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One of my favorite pastimes as a child was playing in the junkpile. Junkpiles were common. Mine was along a river, and it had been used for many years to dispose of the cast-offs of the previous farm tenants. An ancient truck cab was there with most of its equipment intact. I “drove” it thousands of miles. Old toys—a biplane, carousel, wagon—had been pitched into the pile, and though broken and supposed to be unusable they were much more interesting than the ones I kept in my room. I was always amazed at the good things people had thrown away, and spent hours digging out treasures. There were hiding places and room for trails and my small scale “developments,” building towns, farms, factories. There were shy and friendly natives, from mice to muskrats. 

Junkpiles were not safe places to play. That just added to their fascination. Broken glass, nails, twisted and sharp metal attacked the unwary. But I was careful and never had an injury there. Injuries came from less obvious sources. What chemicals or heavy metals (lead? mercury?) lay in wait, I do not know, or what brain damage I may have sustained, I do not remember! 

When the bulldozer covered the junkpile in a project to improve the riverbank, though I was beyond the age of playing there, it was a melancholy sight. No other child would have the opportunity to discover or enjoy so many wonderful experiences. It was safer, neater, prettier, presumably better for the river itself, but it was just covered up, after all. It is still there. 

My memories of the junkpile return in many contexts. The massive landfill operations today consolidate such efforts and insulate them from the surrounding land, but they are barren places compared to my junkpile. I wonder at the many items people try to dispose of or bury, when they have a use. I suppose that children still have places to let their curiosity and imagination have free reign, but how could they be as rich as my laboratory on the farm? 

Often we are digging out old things, examining and thinking about them, imagining and dreaming about things that may or may not exist somewhere or sometime. We find treasures that others have abandoned, riches that are more valuable than what many people keep. Our best efforts resemble nothing better than children at play.

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