spoil bank

A mound of earth beside a mining tunnel, road cut, or quarry is called a spoil bank, though the term is most often used to describe the material piled on the edges of canals and harbors after dredging. The connotative ring of “spoils of war,” or “spoiling,” cannot be shed when one utters the words spoil or spoil bank. The mounded leavings of the miner, the quarry maker, the road cutter, the canal dredger, a spoil bank reveals the human perception that a place in its natural state has “overburden,” obstructing access to something of greater value. Like a cutbank opened by erosion, a spoil bank becomes a place for scavenging, where builders find stone or geologists pick up orphaned specimens without the work of digging into native earth. Often the chemical content in spoil prevents revegetation, but sometimes a spoil bank can represent latent transformation. Spoil bank: seed bank. Plant life colonizing a spoil bank parallels the recovery of life following a receding glacier, gouging flood, landslide, or other catastrophe. At such a place, each green tendril is heroic by its pioneering impulse on barren ground.

Kim Stafford