Posted on

Artifacts link past to future

I found a wonderful black flint arrowhead as I walked in the woods recently. For years on hikes at the farm, I have kept my head down looking for Native American artifacts.
Other folks found treasures in our fields but never me, and this one is not just perfect, it is big! I’ve always felt a spiritual connection when I touch something that human hands have crafted hundreds of years ago.
The arrowhead find came at just the right time for me. A few days earlier, I had visited Beck’s Mill just south of Salem. The old wooden mill stands next to the most beautiful natural waterfall I have ever seen in Southern Indiana. The building itself is straight and tall despite all odds but needs thousands of dollars and man-hours to prevent further deterioration. The Washington County historical society is working to raise support to restore the old mill. Up behind the mill are remnants of other buildings that once housed people and things that made the mill work. Now all that is left are the stone foundations and a few metal pieces that have broken off tools and household items.
Within the stone foundation of the house lay the metal soundboard of a Steinway piano. It must have been a treasure in its day. I thought of how difficult it would have been to transport it to this family, and the many hours of music it produced for those who were living rather far from the cultural amenities of big city life. It took a lot of effort, caring, determination and money to be able to play a piano in a house next to Beck’s Mill. It took a lot of hard work to create and run a mill on a natural waterfall in Southern Indiana. And what exists today?
I would guess that you have experienced, as I have, the frustration of working as hard as you could at something only to see that in the long run it deteriorated or was discarded, and you wondered why you had put so much effort into it. After all, most objects ‘ even our own bodies ‘ sooner or later become obsolete. Such a realization really offers us a mixed bag of comfort in being a part of an ongoing saga, but also of being just a temporary player in the big story of life. It helps us get ourselves in perspective, I guess.
At the start of a new year, it is a good time to ask ourselves, ‘What is truly worth a lot of effort any way?’ We all acknowledge that only things of the spirit last, and we don’t totally understand that either. Does this mean we should live a life of total meditation?
The unexpected find of the Indian arrowhead gave me something to think about. We probably need to put some of our human efforts alongside our spiritual meditation. Certainly we don’t use flint arrowheads any more, but they did lead to something that then led to something else, which got us to things we do use today. Most of what we create becomes a ladder to the next step in progress. That arrowhead is the forerunner of our animal husbandry today. No arrowhead yesterday, no hamburger at a fast-food restaurant today.
When I was in school, I thought history classes were boring. I never could remember the dates of events or the names of people or places. They seemed to have no relevance for me. It wasn’t until my mom and I began to look at antiques that it all began to make sense. ‘Things’ or tangible items are often the easiest way we can connect with what happened before our day.
I watched a movie the day after I found the arrowhead. It was about a boy tracking down an aunt who had helped save his grandfather during the holocaust of the second World War. As the boy returns home after visiting the sight of his murdered ancestors, he says something like this: ‘The past goes with us and illuminates our lives. It is always by our side. It is ‘The Illuminator.”
Visualizing the person who sat near our creek and chipped at a rock to form a tool with which to kill an animal for food helps me to see how those before me spent their time working hard under uncertain circumstances to make sure the tribe survived. They had setbacks just like I do. They did not have the satisfaction of knowing how their efforts would pay off over time. They only responded to an opportunity and a need that arose in their time, and that is what we too must do. It is our faith in an infinite spiritual connection that urges us on.
Meanwhile, thanks to the guy who made the arrowhead. I am getting hungry, and a hamburger would taste just terrific at this moment.