Thursday, January 01, 2009


Until 1954, it was legal in Southern California to dispose of trash by burning. Most rural and not-so-rural homes had giant fireplace-like incinerators somewhere on the property. Although someone built our house in 1947, only a few years before the ban on incinerators, that person still felt burning was a good way to eliminate rubbish, and planted an incinerator down in the deep corner of the property. Giant anti-smog protests in the '50s helped pave the way for the change that would create auto emissions guidelines and outlaw incinerators.

When we first visited our house during an open house, we had no idea what this fireplace was doing way in the back, so far from the house. Why would anyone put a living space so inaccessibly located, so right-on-the-edge of what should be a rambling vegetable garden (but was then a collection of a few unwatered and dying tomato vines, weeds, and sad looking lemon and persimmon trees)? We had not yet learned about incinerators.

Our incinerator is a giant chimney flanked by two cinder-block walled collection areas. A previous owner had turned the collection areas into planters, piling soil on top of unburned waste. Because there is no water source to the planters and because they get so darned hot, they dry out very quickly and make ineffective planters. They must go.

This week, we've learned a whole lot about incinerators, at least the one we have, as we've struggled to pull down one of the collection areas. We'd like to leave the fireplace as a crumbling focal point in the corner of the garden—I think it will look gorgeous with red malabar spinach climbing over it—but the collection areas take up space that I want to plant. So, ECG and I set to them with sledgehammers. This, of course, has involved some smashed fingers and sore muscles, but we've had some pretty exciting discoveries.

Here is what we've found so far:
  • Lots and lots of terra cotta pots, still in great condition.
  • Yards of steel cable.
  • An old, rusty shovel blade.
  • Several terrifyingly huge black widows.
  • Parts of iron tubing.
  • Many unidentifiable pieces of industrial-looking metal, some steel, some iron, some fragile aluminum remnants, now bright turquoise with corrosion and age.
  • A lizard with his back claws stuck in his tail. ECG lifted him out of the soil and set him in the sun, but he'd just struggle slowly with himself and not move. We couldn't figure out what exactly was wrong until we decided that it was not just an oddly twisted leg, it was immobile because he was stuck to himself. Gently, ECG pulled the little claws out of his own tail and released his leg. The little lizard immediately scampered off.
  • And at the bottom of the structure, a foundation built of now-fragile concrete and local granite rocks and small boulders. Those rocks will have happy homes working as edges for vegetable beds.

I wonder what we will find when we pull down the other side.


Wendy said...

That sounds like satisfying work! What amazing finds. Especially that unfortunate lizard. Suspect you both will have a starring role in his autobiography. ;)

Anonymous said...

Oh man, what a treasure trove of stuff! See, this is why I went to college to become an archaeologist, because I have some overwhelming need to dig in the dirt and look at long dead people's trash! But your find Number 4 is pretty much the reason I in fact did *not* become an archaeologist. All the good places to dig have lots of icky deadly bitey things