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Column: Hey — Check Out What I Found!

Norwich

March is a particularly wonderful time of year for me. Not because it is syrup season. Not because of spring skiing potential. Not because of St. Patrick’s Day revelry.

But instead, because of the promise of free parking in Hanover. Let me explain.

When the snow melts during the March thaw and the ice retracts from the sidewalks of Hanover, precious nickels, dimes and quarters sprout up from the ground like spring flowers. Most people aren’t looking down at the sidewalks. However, my eyes are peeled. After the first spring thaw, I find enough coins to pay for a week’s worth of parking.

Granted, it’s not like I’m finding free money. In fact, many of the quarters were probably once my own, dropped with my own frozen and gloved hands during a blizzard. They fell away into the snow, where they hibernated under winter’s blanket. But now, they are back. Like little spring presents. Like tax returns. And they are just waiting to be found.

All of my life, I have been a scavenger. It started when I was little and I loved the Easter egg hunt in my town more than any other holiday event. There was something magical about searching yards of grass for plastic pastel eggs. (The fact that the eggs were filled with candy wasn’t bad, either.) As I grew older, my love for the hunt continued. And lucky for me, the Upper Valley provides tremendous opportunity for scavenging of all sorts.

In the late spring, I indulge in a specialized subset of scavenging — foraging: I track my land for the exquisite (and, when bought in the store, expensive) morel mushrooms. (To this day, I don’t fully trust my mushroom recognition, so I always share my findings with a local expert before taking a potentially dangerous bite.) In the late summer, I spend many an afternoon foraging for black raspberries on the trails in Norwich. (I can walk for hours, squealing when I find berries as big as my thumbs.) It is great exercise for my canine foraging partner, and it provides enough fruit to make jam for the year.

In the late fall, I take long walks around Dartmouth’s campus to search for chestnuts. I gather them from the sidewalks like a squirrel, taking them home to fill bowls for decorative beauty. (I also love to carry a chestnut in my hand during a time of stress. Rubbing the chestnut between my fingers seems to calm me better than any plastic stress ball.)

And recently, I took my scavenging to a whole new level. I am the proud owner of the scavenger’s most treasured tool ... a metal detector. (My boyfriend thought I was kidding when I asked for one for Christmas two years ago. He thought metal detectors were only for senior citizens combing the beaches of Florida. But he was happy to give me a gift that might spare him from buying me expensive precious stones. With a metal detector, I could potentially find them myself.)

And so, the metal detector went to work in the Upper Valley. I helped friends search for lost jewelry in their backyard. I hunted for my dog’s lost name tag in the muddy shoulder of my driveway. And, I occasionally brought the metal detector on daily walks on local trails. I might have looked like a fool, but it gave me something exciting to do while I followed familiar paths.

And although I haven’t found anything of real value, I have had a ton of fun. One of my favorite days of scavenging was also the most simple. After Tropical Storm Irene swept through the Norwich pool and ruined what was once the town swimming hole, I brought my metal detector and a trusty hand shovel to the remains of the pool pit. My eyes were wide with visions of wedding rings and gold necklaces lost by swimmers who belly-flopped off the diving platform. (Of course, I had every intention of returning them to their rightful owners, which added to the excitement of the hunt.) But alas, after two hours of flipping over rocks, I found two bobby pins, three pennies and seven nails.

Still, I loved every minute of my scavenging. There was tremendous excitement with every beep of the detector. There was tremendous laughter every time I shoveled down to my target, only to find a rusty bobby pin. There was tremendous joy in having a day outside, under the late-summer sun, with nothing to do except treasure hunt.

Yes, I am a scavenger at heart. Whether it is looking for dropped nickels near parking meters or picking wild black raspberries until my hands turn purple, I love the small treasures hidden in the Upper Valley. I encourage you to keep your eyes open for ... well, you never know what you’ll find. (Just make sure to leave some for the rest of us.)

Becky Munsterer, a Norwich resident, is the author of the recently published Mrs. Claus and The School of Christmas Spirit.