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27 September, 2011

Slow Dawn at the Tower

Brian Fagan stands out as one of the more engaging archaeological writers, but this piece in the magazine Archaeology makes him seem out of touch. He's dispensing emerital wisdom of the ilk that tells young up and comers that they've missed the Golden Age, and in so doing reveals what looks like ignorance.

You cannot count on a lifetime academic position, and the number of sites is growing perilously small, he opines. The former is true, but has been apparent for a couple of decades. Meanwhile, in the US as in other jurisdictions with the "anything over X years old is archaeology" rule (X=50 in the US, by the way), sites are multiplying every year. It may not seem fun to those who qualify as historic themselves, but the fact remains that the vast quantity of stuff left on the land in the 20th Century will keep legions busy for the foreseeable future, and they will learn dirty secrets that never made it into print. At the same time, methodological advances and migrations of technology into archaeological practice mean that we are able to discern sites that were inaccessible or invisible when young Fagan came of age. I find sites now using air photos, LiDAR, and sonar, while colleagues make use of everything from internet archives to X-ray fluorescence to find new sites and wring more data from artifacts that sat silent on shelves for decades.

He pretty much concludes that CRM (cultural resource management, which is basicvally archaeology that is done in order for someone to comply with law or get a permit) and other forms of non-academic archaeology are some other discipline, which is elitist, sadly dismissive, or both. CRM, like university-based archaeology, is what you make of it. People in both realms sit back and do little, and people in both realms make significant advances. I know genuine idiots, idealists, and geniuses in both the ivory tower and the trenches. Some of the best archaeologists are those "content to be a technician"--the fact, however, is that few of them "quietly vegetate," it's just that their utterances occur in the field and over beers, instead of in academic and upscale publications. Eventually, they are overheard by grad students who publish and "legitimize" the knowledge.

Fagan's article betrays not just the obvious academic vs. CRM bias, but a deeper elitism that just pisses me off. Citing the great discoveries of his "golden age," he reels off a list that includes an unspeakably ancient human ancestor (is there no older patheticism than the popular idea that older is automatically better?) and a couple of sites intentionally constructed to exalt ancient despots. Nothing about the vast majority of humankind that has been widely and intensively revealed in the past few decades of archaeology. And again, this idea that the leveling off of funding for purely academic archaeology is a disciplinary death knell, it suggests shameless ignorance of the vast majority of archaeology. He goes so far as to wave off young up and comers, to advise them to put their happiness before anything else, which he bizarrely equates to having a career in the insurance industry before retiring and doing archaeology. For me, years of work serving a sector that systematically rips people off before attempting fieldwork with an aged body seems like hell.

In the final paragraph, he seems to come round to sense after all, recognizing that "archaeology is what you make of it." Yet he still manages to ask questions already answered by those of us who work on the ground, like how to do archaeology without digging everything up, or can conservation be a mainstream part of archaeology. And he misses important questions like "What to indigenous cultures think we should do about archaeological sites?" or "What can archaeology teach us about adapting to climate change?"

One day, I will be old and irrelevant. I only pray that my readership will not be so broad, so my embarrassment may be minimized.

25 September, 2011

It Must Be Fall

We are in the post-Equinoctal world, Autumnal Edition. I would know this even without a calendar, because of these events:
  • Rains returning to the NW
  • Between clouds, the sun angles in low, below hat brims and car visors
  • People searching for "heatilator" are landing at this blog again

Garden 11: The Hoop House

September, and tomatoes are finally ripening.

I tend to go with the flow (Disclosure: rarely in the main stream, sometimes along a flux as inscrutable as neutrinos through granite), and opt for simply ept over the fancy engineering available to today's gardener.
But the flow's so slow with the maritime Northwest Spring, especially this year. The sun may climb quickly from it's root-bound Winter Nadir to the sunshine daydream of a Salish Summer, but the clouds wet and dark rob the light and waylay the warmth. So to get some early(ish) greens and tomatoes and beans going, I decided to goose the flow a little this year. 

June 2011: The plastic comes off.
This photo shows only the hoops, but imagine it covered in clear(ish) plastic, trapping air to tap photons that make it through the clouds; these shivering ragged survivors do manage to warm things up a bit. Not enough to affect soil temps, though, which I measured frequently and never saw get past the low 40s Fahrenheit before I yanked the plastic and let the real summer in. 

Anyway, the shot from the roof there illustrates my approach, which stems from frugality and some would say lassitude, though I prefer to think it is clever(ish).
  • Dig a 12 by 4 foot bed sloped slightly down south.
  • Lay out a 25 foot soaker hose up and back.
  • Get some skinny pvc, stick one end in the ground in a corner the bed.
  • Go down the long side, planting another every 2 feet.
  • With the help of a boathook or friend, bend these over and stick the other end in the ground.
  • Get a roll of heavy clear plastic sheeting, and lay it over the hoops and secure the long edges.
The only thing you cut is the plastic sheet, and there's no exotic material required. Easy. Cheap.

Spring's greenhouse reborn as Summer's tomato cage.
Plastic retraction time comes when the tomatoes start pushing against it, which as luck had it this year was when we started to get real stretches of clear sky, sun showering down on chlorophyll for hours on end. At which point I took a couple of old tomato cages I'd made a while back out of leftover fencing, and laid them over the hoops. Just guide shoots up where you want them and they'll flop on top, maybe even sling a few of the branches below. Watch for fruits growing into wires, but otherwise you're pretty much done til harvest. 

South of the tomatoes, I had lettuce and spinach, some of which had an extended growing season as the growing tomatoes kept the sun from hitting tender leaves all day. To the north was a single row of string beans, climbing twine to a line strung from eave to eave on the end of the house, but that's another story.

From the post-Equinoctal perspective, the hoop house seems like a worthwhile investment. Digging the bed was by far the most labor intensive part of it, and that gets easier over time. Everything is off-the-shelf and inexpensive, and one person can make it in under an hour. The tomatoes alone pay for it the first year. I'm glad I finally did it.

21 September, 2011


Fanless. A state of being without: a) a mechanical device for moving air, or b)  sufficiently multitudinous devotees to invey Stardom(TM)

Either one sucks. For example, "a)" sucks when you realize the hotel room you just checked into qualifies, and you ate Taco Bell on the road. Or "b)" sucks when you want stardom. 

The latter of which affects me not. This blog logs its lowest numbers, lately.  And happily I write whatever the hell I want. Like this:

That a certain national hotelier systematically lacks bathroom fans, however, bothers me. It should bother them, as it is bound to adversely affect repeat bidness among: trysters, eaters of beans, very sensitive loners, and other demographics.


07 September, 2011

Garden 10: Food for All, or It All Ain't Food

One of the Blueberry Guard

It only occurred to me as I vainly grasped for a clever post title that my rationalization for procrastinating myself out of any serious attempt at pest control in decades of gardening could pass as a Garden Philosophy. Maybe more, if I can pump up a fully righteous head of steam.

Meanwhile, back in the garden, a diversitude of creatures ambulate, root, hyphaeate and otherwise occupy what is in theory a controlled landscape. My monotheistic ancestors, farmers dependent on the God of Abraham (and the Holy Ghost of Agronomy), plucked bugs and pulled weeds til the cows came home, until one of those cows in it's brahmic wisdom brought forth unto these farmers a bounty of chemicals. Most tillers of soil lost out to the conglomerates who replaced stewardship with production, and had to leave the land to those who could wrench the greatest efficiencies out of topsoil tranmogrified from living organism to platform for nutrients, herbicides, and pesticides. The Holy Ghost ascended to the heavenly throne, and nations came to depend on the chemiracle to feed themselves, their armies, and their trade surpluses. (Then came genetic engineering, the chimeracle, but that's another episode...)

But those bugs and slugs flitting and crawling, the weeds stealing soil and crowding crops, the molds and fungi and microbial malevolents...they may be threatening the beans, the carrots, the squash, the tomatoes, egads--the hops! Maybe. But then again, some provide haven and ambush sites for pest-devouring preyers, diversity and distraction enough to derail disasters. The complexity of a soil only sorta weeded (not hoed and turned, much less the more harrowing experience of mechanifarming), strung through with a felt of roots, hyphae, tunnels and wee webs of creatures too multitudinous to comprehend, lacks a uniform veneer of predictability, but is a better long-term bet.

Chemfarmers gain a momentary advantage. The weevils and weeds die, the crop comes in (barring misapplication, bad weather, and the plethora of troubles that will always ace farmers). But not all the pestiferous fauna and flora die, and the survivors immediately set to breeding immunity into the population. The survivors represent a diversity-poor selection at first, theirs is a high-stakes gamble that overcoming a single chemical will result in success. But if they win, they win big, and a field becomes a field of weeds, with a single species dominating to an astonishing degree. 

Which is almost as lousy a place for the animals and fungi as was the industrial moncropland.

Meanwhile, back on the tendril of thought that started this post, my garden has no resident chemical residue. I've been known to directly expel and even violently attack a plant predator, but I don't poison anything. Which means that anything there can be food, even if not for me. If the ladybug can gobble the aphid with no worry, good. If herbivores have a plethoric buffet, so much the better for any one food plant to survive. If the fungi select out the weakest, then evolution points me in the right direction (or more precisely, away from a wrong one). I do not get miracle yields, but I get my share.

05 September, 2011

More Irony, and some Ire at Morons

Hellscape Texas (NOAA photo)

I used to have to sate my Rick Perry irony hunger by looking at the title of his book, Fed Up. It can be read in the "Up with Feds" sense, contraindicating the semi-literate rants between the covers, subliminably urging his almost-semi-literate fans (admit it, most people who buy it do so for ornamentation, not to crack it open) to support Federalism.

No? You're right. That's a ridiculous stretch.  He wants to fuck them snide lyin' sons-a-bitches (=scientists) up, and ain't gonna let no bureaucrats and technocrats tell him what to do. The guy genuinely hates government.

Or does he?

Today's events suggest that he may not believe that all gummint is bad, that in fact swaggerin' and prayin' may be usefully augmented by science-based action, funded by...taxes.

Because today, Perry could've been strutting in front of a crowd of South Carolinian Tea Partiers and the national press, railing against the liberal elite and big government. Instead, he flew back (shepherded for all the way by those helpful FAA guys Republicans would like to get rid of...again) to coordinate government response to wildfires. Making sure that state resources are applied against the thousands of fires consuming beloved Texas ground. Will he refuse federal fire crews, disaster relief? 

No. He'll avail himself of the evil he points to in the public square. 

Some would say that's hypocritical, but there's some irony in there too. And it gets better: the emergency he's dealing with is a consequence of global warming, which he denies even exists. Texas is experiencing it's worst drought ever, with record high temperatures. Don't take my word for it, I'm just quoting a report from the Office of the Texas State Climatologist

Nope, you cannot make up irony like that. A government scientist (whose data will be crucial in securing federal assistance and funding), a public employee, proving his idiot boss wrong. I hope for his sake that he's got a union.

01 September, 2011


Maybe you knew about it all along, but it was not until I was fully grown that I learned about the Hawai'i - Northwest connection. Cook and then Vancouver sailed (and ailed and aled) between these places in the late 18th Century, and there are those who feel that certain petroglyphs in Bella Coola may demonstrate that the Hawaiians had already done so before. The Hawaiian islands provided sandalwood and firewood, provisions and crew (weary and horny Anglos jumped ship in Lahaina, and adventurous Hawaiians took their places) during the fur and silk trade. Maybe because they both loved kings, the Hawaiians and British took to each other, among the expressions of which was a minor migration of Hawaiians to the Columbia and points north, in country that was then more Brittanic (or Gallic, maybe Russki).

I moved to Hawai'i before I knew any of this, and so I was a little surprised to find that a favorite dish there, and pretty much the only local kine grind with land-based non-starchy vegetables in it was something called lomi salmon. Tomato (hard to grow in the islands since diseases and fungi caught up, but historic sources indicate it did alright soon after introduction), onion, and salt salmon. It looks like this (but tastes even better):

"Lomi" derives from lomilomi, the Hawaiian art of massage. You need to turn the ingredients together with your hands to get the  tomato juice on the salmon, to bleed onion spice into the tomato, and to spread the salmon salt throughout. 

I made this last week with the trimmings from a king salmon I'd inexpertly filleted. Salted and drained and resalted and redrained and salted again the bits o salmon. Rinsed and dried and added a diced Yakima tomato and homegrown progeny of Walla Walla onion. 

None of the girls would share it with me, because they figured the salmon was raw. True, it was never cooked, but the salt basically dehydrates it, so it does not seem so raw. Not exactly jerky tough, but the salmon ends up being a salty, slightly chewy nugget in the soft tomato matrix. The onions add crunch, sweet allium crunch. I had no ogo, but may try to get some next time. 

This dish marries the Northwest and Hawai'i Nei, transcending a swath of the world's largest ocean. To eat it is to consume history, to break open the barrel of salt fish in a Honolulu house, to hybridize cuisines in a Kanaka Village kitchen on the Columbia. To have it here and now, with a sun-ripened tomato, a sweet onion from my yard, and a salmon that swam the morning before it was salted, is delicious beyond description.