Last night in Washington

The time has finally come. We’re all packed up and ready to hit the road. It was a tough day of shoving stuff into the packing cube using our best Tetris techniques.

We ended up using every inch of space.

We ended up unloading a bunch of stuff at Goodwill and even made some Craigslist sales. No big deal, but we’re going to need a new mattress. Considering that ours is 15 years old and that my back hurts when I get up in the morning, perhaps this isn’t such a bad thing.

Tomorrow, we ride!

Animal Tales 1: The crow

I have a few animal tales to tell from this weekend. I love wildlife. I love observing wildlife behavior, and I love it when wildlife notices and interacts with me.  I have two such stories from the last few days. Today’s story is perhaps the more interesting of the two.

 

Erin and I went down to Nugent’s Corner today. We took the dog too. Nugen’ts corner is a nice little riverside park right on the Nooksack where it flows under Bakerview Highway. The river here flows pretty shallow through a gravelly bed with woods on either side. Outside of the woods on the east bank is a broad meadow.

 

 

The place holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons. First, when I first came up to Washington for my job interview, this was where my then future coworkers took me. I fell in love with the spot. A few months later, when Erin and Ivan (our dog) moved up here to join me, I took them out there, and Ivan was visibly excited by the tall grasses which he went bounding through.  So we went there today, as I thought it would be a good last place to visit while closing the Washington chapter of our lives. I only wish I had the camera with me so that I could have taken pictures to illustrate the story that follows.
We were walking through the meadow at the edge of the woods when we began to hear a crow caw. It sat on a branch looking at us and then it swooped in. It didn’t attack, but flew mere feet above our heads. We moved along on our merry way down the meadow and into a walking path that cuts through the woods.  The crow followed us in and continued to swoop right above our heads. It would then land on the low alder branches and stare at us.

Erin was becoming nervous and wanted to pick up the pace. At this point I thought we might be near a nest or injured crow and that this fellow (or gal) was just protecting it’s own kind. Crows do that. As we emerged out of the wood and onto the rocky river bank the bird kept following us. It remained in the tree line so I though it was done with us, but as we walked up the rocky bank it kept up with us. Still cawing, still making Erin nervous. At this point, I myself began to get a little uptight.

When the bird landed on the rocks about 10 feet away from us I picked up a small stone and threw it near the bird (not at the bird) to see if I could frighten it off. It merely looked at the rock when it landed and continued to follow and swoop down above our heads.
We re-entered the woods in order to get back to our car. By now Erin was really getting nervous and began to run towards the car. I picked up a large stick to fight off the crow in case it decided to attack. Whenever it began to swoop down on us I held the stick out above me parallel to the ground.  Whenever I would do this the bird seemed to slow down slightly in mid-air as if it was trying to land on the stick, but each time it flew up into the tree branches around us.

At this point I began to wonder if it was just hungry, so I began to tear off blackberries from the undergrowth on either side of the path and threw them behind me.  Mister or Missis Crow, did not seem too interested in the berries, but when one landed near my small black dog, the crow began to stare at him. The dog at this point was entirely oblivious of the bird.

We continued on towards the car, and Erin who was cowering next to it. The crow was still hot on my tail and swooping. I opened up the car and Erin and Ivan got in. At this stage I began to figure that if this crow really wanted to attack us it would have done so by now. I figured maybe it wanted to be friends (scientist mode was turned way the hell off at this point).  So I rummaged through the car for any food I might have and found a McDonalds bag (yeah, I’m kinda gross like that). Unfortunately the only morsel of food inside it was a single sesame seed. I placed the seed on a rock that was in front of the car and got inside.

As soon as I closed the door, my new friend jumped on the hood of my car and began to hop towards the windshield.  Erin kept telling me to turn on the engine, but as I felt entirely safe at this point I wanted to see what the bird would do. I hopped up to the wiper blades, perched on one and began to shriug its wings. It was clearly staring at us, with its head turned to one side and its big brown eye scanning us behind the glass.

It was only then that our doofus dog noticed the bird and lunged at the windshield. The crow was startled and backed up onto the rock in front of the car. I took the opportunity to start the car and pulled away.

We were both stunned. Erin was not at all happy by the encounter, while I thought it was the coolest thing ever. There are a lot of superstitions about crows being bad omens, but I don’t buy into that. I feel honored that this amazing bird took notice of us and was interested in us enough to follow us through the park and back to our car.

When we got home I did some research to see if maybe we had disturbed a nesting area, but the experts claim that crow fledgelings are dependent on their parents’ protection in May and June. This is late August. Again, perhaps the bird was watching over an injured comrade. Crows are supposed to mate for life, and have been observed forming extended social networks. Defensive pacts if you will. But I had one other thought. Immediately next to Nugent’s Corner is a wildlife rehabilitation center.  I can’t help but wonder if the little friend I made today is not a former patient of said center, and if he/she hasn’t picked up a few tricks during it’s tenure.
I don’t know, perhaps I should have been more concerned than I was. I’m not one to consider myself or other humans all that different from the other animals though, and so deep down I still hope that the crow just happened to find me, my wife, and my dog interesting, and worth observing. Perhaps it communicating to its crow bretheren about the bipedal weirdos it observed today.

 

 

34 Years

I turned 34 last Thursday.

I got to thinking about it while in the shower just minutes ago.

In 34 years I’ve gone from Stargard, Poland, to Kalkoffen, Germany, to Newark, to Chicago, to Milwaukee, to Tucson to Belligham Washington, and now back to the east coast again.

Next stop Germany? Poland? I wouldn’t be entirely unhappy with either?

In 34 years I went from wanting to be a cosmonaut, to fireman, to tank commander, to teacher, to priest, to airforce pilot, back to teacher, to economist, to diplomant, and finally to archaeologist? Finally? Maybe not. Science teacher has been gnawing at the back of my mind again. Way to put that PhD to good use you butt-fucking quitter!!!

But I could do so much more good!

In 34 years I’ve gone from riding in the handlebar basket of my dad’s bike to driving cars and small trucks, small boats, and still attempting to raise the cash to pilot planes.

In 34 years I’ve gone from being terrified of my father coming home drunk and unpredictable, to becoming a functional alcoholic all my own. Though not a violent one, but say one bad thing about my father and I’ll tear your throat out. I may never have told him so, but I love that man!

In 34 years I’ve gone from being afraid of the big fat kid down the block who threatened to choke me with a coat hanger, to being fearful of the tiny little short fuck who might cost me my job for small transgressions. I learned that the fears of the adult are far more grounded in reality than the fears of a child.

In 34 years I’ve progressed through wooden blocks, to Legos to being obsessed about building model airplanes and tanks that look like spitting images of reality.

In 34 years I learned to like broccoli, cauliflower, cheap booze, math, physics, Bruce Springsteen, girls, and sunshine.

In turn, I’ve learned to despise Ron Reagan, Top Gun, most cartoons, and centipedes.

I’ve learned to mistrust, I’ve learned to be weary of fate, who I’m convinced is waiting around the corner to kick in my teeth.

In 34 years, I’ve become a lapsed Catholic, who is just now wondering about the idea of God again.

From a Parochial school boy quick to go down on a knee (not what you think you sick fucks) to agnostic to an adult who wonders if militant atheism is as polluting as fundamentalist Christianity or fundamentalist Islam.

A lot of things in 34 year.

But one thing I never lost?

The burning need to ask questions? To wonder why that is the way it is. How that this works the way it does, or when that happened and if it is connected to this?

Curiosity defined me for 34 years, and if it stops to define me in the next 34 years from now, then please just beat the living piss out of me.

Wandering Days are Here Again

At last I feel compelled to update. This news has been brewing for over a month now, but I didn’t feel confident about sharing it until things were more set in stone.

At long last I’m moving back east!

Really far east though. Like, east coast east.

I’ve always wanted to live on the east coast and at last things have fallen into place. I don’t want to share anything specific at the moment. But my wife landed a very nice job for herself at a museum, and I myself will also be doing archaeological research on some Civil War era sites when we get out there.

That is very cool.

What is also cool is that the Mid Atlantic region up to southern New England is one city after another. And what do cities have? Cities have colleges and universities. I can redouble my effort to land some adjunct teaching jobs at these schools and at last get back into academia.

Woohoo!!

The no update update

So I haven’t been posting anything for over a week now. This is mainly because I have nothing new to report. The only thing archaeology related lately has been me sending out a continuous stream of cover letters and applications for jobs all across the nation and hearing nothing in return. I’m starting to lose heart.

Will update if something positive develops.

I’m not a fantastic writer but…

Let me begin by saying that I know full well that trashy paperbacks are supposed to be brain candy.  When I first became interested in reading for pleasure, sometime around the 7th or 8th grade, I read nothing but a long line of bad sci-fi, bad fantasy, and bad war books. By about midway through high school I went through a phase where I read nothing but high literature. This was a stupid phase to go through as most classical literature and other urbane reading doesn’t really appeal to me. I was putting on airs and trying to pass myself off as sophisticated and cultured, when really I was just a dumb shit. Thing is that deep down, I like reading books about space ships and airplanes and bombs and explosions. I’ve gotten over the elves and dragons crap though.

I pretty much stopped reading fiction in the last few years as nothing is really able to sustain my interest all the way through, but every once in a while something will catch my eye and I’ll turn a few pages. I suppose most of the fiction I do read now is historical fiction of one kind or another.  Most of it in the form of war stories, or fictionalized historical adventure stories like Gerry Jennings’ Aztec series, or his book about Marco Polo. The Aztec books are still some of my favorite books, even if they aren’t great literature. I’m also enjoying Zane Gray’s “Riders of the Purple Sage” right now, but it’s no page turner and I’m going through it slowly.  A few weeks ago a friend gave me a book which got me pretty excited at first. The story is called “Thunderhead”.

It is brain candy in it’s purest form. It’s about a young archaeologist who discovers a letter leading her to a lost Anasazi city. Along the way, strange warewolf like monsters become involved. Pure bullshit, but also pure fun. I read the first quarter of the book and got a good laugh at the authors’ treatment of archaeology that read like something a first year undergrad might write (there was an especially laughable section about the super secret USGS 7.5″ topo map library), and the conversations between archaeologists where they used technical terminology around one another that was really overdone. But still it was fun.

Throughout the read, as each new character was introduced, I kind of got a good feeling who would die, who was actually a villain, and who would end up becoming indispensable in the end.  They were all stock characters. You had the young spoiled rich girl, the tough talking Latina, the dweeby but good hearted computer nerd who wanted a taste of adventure, the cowboy, the stuck up asshole professor, the cold, but ultimately kind older doctor,  the ethnic chef, the repulsive lousy news reporter, and at the center of them all, the morally upright, courageous, tenacious, and almost boringly faultless heroine.  I bet you can read that list and tell me who dies , who gets laid, and who ends up being evil without even knowing anything else about the book.  Are they all two dimensional characters? Yes. Are they really difficult to sympathize with and care about? Yes, but that’s ok. The fact remains that there are weird menacing wolf monsters lurking in the shadows picking these people off, so it’s still a page turner.

And then the bottom falls out. I don’t know why authors of historical fiction sometimes feel the need to come up with some entirely pie-in-the-sky scenarios for what happened in the past? I know that in the case of the Anasazi, we don’t know much about specific events. I’m also aware that the author’s aren’t professional historians or anthropologists, but god damn, the revelation they throw out at the end is so laughable, far fetched, and at the same time unimaginative, that the story entirely loses whatever staying power it had developed up to this point.  It’s the same dumb trick Elizabeth Kostova pulled in “The Historian”, and it’s what let’s Dan Brown laugh on the way to the bank each morning, but it’s so damned unnecessary.

In the entire experience of human history, things have happened, things we know well about, that were far more interesting, menacing, creepy, unsettling, exciting, heroic, or otherwise extraordinary, than anything these authors came up with. If you’re going to write historical fiction, research the time and culture you’re writing about, and include those fantastic people, places, and events into your narrative! Don’t weave horseshit when there’s already a good yarn!*

*I just made that idiom up, and I hope it becomes part of the American lexicon!

Mudflats

I did a small archaeological survey project in the community of Warm Beach, Washington today.  It was a quick and dirty field job that took a few hours. Once I leave Washington I’m going to miss these quicky one day in the field type projects. It’s really nice to get to come home at the end of the work day.

I didn’t find anything in the field (with the exception of modern trash) but while doing historic background research for the project I discovered a cool little bit of history. During the period of contact in the late 18th century, there were two Stillaguamish villages and a potlach house in the vicinity. It’s a nice spot for a long-term winter village as it’s situated right near where the Stilliguamish River delta meets Port Susan, part of the northern Puget Sound. The river has dumped tons of silt into the marine estuary over the years creating extensive mud flats, where shellfish harvests would have been very rich,  reliable and predictable.

The photo above shows only a portion of the flats near the area I worked on today, and this photo was taken after the tide began to come in.  At really low tide the flats  reach out about halfway down the body of water seen in the photo. That’s Port Susan, and in the distance is Camano Island. The point is that with such dramatic low tides and so much muddy silt you could really get into a bind if you’re a sailor unfamiliar with the area.

That was exactly what happened on  the morning of June 1, 1792. The HMS Chatham, and the HMS Discovery were the first European ships to sail into the northern Puget Sound. In the foggy morning, the Chatham soon became stuck in the mud off the coast of Warm Beach. The Discovery  sent its ships boats to assist but they promptly became stuck as well.  By midnight that day as the tide came back in the Chatham became unstuck, but the lead man taking the depth soundings that morning, one David Dorman received 36 lashes for his negligence.  The punishment was ordered by none other than the leader of the expedition, and captain of the Discovery,  the well known British explorer Capt. George Vancouver.

Oh yeah, two chins at the same time!

We all know that Vancouver has had a sizable island and major metropolitan area in British Columbia named for him.  Meanwhile Dorman, for his troubles, gets nothing more than a lousy blog entry.