Indiana Jones and The Sugar Shack

During the two weeks I spent with the boys, one of the adventures of the trip was the on-going excavation of a old maple syrup sugar shack that once existed in the woods behind my parents' house. The shack was probably more of a medium-sized shed made of planks and sand-stone walls based on the amount of artifacts dug up from the ground where it once stood. As a small boy, I remember our property being rough with swampy wet areas and good sized scrub brush and small trees, until my parents tamed it into the lush estate it is today. What I didn't know until a few years ago is that the property used to be the sight of a decent size farm over 100 years ago, and where the home I grew up in stands, a large wheat field once existed. The sugar shack was a regular functioning part of that farm where the owners boiled buckets of tree sap down into not just syrup, but maple sugar too.

Probably around the age of 10, for some reason I began poking around in the dirt around where that shack had long since fallen in on itself and started decaying for many decades. To my amazement, I uncovered an old pint, milk bottle in one piece. There wasn't much to it - probably worth about 50 cents to a local collector, but to me it was practically the Arc of the Covenant. That was day I became the alter ego for the great archaeologist and adventurer(cue music and whip cracking sound effects) Indiana Jones.

Old bottle collecting became something of a passion for me and lasted through high school and beyond where even today I have a hard time passing a flea market or antique store without wanting to evaluate their collection of whiskey bottles and medicine bitters. I eventually scrapped up enough money to purchase an authentic Indiana Jones fedora which I treated with the same reverence and devotion as my idol did his. It was not unusual to see me holding it down with one hand as ran full tilt across a field while being chased by a property owners' angry dogs after being caught rummaging around an old junk pile, or to slap the dust and cobwebs from it majestic brim after emerging from a rat-infested crawlspace underneath and on old railroad warehouse.

It felt good to wear that hat around and even better when I'd make an important discovery. I had at least a couple bottles from the early 1800's, and possibly one from earlier with the original cork still in it, but the majority of the rest were old Vick's Vapor jars from the 1970's whose cobalt blue I just could say no to. The best of these artifacts were prominently displayed in my room where I discovered another benefit of bottle collecting outside of fashion accessories and a good story. Chicks thought it a cool hobby making me slightly more interesting than other boys in my class.

Given our similar temperaments is it any wonder that my son Noah would be drawn to the same boyhood adventure? As soon as he heard his grandpa tell the rumor of how the farmer who once owned this land supposedly hid jars of money up in that old sugar shack, Noah had a shovel in hand and was headed up to the woods. We've been back several times since first hearing that story and each time Noah manages to dig something new out of what's now become quite an excavation site.

Part of his daily agenda would be to dig a little more at the old sugar shack. It didn't matter if he was alone or with his brothers. At one point I caught him organizing a crew from among all his cousins who were over for their annual visit. Had I let him go through with it (it had just rained and their mothers would've all thrown fits at the mud tracked in), who knows how much he and ten other boys would've hauled back.

On the morning we were loading up the car to head back to their mother, Noah asked me what I'd done with the bottle he found.

"What bottle?" I didn't know anything about it.

"The bottle I found."

My mother who had been listening went back into the house and came back holding an old bottle with dirt still caked on it.

"Ya, that's it, Dad."

"Where did you get that at?" I asked looking it over. It was a old medicine bottle.

Noah looked at me with a quirky little smile. "From our dig site," he said, "I want you to have it 'cause I know you like bottles."

I don't know how that thing survived all those years under all the dirt and sand-stone, but I guess it had been waiting there for my little protege to find it. It's now my most priceless artifact.

For more photos and descriptions of the dig click here.

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