The things I have collected along the way are sundry and eclectic but I nevertheless have a curator’s eye. Years ago, eons actually, I worked in museums and dusty old cultural institutions. It was in this line of work that I met a man who was the ultimate collector. He boasted among other things the largest collection of Chinese Food Takeout Menus in the world… perhaps the world, outside the People’s Republic of China that is. I don’t recall if this gentlemen was part of the Warhol crowd, but he was a kind soul the type that Gotham used to be full of. Men in small apartments with strange interests and projects of some kind. I like to imagine I met him in his apartment, that it was loaded floor to ceiling with shoe boxes all organized and each one full of the most useless objects in the world. Bottle caps, crazy straws, sporks from convention centers, however, truth be know, I have been in so many of these apartments, homes, basements, and barns, that they all have blended together.
Also, in my own cabin I am taken to what I consider collecting but others accuse as the mental illness known as Hording. Perhaps collectors, and museums are nothing but those who exist on the spectrum of this affliction as some alcoholics indeed are “functional” ones collectors are well organized and specific horders no less in need of an intervention, mental health help, and a reality show documenting this process.
I do not have an interest in one thing. I do not collect menus or baseball cars or Hummel figurines, but rescue the lost and crying bits that fall from other lives and are special enough to tell me a story every time I look at them. I own a license plate that someone took a great amount of time to efface the identifying details by scratching off the alpha-numericals and then pouring paint on top, which was then partially scratched off as if another hand hoped to find those effaced alpha-numericals. I have tags from stores long out of business and bits of military gear from various campaigns as well as old hunting tools mixed in with religious icons and parts to radios and phones that will never again function and whatever rusted or brass thing catches my eye for whatever is at the heart of this deep and sick condition.
To these things I accumulate as a raven takes shinny things for reasons he cannot explain, I add my own memories to the pile. These may be photos, but usually they are little rocks from a beach in such-and-such a local, a shard of glass polished smooth by time and the elements from a cold mountain stream, and whatever treasures I can find in the many midden piles I come across deep in the woods. These are my favorite to mine to feed my addiction. Once I found a gigantic lightbulb in the woods. No explanation as to how it got there, or why this discarded object was sitting there on the ground. Out in the forests of the Forgotten Kingdom of the Catskill mountains there are many remnants of civilization’s many advances, and retreats. Abandoned stone quarries, hunting camps, logging camps, wayward shacks and abandoned and failed farms, and remnants of all sorts of industrial activities from iron mining to brick making to rendering hides and tanning skins and of course a few stills form prohibition. Coils and pipes, fitting and fixtures, barrel hoops and the discarded containers of all manner of provisions, potions, and poisons. Bottles and boxes and the pageant of history as told by the trash tips, attics, and left behind gloves.
Then there are the abandoned houses. Rotting and forgotten, windows long shattered, the door used as a ramp, sometimes the entire house is locked up from ages ago and has since split in half allowing easy access. The younger dwellers of the Forgotten Kingdom know these places and we have secret meetings where we compare all these new treasures, not one of them of value in the normal world.
Then there are the bits of animals. Skulls of deer and fox and any number of perished critters either in one spot or a random location that almost makes me think it was a sign, the forest telling me something or a signal from the spirit world. I remember long ago finding a perfectly intact and clean fox skull as I followed a deer trail. Those of you who know the outdoors and have not received all our environmental education from Disney and bathroom walls understand the rarity in the Northeast glens and tracts of finding a bleached and clean skull… or any bone for that matter. Then there is the Grail of discoveries, antlers. Most will be gnawed on quickly, but it is possible to discover a lone antler or at times the entire buck, wounded by some inexperienced hunter and escaped enough paces to outrun his foe but the mortal wound sending him to a topside grave where he is quickly absorbed back into the forest.
Perhaps one day my own cabin will serve as some adventure for a thieves guild as my rescued treasures, drawer pulls, signage for lost brands, souvenirs from sad and stupid places and unknown leavings from explorers and immigrants who used to mine and chop and dig there way through the mountains of another age. My collection will catch the eyes of new collectors and I will be absorbed into the stories of others in the forest.