There’s an old rubbish dump in the woods just over the bypass. A furtive, scrag-end, hideaway kind of place. I’m guessing the last Shipman’s crab paste jar was scraped and tossed sometime in the sixties, judging by the depth of compressed leaf litter, and the age of the sycamores that have grown up on top. Maybe it’s because the ground is so steep and unstable here, or maybe it’s because the soil is flavoured by a century of oxidised metal, prussic acid and proprietary laxatives, but the sycamores have grown into contorted, high-stepping shapes, like alien scavengers scuttling over the pile, busily turning a brood of discoloured eggs with their roots.
I work quietly – partly because I don’t want to enrage the trees, and partly because I don’t want to attract the attention of those work operatives, whose fluorescent jackets and shouted conversations I catch periodically, just the other side of the fence.
Not that I think they’d mind me being here, unless there’s something other than bottles and broken dinner plates beneath my boots.
I’m not the only one to have stumbled on El Crapado, though. Here and there I find exploratory test pits, and bottles and jars that have been lined up on rotten tree limbs, little triage stations of value, perhaps, or photo ops.
I’m certainly no expert. I’ve no idea what it means when the glass seam goes all the way to the top or stops halfway. I’ve no understanding of the subtle differences between glass blowing and industrial presses, and it would take far too much research to establish whether or not any of these things are valuable. I’ve got better things to do with my time. So I concentrate on the jars I think might make an interesting container for a homemade candle, carefully picking through the strata of detritus, all the tarnished whites and greys and greens, bottles embossed with the names of cities, exotic coffees and beef drinks, poisonous blues and greens with perished caps, hunks of melted glass, fragments of pottery with ornamental writing, an old bullet casing, a plate stamped 1945, the lid of a flowery teapot, so pristine I wonder if I dug a little harder and deeper I might start to hear Moonlight Serenade, and find a table set for lunch, a family of four sat around it, frozen cup to lip.
It’s a hazardous operation. There are unexpected falls where the surface crumbles and gives way. Cavities open up. There are sharp fragments of glass everywhere. And at the bottom of it all, just the sudden roll of a hubcap beneath me, there’s a rock-filled stream, flowing as fully and freely as – I don’t know – regret?