Another Mountain

I was born in Hilversum, at a time when the nature area known as Anna’s Hoeve was still used as landfill and an open-air water purification system. I visited the place last year with my dad and found the “mountain” he used for sledding when he was a kid.

Later researches revealed that the mountain was built out of garbage (bottom layers) and soil excavated to make the decorative ponds across the road (higher elevations) as a public works project in the Depression. Reportedly, the garbage–mostly ashes and glass, since it dates to before 1933 or so–is coming to light in the walking trails. I had to go see for myself, of course.

I found an unusually high concentration of glass shards and and the remains of broken dishes–not quite the potsherds of legendary anthropological finds, I’ll admit. I frankly thought they looked so new, so clean, actually, that I had trouble imagining that they had been buried in dirt for 75 years or more. But who knows, maybe they are the real thing, vintage garbage, so to speak. (This in opposition to recent contamination, the handiwork of partying teenagers, which, I hardly need to point out, does not have nearly the same cachet. In fact, I saw very little trash that was indubitably “new.”)

It’s interesting how garbage is transformed by the ages. Where up-to-the-moment garbage is repulsive, time not only disinfects by decomposition of organics, but hallows by remoteness and singularity. If a few broken potsherds is all we know of a vanished people, then those potsherds become treasures. In Europe at least, they have traditionally taken on an eponymous/metonymous character, as they bestow their qualities on the people who created them, for lack of other known identifying characteristics.

The Netherlands were inhabited in prehistoric times by the bell beaker people, a very large group loosely scattered across huge swaths of Western Europe. Local distinctions break the larger group down into smaller huddles of people who made tulip beakers, others who made corded ware, herring-bone beakers, band ceramics, and zone beakers. By comparison, the people whose dishes are coming to light at Anna’s Hoeve are the mass-produced factory-ware people. I’m afraid current tribes would mostly show up as the disposable-cup folk. It’s tough for me to imagine how many centuries would have to go by to hallow that.

My climb to the top of the mountain revealed that the natural ponds on the other side of the mountain–where the makeshift water purification system once operated–are being dug up. The contamination that was found in the 1970s is finally being cleaned up, it seems.

Larensche Was

More interestingly, once on top of the mountain, it occurred to me that I might be standing on the highest point in the entire province of North Holland. I don’t know, it’s maybe 25 or 30 meters high. What else is there that could compete in the flat lands of North Holland? There are a few high-ish dunes near Haarlem, but that’s just about the only possible competition. Then again, there may be garbage mountains elsewhere in the province that reach even higher.

The Netherlands is lucky to have hung on to the province of Limburg in the 17th century. The southernmost reaches of the Ardennes lift the land there above the garbage summits scattered throughout the united provinces, so we narrowly escape the ignominy of being the people whose garbage towers over absolutely everything else.


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February 2008
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