Whenever I’m on a run near my home and come upon a little-used dirt road winding between a wall of trees on one side and a wall of trees on the other, I want to veer from my course and follow it. There are so many of these lanes that even after a dozen years of jogging up and down the roads around Gijón, I keep finding unexplored ones. These lanes might border private or public land, and the trees might shield an old mansion—often one in ruins with no roof and a tree growing in the living room—or hide a ruin of a stone farmhouse. Sometimes there is no building at all behind the trees, just livestock. Cows, goats, a few pigs, and sheep are the animals I see, with a few horses from time to time. Even a large new house on a piece of property will have something—an horreo, a stone outbuilding, a well—that gives away the land’s former function as a farmstead.
As I run along, I speculate about what might be behind the wall of trees I pass, and at a break where the growth thins I’ll slow to have a peak. In the middle of an upscale neighborhood the other day I found myself stopped at a brick column growing out of a thicket of bramble. Deep in the undergrowth I spotted a wall, and I parted some branches and stepped closer to get a better look. In the wall, I found a rusted metal door that was ajar, and I pushed my way in. Before I’d gone very far I found an old marble washbasin broken in two among rubble from a razed house. I backed out, abashed, not because nothing was left of the family that had lived there but because I was sure that just below a cover of silting leaves I’d find layer upon layer of family history, just as I do on my own piece of property when excavating in the garden. With the second spadeful of dirt, I’ll turn up a fork or spoon or rusty corkscrew, a beer bottle from the defunct Estrella de Gijón brewery, a glass medicine dropper, or a child’s toy car. All quaint, all wonderful. Such a surprise though when I recognize the toy as identical to those my kids played with. What a coincidence! So I think, until I remember I’m no fresh mother, the boys are not children, and 20 years have strewn their fallen leaves and worm casts and beetle parts to transform our yesterdays into archaeology. Twenty years! I put the toy back, for some future child or parent, for someone who, like these archaeological finds, started out one thing and became another.
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