There he goes again, the Treasure Hunter. Fifteen paces from the door. Turn left. Climb the hill. Gravel crumbles beneath his sneakers, and he slides a bit to the right while searching for a foothold. His left hand snakes out and flattens against the coal-black surface of the hill. His right hand, still clutching a swinging bucket and orange plastic shovel, reaches to edge his glasses back up his nose. The hill, a heap of bulldozed dirt, rock and mystery, stands at least twenty feet high. To my boy it must seem like a mountain. And yet he climbs. And climbs.

There's always something underneath that hill

On different days he has scaled its crest to survey the metamorphosis of his world. Or joined with neighbor boys to fight heroic battles against villains brought to life within their boyish minds and valiant hearts. But today he is alone. He finds a spot halfway up and digs for buried treasure. There’s always something underneath that hill. Something buried and layered. Forgotten. Begotten of a century or more of neglected proximity to the Civil War rolling mill that once existed next to these railroad tracks which now edge my chic, new housing community.

The trains rumble through here every night, blowing their whistles as they cross the road. They used to wake me up, but now I never hear them. Even though the house shakes and the earth moves, I sleep on. But I think sometimes that hill calls to him as he sleeps. I know it does to me. Somewhere those buried memories still have the power to move us both in our dreams. But he is the only one of us who has the will to dig in the light of day.

It’s work to dig. Beneath the dirt, the closely-packed rocks are heavy with iron ore. Some are sharp, and when uncovered threaten to make one bleed if not handled correctly. But he never knows what he might find in all that rubble—what remnants lurk beneath the coal and leavings from a hundred thousand trains. My garage is lined with the stuff of others’ lives. Fossils embedded in sediments from ancient seas. Glass bottles, wavy with age, and rusted iron gears—century-old artifacts—seem to whisper a tale of sorrow. And there are newer things too. The Toyota hubcap. The cracked pipe. Railroad spikes, quartz and splintered wood. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the things my child brings home.

Sometimes, I’m tempted to steal back out to the hill at night and try to rebury these motley pieces of junk. I don’t want to deal with the weight of them. Their constant presence before my eyes is just an ugly reminder of the past and a nuisance to keep around. Only he sees the beauty in most of them. To him each artifact tells a tale, now forgotten, and is worthy of the light aboveground. He has a purpose for them all. This one will be a birdhouse. This one will ward off alien space invaders. The colored bottles will be displayed on his bedroom shelf next to his ever-growing rock collection.

I don’t want to uncover the hurts and sorrows of a lifetime

But at other times I envy this child. He sees what I won’t see, goes where I won’t go, and does what I don’t want to do. I won’t dig unless I’m forced. I don’t want to uncover the hurts and sorrows of a lifetime—bring them to the surface so they may be used as a tool of light. In the day-to-day rush of living, it’s just so much easier to forget about that mountain in my life’s backyard.

As if he feels me watching him, he turns and waves. Leaving his pail and shovel on the hill he slides down and comes running back to me. He grabs my hand and tugs. “Mom, you won’t believe what I’ve found,” he says. “You’ve got to come and see.”

I want to tell him that we’ve already got enough junk in our garage, or that I’ve got to get dinner started. But today, something beaming from his eyes makes me hesitate, and that automatic response just won’t make it out of my mouth.

“Wait,” I tell him. “I’ll go get my shoes.”