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07 May, 2010

Repeat Places

Most archaeologists end up caught in a peculiar bind, either working in many places fleetingly, or one place interminably. A lucky few may pull off both, usually in the order I've presented, retiring after a long stint in some national park or such. A bunch see a place twice: once when they experience the wonder of finding sites in the pristine landscape, and again when they come to dig up the sites. A few are cursed with a third visit, reduced to watching heavy machinery lay waste to the remnants, maybe pulling a shard from the backdirt, and praying that no burials emerge.

An infinitesimal few work for states or other entities that manage large, dispersed areas of land. They get to see a lot of places, and get to return to certain ones time and again. When I worked for Hawai`i State Parks, Kona and Kaua`i were such places. West Moloka`i was another, but didn't need any state involvement to reel me back time and again. These are all places I orbit, and though I am far off for the moment, eventual return to perigee or another landing won't seem strange or unexpected.

Now, I've been in my Northwest job long enough that some of the repeaters are emerging. Cypress Island has enough to do to keep me busy for years, and though it has been many months, its scent is in my brain, and one day the call will come and I'll make my way back as surely as the salmon returns to its childhood stream. Badger Mountain, and in particular a spot where traditional root foods grow, demands my attention to understand the plants and help safeguard them for grandmothers who are just being born.

To go back to these and other places, to experience them under different skies and seasons, is a treat. Most I have seen only in daylight, and won't know so well until I can be there for days at a stretch. Most I have walked in solitude (un-distracted aloneness in a landscape is a precursor to understanding, I think), though I have begun to visit some with people who have known them for decades, hearing the stories and feeling their love of the land. Most I have begun to understand, even if it is the understanding of a kid who knows the joys of a place without the responsibility to feed a family from it.

When I used to map sites more often, or plan for their restoration, I ascribed to a friend's thoery that 'gestalt cartography' was best, that the best representations of a place came through immersion, via awareness not readily encapsulated in words, and beyond the ken of a passerby. The best maps I ever made took many days, weeks even: flows of points shot and rocks drawn, punctuations of equilibrium in which mapper stood still watching and listening amid the silent stones.

Also: the places I've felt most attached to have the dried iron of my blood and the faintest scent of my sweat in their dust. The joy of being in a beautiful place has always counted high, but has never been more than pencilled in on the tally without some sacrifice, some trial, some critical question left hanging for an uncomfrotably long spell and answered with epiphany. Places where thorns ripped and machetes slipped, where scorpions stung or ears rung with exertion, where eyes burned from staring in blazing sun or deep into the fading light--these are the places that went beyond my mind and into the soul. A place that is nothing but lovable, that gave and gave without taking a bite, that place is imaginary, maybe devious, but not capable of everlasting bonds or enilghtenment.

So. I wait and wonder which places here will maintain a hold, demand a sacrifice, reel me in time and again. Where will I find this state's Kamaka`ipo, Nu`alolo Kai, Kona?

Or when will they find me?

1 comment:

  1. I have been lurking, reading you for awhile, since I ran across your blog quite on accident after having Googled Cypress Island. I just want you to know that as I have read your posts, all 104 of them, I have found myself liking your wit, and your style of writing, and especially look forward to anything else about Cypress Island, which was my home for many years (1979-1991) I miss it immensely. I just want to let you know that you have at least one follower, and how much I enjoy reading about your journeys.