Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Conversation on Mandolins at Sunrise in the Desert

If you were wondering why I recently dropped off the face of the social networking planet, it's because until a couple days ago I was busily employed for a short stint as a contract archaeologist for a company based out of Salt Lake.  It was a very interesting experience.  Would I do it again?  Probably not.  Mostly because I prefer job security.  But though it was one of the hardest things I've ever done, I'm glad I did it.  And I guess you could say I learned a lesson.  Or six.

Lesson Number One:  Besides the fact that I've spent 20+ years of my life outside of Happy Valley, after only a couple of years there you start to expect people to fit a certain mold.  And holy crap is there a Happy Valley mold.  In fact, so many people realize that there's a mold that they try to break out of it, not realizing that by doing so they actually re-mold themselves.  I think that's why there're so many hipsters here.  Hm.  Anyway, getting out and up and meeting people that really didn't fit the mold at all was at first a little bizarre but then incredibly refreshing.  Get ready for a sidetrack.

Portrait of a Contract Archaeologist: (Maybe one of these days I will draw an actual portrait) They are primarily nomadic.  You kind of have to be in order to follow the uncertain and non-concrete work opportunities.  The more you travel, the more you work, the more connections you make (this is nation-wide mind you), the more you work!  They all have crazy stories to tell.  Like the guy who had a conch shell mask that he excavated tattooed on his forearm-- a tattoo he got in honor of the professor who led the dig who later was murdered in the Amazon HOW IS THIS REAL LIFE.  Some of them are hippies, some are video game nerds, some are men who knit, some are old salts (I really want a dog named Indiana too...), and they come from all over the country (there was even a guy who grew up as a Quaker--how awesome is that).  The one thing they seem to have in common though is an affinity for NPR, Americana/bluegrass, and music in general.  And archaeology.  I heard more excavation and survey story swaps then anywhere else.  And more bluegrass.  Why bluegrass?

Back to business.  Lesson Number Two:  I'm not as physically capable as I think I am.  I normally walk or run a few miles a week.  Go immediately from that to 6-10 miles a day and you will rethink your whole will to live.  Tylenol and Tiger Balm will become your new best friends.  Oh, not to mention your "social life" outside of work will cease to exist.

Lesson Number Three: Cold food can actually provide sustenance.  Breakfast at 6am in the dark in your car as you battle traffic at 60mph is hard.  I ate nothing but cold muffins and a little carefully-timed drink of orange juice from a bottle every morning.  Delish.  And for lunch it was cold pizza, cold spaghetti, cold beans and rice (never again, I swear), cold chicken-flavored pasta (surprisingly not bad), etc.  Thank goodness for honeydew melon, it makes anything bearable.

Lesson Number Four: SLEEP WHEN YOU CAN.  I think that's pretty self-explanatory.  Naps in the car once you get out of the field, and go to bed at 8:30.  Yep.

Lesson Number Five: There's always more to learn.  I learned how to navigate a Trimble GPS.  I learned how to gauge distance by how thirsty you are.  I learned better about how to tell the relative time by the position of the sun.  And I learned the term "baja" first hand.  Sidetrack again.

Baja [bah-hah] verb Driving in a truck (or jeep, or whatever can take it) across bumpy, holey, bushy, or otherwise crazy land that has no road with everybody hanging on for dear life and resisting the urge to laugh maniacally.  The baja-ing experience can be greatly improved by the appropriate song.  My personal choice is this lovely tune.

Lesson Number Six: I do love archaeology.  It's sometimes disproportionately all hard labor, and then you get to record sites and you use all your sciencey knowledge and you find crazy artifacts or you see a brilliant sunrise on your way to site, or you stand on a knoll next to a lone obsidian biface and look out over the cloudy afternoon valley with a breeze at your back and you remember why you want to be an archaeologist.  And that, my friends, is a great feeling.

(Heretoforth, some pictures, for those who don't follow me on Instagram)
Skull Valley: home of the 5,000 acre worksite
View from the previously mentioned knoll

Sunrise on the road

Historic cocoa tin
Mattress spring covering a (mine?) shaft at least 100ft deep

Cute little Log Cabin syrup tin :D


Madison Mercer said...

Love, love, love.
I'm glad you had this experience, made some money, and that now you can sleep. What company was it for?

Simplexity said...

Reminds me of working on some desolate farm jobs I ad as a kid.

LP said...

The only other job that could top contract archaeologist is contract linguist. Excellent post, my dear. I shall now prove I am not a robot.