Wednesday, 14 August 2013

An Ode To My Tent

Surrounded by four walls,
Apart but still near, And this makes me smile, I'll stay for awhile, And dream--
Of things past, And things still to be
Surrounded by four walls.
A resting place, After a day spent, A day that has went, Away--
At hard work, And discovery
Surrounded by four walls.
My studio, To write, to create, Though it may be late, And sit--
Pondering What it means to be And discovery
Surrounded by four walls.

Monday, 12 August 2013

The Story of Andy

Some stories need to be written down.

This has been my story of my time in the Yukon. I can’t say how it has changed me with any certainty, but I am wise enough to know than an experience like this must have changed me.

I did not do as Andy at Eagle did. I did not road trip up to Alaska and then to Whitehorse to float down the Yukon River with a few pans, a tent, a saxophone, and nothing else on my person, and end up starting a homestead. But still, this was my adventure.

I have done as he suggested on the boat ride out from the David Site: make short term, medial term, and long-term plans. He said that things in his life have worked out—not necessarily in the way he imagined, but they have worked out and sometimes in better ways.

Maybe that’s a cop out, a wish, a hope to make us feel better or to fear less, though for my part, I believe it to be true.

I remember the evening spent up late, talking with my sister. The night I realized that if I were to do archaeology, I would want to work in the community and do public archaeology. I remember the wish to do this up north.

Here I am. I have gotten to do that. And it was amazing.

My only regret is the goodbyes. More happened today as I said goodbye and will say goodbye to my field crew—I feel grateful for each one of them being here—for both the good times and the little bad parts—for making me stronger, for letting me help them, for teaching me; for making my time up here all that it was.

Maybe it’s a cop out to think our paths will cross again, that I will get to see all of my wonderful crew again but to pull a line from Brittany, “Good friends are like stars. You don't always see them, but you know they're always there." 

In the land of the midnight sun, perhaps truer words have never been spoken.

Here’s to the Little John Field Crew 2013. Love you long time. 

Lab Rats

A final week was spent in Whitehorse after we metaphorically crawled back from Dawson (the truck/camper had to be towed—but no need to get into that; we and it made it back). In this week we did archaeology, not the glamorous though filthy excavating and recovering of the holy grails, but the meticulous and necessary details.

Mainly this constituted of cataloguing, photographing, labeling, and storing our hundred or so artifacts.

It’s interesting to recreate a level, examine the cobbles and less obvious artifacts and find that they may in fact actually be something. But to know also that some of it is in fact nothing. And always to hope that enough notes and photographs were taken in the field to reveal the difference.

Things learned in lab:
1. You may think you have artistic ability, but archaeological illustrations can still be tedious.
2. Organization is key.
3. Little breaks can be helpful for a tired mind.
4. Happy music = a happy lab.
5. Artistic ability definitely does not apply to the tiny, practically invisible font needed for labeling artifacts.
6. Copious hours spent in a lab may cause you to wake yourself up in the middle of the night talking ice fracture or heat fracture debates. (Yes, this really happened to me—sad, I know).
7. Perfection must be sought at all times.
8. It may be time for another rock/mineral identification class for me.
9. An archaeologist should always have a geologist friend.
10. It is very satisfying to finish cataloging in the knick of time (I knew making myself learn to type fast in Gr. 7 would pay off one day).

Throw in a final on a Saturday morning, and it was a bit of a consuming week. But that’s what 24/7 Tim Horton’s and friends to study with are for. 

Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Festival

Free time at the  festival. It's a bewidlering concept to rid yourself of the other twelve people you have been in constant community with and be alone, or at least with only one other person. Alone is still too foreign a concept after 6 weeks of field school.

The Yukon River Campground seems like a nice establishment and the lot I will spend my nights at is near the river, still a silty grey colour here as it had been in Eagle. Dawson City is across this river, so we all pile into the pickup truck/camper combination, three in the front, and let's say many more in the back. Perhaps this weight would be the cause of later bolt shearing...

It's a short drive (thankfully), really walking distance to the ferry. A short stretch of water, really bridge distance, but that might make Dawson City jsut another truck stop, and you wouldn't want that.

The town, in addition to the wood, historical buildings largely displaying what each contains in bold font on the front and the wooden boardwalks has that old smell that one only gets opportunity to enjoy at historical forts and the like--a mixture of decaying lumber, oil, and grease. Of course as we sit down on the planks outside the bank, a banjo can be heard playing in the distance.

It's the festival. Young and old alike flock the streets. The old dressed for the most part more practically, fleece coats, t-shirts, practical, the young people dressed in a range from hippie to hipster. Here and there people of any age are wearing their new purchases; colourful dresses, Dawson City Music Festival merchandise, the floppy hat on my head. Standing out is a couple of German men, who look perhaps even more early 1900s than the town itself.

Folk music can be heard, coming from the large red and white striped tent where the main stage of the festival is. Someone stops you at the gate to take a glimpse in your bag and then you're free to enjoy all of it, my favourite a band from Nunavut, named the Jerry Cans, who are complete with Inuit throat-singing. My feet can't help but dance to that.

The festival grounds aren't the only part of Dawson alive and well during the music festival. The streets are full, the restaurants fuller, and the bars perhaps the fullest. But the wait to kiss the sourtoe is still relatively short. Rest assured, though the legend says that one will lose their toe after getting their membership, my feet could still travel to the enjoyable Dawson City Museum the following day.

The museum is like the city itself, old yet interesting and full of life. As my friend from Dawson City said, "It's a crazy little town but it's one of a kind that's for sure." And my feet can't help but dance to that.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The City of Dawson

We're in the van but more enclosed than usual, a thick fog settled in around us. The edges of mountains and hilltops can be seen but we know that we're missing impressive peaks.

We reach customs. An isolate, the "town"-called Eagle Creek, Alaska- has a sign letting travelers know of its unfathomably large population of two people. Mr. Brown, border patrol officer, seems nice but takes his job very seriously to the point of asking the two Americans in our vehicle specifics he heard from our instructor moments before. Population thus makes it into the safe to joke about column, while security was left behind on the road of gravel and dust.

A little beyond the customs station, the fog lifts, affording that impressive view we knew we were missing. A few people familiar with Tolkien's works thought the landscape was very Hobbit-like, in my mind, I agreed with the others who thought it looked very much like Scotland.

The road turned to real highway for a time but of course it made its way back into gravel and dust, gravel and dust. One turn and snow in July; a snowball fight in summer, the sandals on my feet a regrettable choice as they caused me to slip and lose precious throwing abilities.

More time spent in this ulterior world, the otherness multiplied by the fog, still settled in around, hugging and still clinging to certain parts of the landscape and then as my bladder reaches dangerously full levels, Dawson City appears below on the wide Yukon River.

We have arrived at a city of gold, made on gold, but corroding at the edges.

The Sands of Time

Remember that canoe trip I mentioned? That was a miserable failure. Bob gave us a rough idea of where the path was and we completely failed to find it, got ransacked by the most mosquitoes I have ever had to contend with, and almost got lost. Luckily, the sun acted as guide to tell us what direction to go.

To wash away the defeat, a trip to the river was necessary. The Yukon River carries so much silt that it hisses as it weaves by. Still it cannot have made me filthier than a day of digging and a considerable amount of time could be spent in the water as it was pleasantly warm.

I spent some time finishing our first unit--making it through 10cm of the sterile sands to ensure that they were indeed sterile (I found only one paper thin flake at the very top of this layer) before moving on to help Lisa and Thomas in the unit they had started adjacent to our original 2011-25 unit. This worked out quite nicely for me as digging the sands was easy and fun (I was fulfilling childhood dreams of digging to China) and the annoying work of cutting through the matted duff layer was finished by Lisa and Thomas before I joined them. Win-win-(win?).

The new unit was empty until about 10-15cm down when flakes and bones and a flake/bone feature and a giant chopper and many other things were found. Unfortunately, our time at the David Site was cut a bit short. Lisa was much more upset than me, as she had just found the largest, most complete bone thus far at the site (with spiral fracturing too) but only part of it as the other part was stuck in the wall and had to be left unexcavated.

A group of us also hiked to the top of the Calico Bluffs in one of our evenings. Difficult because of the sliding colluvium on the steep slope, but of course the struggle became worth it when the height provided a most spectacular sight.

So, we broke another camp, loaded Andy's boats one more (he was very thoughtful and drifted around the bluffs so we could see them from river level) and headed back to Eagle. As Pawel, Norm, and Niki rearranged our cargo for the trek to Dawson, Bob took us to do some shovel testing across the river.

Shovel testing is about as fun as it sounds. Digging a 60m diameter, 1 m deep hole is only fun for so long. The area we were in was a Swedish homesteader's field that he had fertilized with fish bones in the early 1900's so we found fish bones rather than stone tools though both were anticipated. Colin, who I was working with finally uniting team Chrisniuk, knew what king salmon vertebrae look like. I did not. I would have thrown the small piece from our screen to the ground thinking it was a weird looking piece of root, which seems very stupid in hindsight.

Once we were done our test pits, goodbyes were said to Bob, his wife Pam, his son Sam, his employee Christine, and his other employee that had been our teacher first, PhD Michelle.

And on to the same random campground we had stayed at on the way to Eagle (not so random now), some sleep, and forward to Dawson City. 

Monday, 22 July 2013

David Site

We went into the world of real archaeology. Dropped off by a boat, hastily making camp, and bush-whacking to the excavation site. That's Alaska, the Last Frontier for you. Yes, I am wildly exaggerating as the camp has been established in previous years and so trails, cabins, and other civilized things exist.

Plus, we have neighbours. Kate and Andy with their log cabin isolated on the Yukon River and their herd of dogsled dogs seem like something out of a reality TV show. Actually, they are presently being filmed as a reality TV show. It is not going so well as the producers are looking for more conflict, danger, and drama then Andy and Kate are willing to provide.

We had a productive day of excavation, finding lots of flakes, cores, microblades, and even some bone. Personally, I found flakes, which is always pretty neat. The pit I am presently excavating in produced a 4500 year old moose mandible in year's past. Tomorrow, we are likely excavating westward and starting an adjacent unit. I am optimistically concluding that we will find the rest of the moose skeleton. Perks of the site are the sandy sediments which allow artifacts to easily stick out and allow screening to be functional. (At :Little John the sediments were water saturated which only permitted hand screening- slower but more fun). Also PhD Michelle allowed me to wield the legendary megatrowel. One word: epic.

Stormin' Norman has been feeding us well- so any family reading this: don't fear, I am eating plenty to feed my growing muscle mass. Right.

Later we are going canoeing- Amandolin, Josh, and myself. Should be fun and hopefully provides a stunning view of the Calico Bluffs. One can hope and dream. If not, I can always take a trip to the outhouse.

Yes, you read that right.