Bones, Pottery, and Urban Legends…The Gifts of Childhood

Some of my most profound experiences occurred in nature’s playground, in a “green belt” between residential areas, just out the back door of my suburban home. These woods where a lesson in natural history, they spoke volumes to what I identified as home.

My irresistible curiosity sparked my drive for moving beyond and into the depths of those towering trees. My imagination forms the stories woven into suburban legends, well before the bulldozer moves in. We designed our own treasure maps; my friends and I discovered bones – traces of animals that have long perished.

We unveiled shards of pottery from mounds of creek clay in a dry creek embankment. Remembering, when a jagged rustic fork would sometimes pierce up through the floor of the sandy, creek bottom. Sifting through eddied mounds of treasure, a boy’s imagination could meander. What was that place? Who lived in that spot? And where do they all go?

We were archaeologists solving mysteries. Some of the pottery could be wiped to clean porcelain white with woven patterns printed for show. We heard legends of this place, now being exhumed by ten years olds, as a just a country club for golfers. And the over grown fair ways and eroded golf cart paths dotting he landscape, made this legend seemingly more plausible.

Between, think groves of evergreen trees and scattered sycamores and birch where stretches of land that took the shape of machinery being dragged across the surface. There were suburban tales of the land as a golf course, with a fine dining restaurant, however I never did uncover a golf ball, golf cart, or driver. (And until this day, it goes unexplained) There where no building ruins, just heaps of plates, bowls, and the occasional tarnished silverware.

Periodically, you could here the sound of a train rush by, wondering if it was carrying freight or passengers. But, there was no train in sight, just a dark forest that kept a young boy on the edge of the shadows before creeping in. What lived in those darkness regions of the woods – a boy would never no unless the trees are left alone standing before residences for years to grow. Trees of these heights and depths raise goose bumps on your arms. Fresh eyes drew me closer to a place I’d call home.

Around the depths of these trees were scattered woods, dense shrubbery and deciduous trees. Beneath these trees poking out from eroded sediment or woven by tall grass, rested scattered bones. These bones became childhood trophies, as we would collect these prizes for decorating our hideouts.

On the periphery sat dark brown barns with slanted walls and rows of windows broken by years of stone throwing and heavy storm gusts. You knew the old farm barns were in close proximately when a breeze carried the stench of rotten corpse. Neighbors knew of the origin of this breeze, and hot muggy days of summer, would keep the hairs in your nose standing on end. Only kids had the gumption and bravery to explore the old pig farm. This was no territory for adults.

And as suburban legend tells, the old owner still lives in the little white house along Ridge Pike, and sits cross-legged with a shot gun at reach, with the capability of firing off rock salt. Certainly, this threat was enough to reassure our calculations and movement did the stir the old miser to the point of running for his gun. The older boys in the neighborhood brought back spare ribs and other bones, and kept them sacredly at their fort.

It was these treasures that kept an inquisitive boy of nature wanting to explore on his own terms. And these missions for bones and other artifacts of natural history always uncovered truth – about the land and self.

What remnants left standing of a pig farm existence were stark, dilapidated barn houses. Shattered glass peppered the old barn floors where below the pigsties broke up the floor and the butcher’s hook would dangle about mid-room. My time inside these haunting looking structures was limited by the anxiety of being spooked by a ghost or either shot by the neighbor.

Here in the neighborhood woods the soil and artifacts left dormant for decades, where puzzles to the place, I’d call home. Crows hovered near to rooftops, and in the driveway of a house – garbage trucks sat with packages of what appeared to be lard for soup.

These childhood images of my surroundings kept the neighborhood kids, constantly intrigued, investigative, yet cautious. We were solving a detective story, trespassing, and exploring regions of what made our place in time meaningful – and fun. Our classroom was bountiful, absent of adult supervision and our interpretations rested on the softness of whatever the imagination, could conjure up.

Preschool Punks. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint/publish, please contact Paul at

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