October 24, 2010

Bring out your junk and we'll give it a home

Back when I first heard the album Icky Thump a few years ago, Rag and Bone was one of the songs that hinted to me that there was something about The White Stripes that I should be paying attention to. For whatever reason, the album as a whole didn't reach out and shake me up at the time, but earlier this year the switch finally flipped and the lightbulb came on.  Months after diving into Jack's extensive catalog of music, this tune's still one of my favorites, a raucous gem of subtly clever humor. Behind that charmingly lively repartee lies a metaphor for the way in which Jack and Meg created the magic of the Stripes-- by taking what they perceived as cast-off musical styles and making something beautiful out of them.  In a twist on the old rag-and-bone men of England, they took everything from blues to garage/punk to Scottish reels and more, and produced an amazing amalgamation that still leaves fans staggered even though it's been years since the band's last performance together.

This song came to mind today because I spent the afternoon wandering old trash piles out in the woods and reflecting on the different tack that nature takes with our discarded junk.  Many of the parks and wildlife management areas in Maryland consist of land that was once settled and farmed.  Seeing as how farms are spread out and separated by fields, there were no communal public garbage dumps in those days, so each farmhouse had its own dumping place tucked off in a corner of the property.  As this land was sold off to the DNR and M-NCPPC, no one went out to clean up, which means you never know what you might find as you come around the bend of a trail in some seemingly untouched natural area. 

So I headed out to one of these places today, one that used to have a dirt and gravel mud-pit for parking, but that now has a paved lot with designated spaces and that gets a lot more use as a result.  With more people tromping the trails, there's more recent garbage.  I tsk'd a few times at the sight of a plastic water bottle here, a Red Bull or Coors can there.  Funny, then, how a hundred or more mossy old bottles and rusty pails and tubs strewn through the undergrowth can be such a source of delight.  It's the sense of discovery, I guess, and the wondering about the lives of the people who left this detritus so many years ago.  The first dumping ground along the trail seems to be the oldest, consisting mostly of brown bottles and clear glass jugs and jars of various shapes and sizes.  In one spot, in between the roots of a beech tree, I found the necks of three root beer-colored bottles seemingly growing out of the earth.  And here and there I'd kick up the symbol of a feminine spirit, in the form of thicker white glass cosmetics jars.

Farther back in the woods, past the caved-in remains of what seems to have been a coal kiln, is an apparently more recent trash heap, at which there are fewer bottles and an abundance of faded Colt 45 cans, along with rusted water heaters and bed frames, and moldering pieces of what used to be clothing.  It's obvious that a few more decades will leave this pile looking more like the other, as the old appliances decay, the cans settle into the dirt and leaves, and the undergrowth takes over.

Up the hill and around the bend, I came face to face with a beautiful box turtle crawling through the pine needles in what's left of the foundation of a house.  The turtle looked fresh and new, with gorgeous golden markings against the deep brown background of its shell, the light yellowy-orange skin of its neck and legs, and the fierce, darker orange of its eyes.  All that's left of the house are scattered chunks of brick and cinder-block, and two vine-covered cement steps.

While someone like Jack White or the old English rag-and-bone men might take abandoned stuff and turn it into something new, nature indifferently treats these items as the inanimate objects that they are.  Instead of being given a continued life, they're taken over by the cycle of life around them, by the earth, trees, vines and shoots that break through, cover, and consume them.  They're dissolved and absorbed, and the world goes on.  It's an interesting and humbling lesson.   

A couple of things I rescued. The bottom of the brown bottle is embossed with a design patent number and "La Choy Food Products Archbold Ohio". The jar has a Grecian key pattern about its middle and the single word, "Woodbury", on its base. I've no plans to create anything out of either of them, they're lovely and interesting as they are.


the gardeners cottage said...

i sure love this song too. i am a junk collector so i suppose that has something to do with it. i sure would love to scour the area of your walk. i have found some of the best things in abandoned fields.

you should see my little 3 yr old grandaughter dance/rock out to rag and bone. her favorite jack and meg song. my son says he has to play it at least 7 times in a row on his way to our house before she has had enough. she sways her little shoulders in a back and forth fashion that is adorable.

rag and bone seems to touch all ages, wouldn't you say?

KaliDurga said...

I would say, most definitely! One of the most infectious beats ever recorded, and who could resist the playfulness of it?

Found things in abandoned fields? That sounds like a blog post waiting to be written.

21x3 said...

this song got me as well, also being a junk collector or "digger" as my friend was affectionately named, i was thrilled for the subject matter!
about a year after we moved into this 109 year old house, i was digging around under one of the huge trees on the side of our house. i found a pop/soda bottle, upside-down, fully intact! it guess it had a label that was almost completely worn off, but there was another label, sort of frosted on the glass.
and kali, you're gonna love this, it's called red rock cola.

KaliDurga said...

Like this? --> http://www.countryjoescollectiblestuff.com/media/images2/red_rock_cola.jpg That is very cool, and doubly meaningful for you :)

You can apparently still get it, too: http://www.beveragesdirect.com/products/red_rock_cola/ Gonna have to keep my eyes peeled for it when I'm out and about.

Adam said...

Hmmm, a mystery... According to the interwebs, La Choy moved production from Detroit to Archbold, Ohio in August of 1942... The Milk Glass w/Woodbury mark probably held a cream of some sort, by the Woodbury Soap Company. Its probably from the 40's or 50's as well.

fun stuff :)

KaliDurga said...

Ah, thank you! I hadn't gotten around to hitting up Google, but that's about the time period I was estimating. There are a few of these places that include the remains of old cars with rear fins. The area must've been thriving then, though not in the way it is now.