In 2011 the Nashawannuck Pond was dredged after decades of discussion and planning. A man-made body of water constructed in 1847 to provide an abundant, steady water source for the mills of Easthampton, it had become gradually shallower from accumulations of organic material, sediment, and erosion.

When the pond became shallow, light penetrated to the bottom fueling plant growth. Once the plants took hold, they were fed by the storm sewers which contained garden runoff and lawn fertilizer. This resulted in eutrophication, a slow death by oxygen depletion.

Mark and I had lived across Water Lane from the pond for 29 years and we and all of Easthampton were way ready to see this happen. There had been fundraisers with commemorative T-shirts to be worn and scum bags to be carried. Plans had been made and scrapped. Delays had been endured. Finally, with great effort, the edge of the waterfall was dropped and the water level sank, revealing all kinds of stuff and the muddy deep reaches of the bottom. It was VERY interesting.

Heavy equipment was brought to bear and a hundred years of trash and sediment started to be lifted out of the bottom. It went on for months.

Clearly the site had been boggy before it was dug out and filled in with water. There were seeps and soft spots. Hundred-year-old stumps could be seen clinging to the earth. And it attracted prospectors, lots of them, looking for treasures in the mud. Much of the treasure came in the form of bottles.

Prior to the organized collection of waste by municipalities or contractors, people had burned what they could burn, buried or composted organic materials and dumped the rest. One logical dumping option was the pond and it was widely used.

Mark and I were regularly touring the dredging site. Earthwork roads had been built to accommodate the big machines and we walked down them. It was fascinating. As the dredging went on years of sediment were removed and their contents revealed. We got our worst clothes on, pulled on our boots and started digging. There were thousands of bottles. Many were broken but many were whole. There were all kinds – bottles for milk, liquor, condiments, jelly, soda, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and god knows what else. They came in all kinds of colors and shapes. They were relics from the past and they were beautiful. We collected, washed and saved probably 50 or 60 bottles.



 The spring following the big dig when the leaves were just beginning to emerge Mark began to place the bottles on an old pear tree next to our house. This tree no longer produced fruit although it made leaves and had a lovely shape. He was following a southern folk tradition of protecting the home with a bottle tree.

 pear tree


The legend goes that “haints”, or evil spirits, are attracted to the bottles when the light of the moon reflects off of them. These malicious souls are then trapped in the bottles and forced to stay through the night. The light of the rising sun cooks the spirits, destroying them and protecting the home from bad luck.

Author Dale J. Young expresses it well: “To someone not born and raised in the South, the legend of the bottle tree may seem a bit ridiculous. But Southern land carries many scars. Given slavery, the bloodshed of the Civil War and the poverty and the hard times that followed, it is not hard to believe that there may be more than a few restless souls wandering through the night in the Southern countryside.”

The bottle tree is no more. Last summer my brother, Tom, cut it down and replaced it with another, younger pear sapling. It is far too delicate to support the weight of even the smallest bottles. But wait – the story is not over yet…

In early May of this year Mark began to excavate the area behind our studio. It had been a dumping ground for decades before we bought the place in 1983. Three trees had been removed but their stumps remained, branches and sticks were everywhere, there was detritus from a failed attempt to have a compost pile and the whole thing was riddled with poison ivy. It was a mess.

Five weeks and countless trips to the transfer station with hundreds of bricks, lengths of rusty pipe, piles of roots, old fencing and lots of poison ivy, the area has been transformed. It’s still formative but will be beautiful. In homage to his southern heritage, our treasure trove of pond bottles, and his own knack for figurative sculpture, Mark has created a bottle man, a guardian of the home and keeper of the studio. Raise a glass (or bottle) in his honor- and Bottoms Up!

bottle man