by Caren Crane
The scene: a quiet street in working-class neighborhood in the suburbs. A small elementary school sits on this street, where there is little traffic except on weekdays when school begins and ends. Across from the school, a wooded ravine, overgrown with ivy and vines winding over the ground, down the hillside and up the tree trunks.
Within the skeletal fingers of dead vines, buried in heavy mulch from years of fallen leaves, lay half-hidden, half-seen things. Things no one wanted, no one needed. Things that should remain hidden, things with stories unheard and untold.
People drove by every day. Parents picking up their children from the school across the road. Unsuspecting neighbors believing nothing more than trees and undergrowth dwelled in the woods in their midst.
What we discovered shocked us and the wondering neighbors who drove by - some several times - to see what was dragged up the hill from the overgrown depths. When my Girl Scout troop went yesterday to help with a local Litter Sweep, we had no idea what we would find. We had been told this spot needed "a lot of help", but were unprepared, first, for the overgrown state of the ravine and, second, for the sheer volume and disparity of objects we unearthed.
Many of these were not glamorous things: bottles (beer and liquor), cans (beer, soda and cat food), bags, cups, plates, wrappers, lids with straws. Some appeared to be in the ravine by mistake: a basketball, several soccer balls, the casings from roman candles. Some were clearly left for the sake of dumping convenience: a mattress, a space heater,a metal garbage can, a gas can, a futon pad, mini-blinds, a patio umbrella, a PC tower, a typewriter, a couple of car tires.
Still others made us wonder: a pair of pants, a nice pair of Nike tennis shoes, baby socks, adult socks, baby shoes. A crib. A meat cleaver. The sign pointing the way to a church in a nearby town. A pair of panties.
It wasn't just my writer's imagination that was piqued by all this "treasure". The girls in my troop – all high school juniors and seniors – crafted elaborate scenarios of how some things had come to be there. There were stories of young women making bad choices, trusting the wrong men. A young couple setting up a meth lab, trying to raise a baby they couldn't support and shouldn't have had. Until things went south and they had to ditch everything: the lab equipment, the burners, the futon, the crib. The wife. The cleaver. The baby.
By the time the girls got this far into the tale and we were deep in the ravine, we all fully expected to uncover skeletal human remains. It got very CSI down in there yesterday. Suddenly, our two and a half hours was up. There was more to be done, much more, but Starsky – our trusty town employee and clean-up supervisor – reclaimed our orange vests, gloves and trash picker-uppers.
Still, there is much more to be done in the ravine and there are many more stories for it to tell. The volunteer supervisor is sending us information on how to permanently adopt that spot, to come back on a regular basis and unearth more fascinating pieces of other peoples' lives. I feel sure we will. Who could resist all that buried drama waiting to be dragged from the vine-choked depths of the ravine? Not I.
What about you? Have you encountered a place that made your mind race with speculation? A house, an empty lot, an abandoned space, that compelled you to recreate how it came to be in its current state? We would love to hear about your mysterious spot and the story it told to you.
Be sure to stop by later this month. Beginning on October 14, we will be giving away tricks and treats daily in anticipation of our BIG SURPRISE coming at the end of the month. Don't miss out!