Monday, April 5, 2010

With Apologies To Those Of You Who've Heard This Story Already

One of the great things about being a kid is that you don't realize how unlikely it is that you will ever dig anything terribly interesting out of the ground. By the time we're adults, most of us have accepted the fact that we will not unearth ancient fossils or dig up buried treasure or stumble upon a lost civilization. I say most of us because we've all seen those people at the beach with the handheld metal detectors.

Of course my kids have been on the lookout for dinosaur bones ever since they learned what a paleontologist is. (Boys acquire this knowledge when they are quite young.) Unfortunately for our boys, our yard is mostly covered with grass, so their digging space is very limited. There is one place alongside the chain link fence in the backyard where a year-round blanket of pine needles keeps the ground otherwise bare, so Shaun designated it as their one sanctioned digging spot.

Shaun didn't think they'd get too far, since the spot is between two trees and laced with roots. He didn't count on the determination of a six year old boy (armed with an adult-sized shovel) who wants to be a scientist when he grows up. Within a few days the hole was waist deep, and Nels would disappear from sight when he bent down to inspect his work.

I was summoned to the site only once. The boys had disturbed a nest of insect eggs and the distraught parent was scurrying around trying to put things to rights. They were totally fascinated (we'd just read several books about bugs) and were sure I wouldn't want to miss it.

A few days into the digging frenzy, Nels came home from school with some big news.

"Guess what? Maya dug up a crystal in her yard! Actually I think her mom did. But Maya brought it. She showed it to us. They dug it up! Can I go dig now? Can I go dig?"

"Sure." I put his backpack down inside. I heard yelling. He'd been digging for less than a minute.

"Mom! Mom! Come here! I found a bone!"

I was happy for him. What were the chances that he'd dig up something cool right at that moment? We have a lot of little critters around; I figured maybe a squirrel had gone belly up at some point, or a rabbit, or...

I was not expecting a jawbone. With teeth attached. Canines.

You can imagine the jubilation. Nels told everyone that he'd found bones. He asked if he could call Grandma, and when he talked to her he told her he had news so exciting that her eyes were going to explode out of her head. Of course he wondered what kind of animal he'd found. I told him it was probably a dog. He didn't think to ask how the dog came to be there and I didn't feel the need to volunteer any theories.

It was all rather appalling, but Nels was so excited that I didn't have the heart to call the excavation to a halt immediately. It wasn't until a cold, damp day, when Nels emerged muddy and triumphant from his pit, calling, "Mom, look what I found!" that my conscience (which is not overly tender towards dogs in general) started to trouble me. As Nels approached, I saw that he was holding a circle of blue webbing. A dog collar.

I'm sorry, very nice family who lived here before us. We did not mean to disinter your beloved pet.

And if any of you reading this have a yard with only one good digging spot in it...well...proceed with caution. Proceed with caution.


Annie Nannie said...

What a marvelous story! How exciting! Gotta love the wonder.

Has Shaun told Nels about his archeological dig adventures in Israel?

We happened upon a dig on one of the Orkney Islands this summer which pre-dates the Egyptian pyramids. Fascinating.

So much fun! I hope your boys never lose their joy of learning and passion for discovery. Kudos to you and Shaun for inspiring their enthusiasm and curiosity.

Hillary said...

This one needs to be published. Your writing here perfectly contrasts the wonder of learning with the dry cynicism of knowing. Poor Nels.

Great read.

Nathan said...

OH! Maybe I should make a gravestone for our sweet Beatrice...just in case the next family that lives here can be forewarned!

What a great story!


Jana said...

Ha!!!!!!! Kind of reminds me of a bird I once knew!!!! See, I was trying to prep you for having boys one day!!! I am still laughing!!!!!

Gypmar said...

Nancy, I'm guessing Nels will be really interested in those dig stories in about four more years :)

Hillary, thanks.

Carol, I think a marker of some sort is an excellent idea! I remember your early Beatrice days fondly.

Jana, I can't BELIEVE I didn't think of that story! For the rest of you; after I buried my pet parakeet (in second grade, maybe?), Jana lobbied hard for digging it up so we could see what the skeleton looked like. I was horrified. Now it seems perfectly reasonable! Ha!

Gretchen said...

Oh my gosh, this is way too funny. Great story! I just kept thinking about our sweet dog Brittany buried in my parents back yard. Will some ambitious little boy find her some day??

Heidi Jo said...

Ah, and so a young Indiana Jones is born. Good times!