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08 April, 2014

I Guess You Can Call it "Work"

Call it Shooting Star, Dodecatheon, or Curlew's Beak, it's blooming this week

Monday, 5:15 AM.  The alarm on my phone buzzes, ending the fantasy that my wake-state could be followed by more shut-eye. There's but a single working clock in the house--definitely not in my room--but it seems like on the rare occasions when I set the alarm, my body gets a jump on the electronics. Maybe because it's usually prelude to fieldwork, and I love fieldwork.

6:26 finds me on the road, half a pot of coffee in my belly, and the other half in various travel vessels. I used to hate driving, but back then a trip of any length involved Interstate 95, too many lanes, and essentially no variation in the scenery: shrinking forest, burgeoning burbs, and Cracker Barrels. Today, I face a couple hundred miles of I-90, but it will rise into grand stands of conifers, pass through snowy crags, descend into elks among pines, wind through smaller hills, blow past windmills and orchards, shoot along fields, and finally let me exit into a forgotten town just in time for lunch. Then, from arterial to lateral to a gravelly capillary, not another vehicle in sight.

12:12 PM, and I am standing by the women who planned the project and will operate the machinery. My job is to watch and see if any archaeology turns up. Monitoring, as this work is called, is an exercise in bi-polarity, similar to descriptions I've read about being a soldier at war. Mostly nothing (or worse yet, senseless fulfilling of duties with no plausible reward), and then MAYHEM! No incoming artillery for the archaeological monitor, just the skull rolling off the excavator bucket, and the prospect of being universally reviled while trying to navigate a path that will satisfy interests deeply at odds.

2:02 PM rolls around, and it's clear that this project will only have the monotony pole. They're digging through what turns out to be silt dug out of roadside ditches and dumped here, and will never get down to the original soil. I decide to go walkabout and check out what I can of the 1 square mile of property.

4:24 in the afternoon, and by all rights I could knock off and head for the hotel, having turned in more than the 8 hours I'm supposed to. But I keep walking. I've already recorded one site--just a collection of 100-year-old trash, but something beats nothing--and feel like walking further. So I meander out toward where a 19th Century map said there was a wagon road. Plenty of daylight left, and this far from Olympia, I am loathe to stop. Who knows when I'll be here again?

6:36, in what even in the post-Equinox period must be considered evening. Besides flushing out a coyote (every outcrop in this place has the gnawed bones of some creature eaten by a coyote, along with a celebratory poop), I found a site that seems to have been a rest stop on the wagon road. Bottles of booze and medicine (i.e., booze with an excuse), cans capped with solder, tobacco tins, and so on. The older the glass in the Northwest, the prettier: aqua with bubbles of 19th Century breath and air, once-clear glass tinted purple by the marriage of sunbeams and manganese.

7:27 PM, and I'm nearly back to the truck, having noted an oddly elaborate fence post and a culvert passing beneath an old rail grade along the way. Normally, there is nothing less fascinating than a culvert, but in this case, it was made with a beautifully glazed terra cotta pipe, frags of which I'd seen before dumped at the depot. Wondering what the hell that fine pipe was doing out here had been bugging me for the past couple of weeks, and now I know. The Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul railway did not skimp, even out here near the end of a decidedly minor capillary. Plus, this culvert seems like a nice den for some critter, and I am a big fan of the reversion of civilization to wildness. [Oh, and I did have time to check out the monitoring site, confirming that it would have been a waste of time to stay put.]

8:38, and it's pretty much dark. I've driven to the hotel (40 more miles of driving this day), and am in search of food. The options in Moses Lake for late dining are limited, and I end up at Safeway. Besides dinner, I now have tomorrow's lunch and some beer, in case I am awake enough to drink it when I get back to the hotel.

9:36 PM. I should be asleep, but instead I stay conscious for a while longer. I call the kids and learn about their day, enumerate the animals I have seen. No writing, but I check out my sister's blog. I even watch some TV, an exotic experience, and luck out with an episode of South Park about Haoles and "Native" Hawaiians. Yes, it is late and I am loopy, but it's hilarious, even though I forgot to drink the beer.

11:11 PM (plus or minus). I close my eyes and drift off, meadowlark song echoes in my ears, visions of purple glass and lines of shorn wheat on my lids.
So, that's one day, much abridged. Lots of driving with sub-par radio choices. Lots of walking while being whipped by winds carrying grit. Easily more than 12 hours of "work," but nothing I would change. I saw a lot, got to know some new ground as you only can at walking pace, and didn't have to deal with any monitoring emerencies. From my employer's perspective, I managed risk and kept them legal. For me, though, it was mostly fun.

I'm still amazed that I ended up this way, doing what I do. It's tempting to take credit and claim it was all the plan, but there are any number of junctures at which random chance changed my career path. The most I did was recognize the right times to pounce on opportunities. And now, whatever time of day, I find myself pretty happy with what I do for a living.

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