long before them.