“People like to pick them up and take them home. Some are small as buttons, some a quarter of a broken bowl with insides painted in spirals and interlocked teeth. I’ve seen places lousy with potsherds turned bare in a decade or two. It’s like sweeping ancestry off the land. It seems innocent enough. Just one piece, maybe two. The stark black lines on white-slipped clay are like a prize. You feel like you really discovered something. You want it as a reminder. Don’t do it.”
–Craig Childs, Why Potsherds Matter, July, 2020
I find things out there in the open spaces. You don’t have to look. People have lived around these parts of California for over 10,000 years. Like a coin on a sidewalk in the city artifacts turn up when afoot in the forest or seashore. I wonder what to do with them.
To do nothing is to do something and that’s maybe the sort of something I should do, nothing.
Turn today’s mantra of preservation on its head, and leave a trace. Leave it there.
I found this sherd recently when walking back along the beach from halibut fishing.
The place I fish I have been fishing for decades, since I was a small boy. From boats and beach and mostly in the water myself with snorkel and spear.
That’s why my ears are closing shut, not so much surfing as my doctor first said. Long hours with my head in the cold Pacific Ocean.
I’ve seen the halibut gather in this place so numerous I found it hard to decide which biggest fish to shoot first, because after the first shot they all might bolt. I remember as a small boy peering over the gunwale of a boat and seeing halibut dotting the seafloor in the shallow crystal waters of a calm day.
Through the years I have stumbled across a number of artifacts during my many hours spent at this place. I have learned from my own solitary experience that this place I fish is adjacent an old Native American habitation site.
“You’ll find them in trash middens piled in front of ancient villages and households. The people had a different relationship with their refuse. Bodies and offerings were lovingly buried in middens.”
There it was, this time, the sherd, before my toes as I stepped along. Other times arrowheads, bone pendants, stone bowls, shell beads. Pieces of peoples lives.
A friend found an arrowhead here once. A tiny black one. He threw it into the sea. To return it.
I had not been searching for anything, but, as usual, walking with my eyes on the earth, lost in thought.
And there it rested in the darkened soil and dried grasses.
Traces of humanity.