My backyard keeps on truckin'

It was 11 years ago. I was out driving one cold, snowy February day and found myself in a part of my small Maine town I had never known existed. Deep in the Penobscot River valley and hard by the river itself was a collection of extremely modest homes, some of them clearly very old. I realized immediately that they had been built when the river was full of commercial traffic - a neighborhood fit for hoi polloi, while the wealthier folk built lovely, expansive residences on the hill, far above the noise and stink of the river below.

A "For Sale" sign caught my eye, and I slowed to look over a simple, Colonial-style white clapboard home with black shutters. There was no garage and no basement, and the property seemed terribly overgrown. But there was something about that white house set in a field of snow against the frozen river that captured my imagination. When I checked it out with the real estate agent I was told that the asking price was an entirely affordable $39,000.

I did the mortgage dance with a local bank, and within a few weeks had moved in.

The work ahead of me was formidable. I went at it with zeal: replacing rattly wooden windows, insulating the attic, reviving a neglected woodstove. The tasks were endless and occupied the greater part of every day. But in a short while the house was looking lived-in, and looked-after, again.

One March day I was out in the backyard and trudged across the still-snowy expanse after arriving home from work. I twirled my ring of keys happily as I considered how beautiful the place would look once spring came and I had a chance to put in a garden.

In the midst of this euphoria I inadvertently flung my keys into a snowbank. I groped and kicked about but couldn't find them. Returning to the house, I seized a snow shovel and began to excavate. Still no keys.

It was clearly time for drastic action. I borrowed a metal detector from a friend and went to work in earnest. As I swept the ground I got a few short, tentative beeps, which turned up a bottle cap and a heavy-duty paper clip. And then, throwing my net a little wider, I picked up a sustained beep that wouldn't quit. I eventually traced out a large, rectangular object.

At that moment, my seasoned neighbor Earl came over and with a self-satisfied calm remarked, "So, I see you found Babe's truck."

Babe was the nickname of the previous owner of the house.

"Babe's truck?" I echoed.

"Yep," said Earl. "A few years back he had it parked here and just couldn't start it. He finally gave up and landfilled it in."

"You mean there's a pickup truck buried in my backyard?"

Earl nodded.

When spring arrived, the situation was confirmed in graphic detail. The melting snows revealed the window frame and front bumper of the pickup sticking out of the bank where the yard sloped off to the river. I stood there staring at it, wondering what I was going to do. Wondering what on earth I could do.

I consulted a number of friends, as well as a contractor, a heavy-equipment operator, and the owner of a junkyard. The consensus seemed to be that the truck could either be dismantled and hauled away in pieces over time, or a bulldozer (!) could be hired to exhume it. Either way would cost a significant amount of money.

I was amazed at how much of a preoccupation Babe's truck had become. It was a blight on my little homestead, a reminder of the days when the river was lined with sawmills, when refuse was piled on its banks without a second thought.

I don't know if it was anger or raw determination that took hold of me, but one day I grabbed a sledgehammer and marched out the back door. When I got to the riverbank, I planted one foot on the ground and the other against the exposed side of the truck.

And then, in the middle of my upswing, the unexpected happened: An immense woodchuck stuck its head out of Babe's truck, sniffed the air, got a gander at me, and popped back into the place it had made its home. I immediately dropped the sledgehammer and made my way back to the house.

I hadn't been prepared for mammal- ian inhabitants. I fell into a state of uncertainty about the truck, hoping that, in time, a solution would announce itself.

I guess it has. Eleven years later, Babe's truck is still buried in my backyard. It continues to be an item of interest in my neighborhood, and has great conversation value for visitors. In addition, it has gone on providing formidable shelter for woodchucks. In short, it has given me more, over time, than I would have thought it capable of.

Now, if only I could find those keys.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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