Kinyiksukvik Lake (Lancy Lake) - kargi (men's house) 

Inyoruruk Pass, Brooks Range, northern Alaska. Photo by Dale C. Slaughter


Georgeie Reynolds ______________________________________________________________________________________ ABOUT ME: I'm an archaeologist by training and an adventurer by nature. The two go hand in hand, don't they? I drifted far away from home, like an iceberg floating in the Chukchi Sea and wrote my PhD dissertation on the prehistoric Eskimos in Barrow, Alaska. Before that, I spent too much time at George Washington University, finally writing my MA thesis on the prehistory of Mongolia. Really. I finally made the journey to Mongolia in August 2014. At the time, I thought it the best trip of my life.It now ranks number 2 behind a tour of the "stans"-Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. One of my many travel goals is to link my adventures in Mongolia and Kazakhstan by visiting far west China. Urumchi and Kashgar may not be on everyone's list, but they're on mine. Later this year, I'll be sailing on a NOAA research vessel to Antarctica via S Georgia Island, where Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried. A life long dream, again, not on everyone's list. Destiny and a longing to see great and new things led me first to Alaska, the Last Frontier, the Great Land. You'll see memories below. My initial Alaska experiences are from the '70s, when I was in my 20s. Times and field work have changed, but not me. Come with me and see if some of these things strike a chord with you, if you have archaeology and anthropology in your blood, like weird and cool stuff, or are an explorer at heart. Well, fellow travelers, let's blow this pop stand. Follow your inner Belzonis, Geists, Shackletons, Raineys, Nansens, and Schleimanns. Remember when you last felt that sense of embarking on unknown ventures? If you have a story or comment to contribute, please do, because we're all in this together. Drop me a line at archaeofun@gmail.com

GLR being an archaeologist in the Gobi Desert, 2014

COPYRIGHT 2009-2019. All rights reserved.



A story about the intersection of horror and archaeoogy

Barrow 1981

posted August 2019


            Stanley Kubrick’s movie, The Shining, has a special place in my heart and mind because I saw it in such an unusual place. In 1981, I was working in Barrow, Alaska, doing archaeology for my university along with a crew of 35 people. We were excavating 500-year-old house mounds right in the middle of the old village site of Utqiagvik. [1]

            We were an intrusion, our tents pelted by rocks and pebbles by kids who stayed up late and didn’t have to go to school in the morning. Along with the constant wind and cold, not the finest welcoming committee.

            One evening after a day of excavating in melting permafrost that smelled like dog shit and someone’s meal of seal meat on a long ago evening, the site boss called it a day. It was a relief because no matter how thick your boots were; you still felt the cold ground beneath you in the pits.

            We retreated to the cook tent to wash up in basins of hot water and Octagon soap, then hit the toilets that consisted of large garbage-bag-lined pots topped by pieces of wood with holes cut out for your ass. The honey buckets smelled worse than the site and could give you a nasty splinter if you weren’t careful.

            We went through the chow line, our hands as clean as possible, and after a dinner of pork chops or something similar, the cook turned on the big satellite TV at the front of the room. These were the early days of satellite TV, so we only got three channels—country music videos, movies, and news from Chicago.

            The movie channel flashed the title The Shining. A round of applause went up from most of us.

            At first we chatted among ourselves about the day’s work, but slowly became engrossed in the film. We may have quieted down when Jack Torrance nervously interviewed for the caretaker job at the Overlook, or when the psychiatrist told Wendy Torrance that Danny’s pretend friend was probably nothing to worry about.

            Those of us writing field notes looked up, and those of us talking stopped when Jack began to lose his marbles. Greg closed the cover on his notebook, abandoning a half-finished drawing of a harpoon head.

            All eyes became glued to the TV when Wendy saw the results of Jack’s long day of writing: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy” over and over. There was complete silence in the cook tent from this point on.

            Uh oh. The nervous, twitchy guy was becoming unhinged, and began to curse at and threaten his family. I wondered if Jack would hurt his son again or resume drinking. These incidents were said to have happened in the Torrances’ recent past but their weight hung over them at the Overlook.

            Those of us who smoked grabbed cigarettes. I lit a Marlboro and sucked in the soothing nicotine, then exhaled the smoke through my nostrils in one long breath.

            Bob blinked behind his glasses. His hands, in fingerless gloves, cupped a hot cup of cocoa. Michael picked at his cuticles. With one hand, Dale twirled fake milk in his coffee with his broken watchstrap, covered in dirt from the site. With the other hand, he tried to pick something out of his beard. Cindy played with her hair and took a drag from Mark’s cigarette.

            The twin girls in pinafores surprised Danny in the next scene. He stopped his tricycle there in front of room 237, but the girls disappeared. He didn’t go in, but sped back to his parents. Wendy freaked and sent Jack up to check out the sinister goings-on. The scene with the beautiful naked woman who turned into a crone while Jack kissed her was mesmerizing and gross at the same time.           

            Claudia took off her glasses briefly and only put them back on when Perry said it was safe.

            All of us were glued to our chairs, eyes wide. The creepy score and walls of blood increased our pulse rates and the general pucker factor.

            When Jack went completely nuts, we were treated to a ballroom full of dead people and a sinister butler-type guy named Delbert Grady who, along with the bartender, was from another era.

            Kevin dropped his popcorn on the floor. “Shit,” he whispered.

            Jake glared at him and made a ‘be quiet’ gesture with his index finger pressed against his lips.

            Wendy grew so paranoid and scared she swung a bat at her husband, hitting his head so hard she knocked him out. Then she dragged him into a frozen meat storeroom, locked the door, and ran off to save herself and Danny.

            I held on tight to the roller coaster.

            We watched in horror as Jack killed head-chef Dick Halloran with an axe. Danny had telepathically contacted Dick that things were bad and Dick had come to rescue them in a Sno-Cat. Alas, he ran into Jack, not Danny. His “shining” didn’t save him.

            The tension became unbearable. Shelley Duvall had the most shocked and horrified facial expression of anyone I’d ever seen in a movie. As the pace quickened and the situation got even worse, her look intensified and her screams became higher pitched. Her eyes actually got bigger and her eyebrows almost disappeared into her disheveled hair.

            She ran down the hall, knife in hand, and stopped short when she saw a man in a bear suit with his ass hanging out, giving a guy in a tuxedo a blow job. Wendy screamed and almost dropped her knife. I almost swallowed my cigarette.

            Jack tried to break into the family compound with the axe, saying, “Here’s Johnny,” a phrase no one who’s seen the movie has ever forgotten. Danny was in his shocking “REDRUM” phase at about the same time, adding to the sheer terror of the last hour or so of the movie. After a number of horrifying glitches in Wendy and Danny’s escape, he hid outside in the maze and his dad froze to death. The mom and kid got away. End of story.

            Sighs of relief escaped our mouths. Nervous laughter ensued. Muscles untensed. Shoulders relaxed. Cigarettes were stubbed out in the cheesy metal ashtrays.

            I wished for a glass of vodka.

            Tim and I stepped into the broad daylight of midnight Barrow, zipped up our parkas, made our way back to our wall tent, and turned on the space heater.

            “Wow,” I said.

            “Yeah,” he said.

            “Jeez,” I said.

            We got into our double sleeping bag, zipped it up, and hugged each other good night. I tried to fall asleep with Jack Torrance’s frozen face in my mind’s eye and grateful that shit like that doesn’t happen in real life.

            That’s when rocks started hitting the tent again and the boys started to laugh. They were our curse that summer.

            Hopefully the kids outgrew harassing outsiders and did not end up like Jack Torrance.

[1] BTW, Barrow recently changed its name back to Utqiagvik.

                                                May 27, 2019 -- I've been reading some great non fiction the last couple of years. Here's a selection

          I found Robert Perkins, a wonderful writer. Into the Great Solitude is about his solo kayak journey to the north coast of Canada. His portrayal of feelings, the landscape, and wildlife makes me wish I wrote like him.

          My care-worn copy of Fifty Years Below Zero is an old favorite. The author, Charlie Brower, moved from the east coast to Barrow (now Utqiagvik) Alaska, opened a trading post, and married an Inupiaq woman. It seems as if at least 25% of the people in Utqiagvik are Browers. For a simply and clearly written documentation of Barrow in the old days, look no further. I find it nostalgic.

          It took me a while to work up to reading Blue Nights by Joan Didion because her Year of Magical Thinking was tough enough. In Blue Nights, she relives the death of her husband and daughter, and ruminates about coming old age. It's not as depressing as it seems to be, but not for the weak of spirit.

          I finished reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast not too long ago and loved it. He talks about daily life in Paris in the 20s, adding in tasty morsels about Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, and other luminaries that I'm just not familiar with. He and his wife, Hadley, were young, poor, and in love--and they enjoyed every minute of their life in Paris.

         Finally, I am so excited about Isaacson's Leonardo da Vinci, that I'm urging you to pick it up even though I'm only on page 35. Among the details of young Leonardo's life is that he was illegitimate but started his apprenticeship in Florence living with his father. He was also left-handed, gay, and dawdled and daydreamed. All this and so much more about the di Medicis in the first 35 pages!


                                Below, please find two not so new tales of Alaska. I can attest to their veracity because I was there!    

Mr MIKE MURDERS A GROUND SQUIRREL                                                                                                                                                    posted 4 March 2019

            Ground squirrels are the northern version of the prairie dog—they sit up on their haunches with tiny little paws held in front of them and sniff the breeze with their cute noses while their whiskers quiver. Sometimes they twitch their little tails and make an adorable squeaking sound that has given them the name sik-sik by the Inupiat.

            They hang around field camps and are, at first, shy, curious, and lovable. After a few days of smelling canned bacon and that old standby, mac and cheese made with powdered milk and Tillamook cheddar, they grow a tad bolder and assault the cook tent. Pretty soon, there’s a hole in a box of oatmeal and a little pile of ground squirrel turds on the stack of freeze-dried food cartons you use as a stool.

            It’s at this point they cease being cute. You stand up and begin to swear as the backside of a fat rodent waddles away into a nearby burrow. Finally, someone vows to do something.

            Mr. Mike, a genuine Arctic he-man with forearms the size of small trees, had a reddish beard so masculine I would routinely become lightheaded when he lumbered over to see what artifacts I might have found in my square.

            Mike liked to shoot things. It was just something he did. Bear, caribou, wolverine, ptarmigan, ducks, fox, and the odd mutt ran away when he cocked the trigger on his rifle.                     

He even shot my pocket watch in ’78 with his .22 (but that’s a story for another day). I’ve kept the pocket watch to this day as a reminder of my North Slope life as a field archaeologist.

                                                                                                                * * * *

            One sunny North Slope morning in ’79 when all seemed well on Iteriak Creek, I blundered in one of our resident sik-siks when it was my turn to get up early and make coffee. I heard a nibbling sound beneath our makeshift plywood table, bent down silently, and saw the roly-poly critter gnawing a hole in a box of Pilot Bread. I yelled at the creature, who sped away as fast as his four little legs could carry him.

            The next morning when it was Mr. Mike’s turn to get up early, he encountered a trail of saltine crumbs that started on the table, dribbled onto the ground, and trailed out the back corner of the tent. That particular ground squirrel indiscretion infuriated Mr. Mike. He shouted words to the effect that the next crumb would be the creature’s last.

            When the unfortunate sik-sik brazenly ventured back into the cook tent the following day just before our afternoon break for coffee, pilot bread, and breakfast bars, I heard Mike yell, “That’s it!”

            I saw it all while puffing on a Winston and waiting for the coffee to boil. Such a wonderful day, I’d stepped outside to admire the tundra. My eyes followed Mike as he ran out of the cook tent, under the breezeway and into the supply tent, where he’d grabbed the nearest firearm available—the .30-06 shotgun we kept for bear protection. It was loaded with shot, or at least I think it was. It could well have been a slug. He roared out of the supply tent like a commando and stopped under the breezeway. The sik-sik had fled the cook tent and was trying desperately to find his burrow

            Uh-oh, I thought.

            I stubbed out my cigarette on the ground, knowing all hell was about to break loose. Next thing I knew, I heard the pump being primed, and then “KA-BLAMMMM!”

            “Jesus Christ!” I yelled.

            Susan and Pete peered out of their tent, rather like ground squirrels themselves. Down near the creek, Tim wiped, zipped up his Carhartts, and practically flew up the hill.

            “That’ll fix the little bastard,” Mike said as he wiped his neck with his bandanna, as if he had just exerted himself greatly. The five of us were now looking up in the air and into the distance for signs of the sik-sik. Had he hit it? Where did it go?

            Then, we heard the soft sound of rain on the Visqueen breezeway connecting the cook tent and the supply tent.

            “Huh?” we asked collectively.

            It was raining sik-sik parts. Mike had emulsified the little critter. It was like ground zero at Hiroshima. The parts had flown up in the air, and were now being carried back to earth on a gentle breeze.

            The carnage was really gross. The breezeway was yellow; the splattered bits were red. One bit was large enough to identify as part of a paw. The small particles hit the tarp and slid down toward the edges and dripped on the ground.

            Climbing out of his tent, Pete took matters into his own hands. In an instance of vigilante justice, he grabbed a roll of paper towels from the cook tent and thrust them toward Mike while yanking the shotgun away. “You dumb shit, what made you think you could fire the shotgun in camp? Boys and girls, a moment of silence for the sik-sik that didn’t know what the fuck hit him.”

            Mike shrugged his shoulders and muttered something about not having to worry about goddamned ground squirrels any more. As he wiped the offal from the flyway, his thoughts most likely were drifting to his camp at Grayling Lake. He would spend September there and kill many fun things. He smiled, and started to whistle.

NORTH SLOPE BIRTHDAY                                                                                                                                                                                      posted 4 March 2019


           July 7, 1977, our final day along the Aniuk River, was my twenty-sixth birthday. A soft voice with a southern drawl called from outside my tent. I opened my eyes, yawned, and raised myself up on an elbow. “What? Am I late for breakfast again?”

           “No, my lady. I’m bringing you coffee for your birthday.”

I opened my tent flap and stuck my head and an arm outside. Lucy handed me a cup of instant Suisse Mocha. I took the coffee and smelled its sweet aroma. “Ah,” I said gratefully, “thanks.”

“You’re gonna have to leave your tent. Can’t have bacon in here—you’d be bear bait.”

“Okay, I’m coming,” I yawned.

I stared at the cloudless blue sky and felt the sun beating down through the tent. Closing my eyes, I smelled moss and wildflowers pungent on the light breeze. The Aniuk burbled on happily nearby. My birthday would be perfect except for all the mosquitoes.

I made a dash for the cook tent, trailing a few of the buzzing marauders behind me.

“Happy birthday!” yelled my crewmates.

“Bacon’s almost ready,” Malcolm said. “Here’s a luscious piece of pilot bread with peanut butter.” He handed me the delicacy. I gulped some coffee—first things first.

“We have gifts, too!” said Toni.

“No kiddin’,” I said, surprised by all the attention. “Gifts? How?”

“Kelly deserves the credit. She came up with the idea for most of the gifts before she left for Umiat on R & R,” Helen smiled.

“I don’t know what to say. Why the fuss?” I asked.

“Yours is the only birthday we’ll have out here this summer. It’s a big deal to all of us,” Tom said.

Malcolm handed me five small packages wrapped in the Sunday comics from a month-old Seattle Post-Intelligencer. They had been very carefully folded because no scotch tape was available and duct tape was too valuable to use.

With great curiosity, I opened my tiny gifts.

My eyes widened. “Oh, my God,” I said.

In front of me were a pack of Winston’s, two packets of cocoa, a box of raisins, a baggie full of cotton balls, and a small vial of Bonnie Bell lotion to wipe the dirt off my face at the end of the day. I choked back tears as Toni and Helen, closest to me, leaned in for a hug. I put my arms around them both and hugged back. There was a chorus of “yay”s and a round of applause. Today’s celebration showed me I was one of the guys now. I had kind of begun to fit in.

I will always remember this day. Always.

No one seemed troubled by my tears. All things, good and bad, took on a sense of immediacy, importance, and intimacy, I realized. We depended on each other for life, limb, and morale in the wilderness. My birthday meant more than the gifts given to me; it showed how much of a family we were becoming.

“This is the best,” I said, wiping my nose on my sleeve. “Thanks.”

                                                                                                                  * * * * *

Birthday or not, it was a workday. Malcolm, Toni, and I searched for

archaeological sites to the north of camp along the Aniuk, covering all the terraces within five miles, but found nothing. I didn't mind; my new friends had celebrated my birthday with me. The significance of marking this event surrounded by tundra was hard to grasp.

No one back home would understand the joy of opening a box of raisins wrapped in comics. No one, I thought.

I remembered my twenty-fifth birthday in DC the year before. My friends had taken me to a Chinese restaurant and one of my roommates had substituted smutty fortune cookies for the real thing, much to our amusement and that of the kitchen staff. Twenty-five had been a great birthday—a real howl! But this was like having a birthday on the moon with your new astronaut friends.

                                                                                                                     * * * * *

After too many hours trudging through tussock fields to find terraces with no sites on them, we headed in, tired and dirty as usual, to end my birthday with a banquet. Tom and Helen caught grayling, built a fire, and roasted the fish crispy brown. Lucy attempted corn chowder with freeze-dried corn and powdered milk. It had the consistency of paste and tasted like it. My birthday cake consisted of a stack of Malcolm’s sour dough pancakes with a sauce of wild berries, jam, water, and sugar—a wonderful treat.

Just then, the whine of an airplane engine pierced the air. We watched indisbelief as a floatplane began its final descent onto a nearby lake.

“Who in the hell is that? Let’s go see,” Lucy said.

As fast as humanly possible, we splashed across the Aniuk, stumbled through a tangle of alder and willow, reaching the lake as the plane taxied to shore. The handsome

bearded pilot cut the motor and jumped out of the floatplane, holding its mooring rope.

“Who the hell are you? You scared the shit out of me,” he said, looking around.

His passengers climbed onto the wing, then stepped into the shallow water. They looked clean and freshly showered and seemed frightened by our scruffy appearance. I stared at the couple’s new safari jackets and clean waders. That was me when I first came up, I thought, stiff like a new pair of shoes. In the twenty days I’d been in the field, I’d acquired a more “broken in” look.

Malcolm took control of the situation immediately. “Hi, I’m Malcolm. We’re surveying for archaeological sites for the government. Who are you?” he said slowly, as if addressing a delegation from another planet.

What’s next, Klaatu, Barada, Nikto? I wondered.

The man turned to the pilot and asked, “Do people just show up like this often?”

            “Not a lot,” the pilot said. “Usually the control tower in Kotzebue or Umiat will tell me if someone’s out in a wilderness area so I can fly over and check on them, at least dip my wings.” Then, to Malcolm he said, “I’m John, John from Bering Air. Pleased to meet you.”

John and Malcolm shook hands. The couple did not offer their hands, but swatted

mosquitoes from around their faces instead. Toni handed them some Army surplus bug dope and said, “Be careful. It’s strong.”

            “Thanks,” the woman said. She looked at the almost-obliterated writing on the container and cocked an eyebrow, then rubbed the repellant on her face and hands. I cringed, hoping her skin would survive the toxic formula.

“We’re floating the Aniuk to Noatak in a Zodiac. We’ll be picked up at the village in two weeks,” the man said.

“That’s quite ambitious,” Malcolm said, forcing a smile.

After exchanging pleasantries, the couple began to set up their raft and organize their gear.

“Well, I better be off,” John said. “It’s a long flight back to Kotzebue, but I’ll make sure these folks are set up before I leave. Say, are you finding stuff?”

“Yeah, nothing really spectacular, but enough to know there were people here a long time ago,” Malcolm answered vaguely, presumably to keep site locations safe from potential vandals.

“So, things are good?”

“Yeah, and besides, it’s her birthday,” Tom said, pointing to me.

“Happy birthday, gal,” the pilot said.

I took off my baseball cap and bowed.

We said our goodbyes to the passengers, waved the pilot off, and began the trek home.

“I sure hope they have a shotgun,” Tom said, looking back over his shoulder as we walked back to camp.


October 2018

           The ferry chugged into the cove on a clear morning, the calm, blue-green Aegean Sea sparkling in its wake. The light breeze buffeted my hair.    More of the coast came into view the farther southwest we sailed from Mykonos.

            I gasped. I saw a multitude of columns, some broken off half-way up, others standing tall against the brown earth and blue sky. As we sailed  approached the dock, more and more ruins appeared. As far as the eye could see, marble and stone remnants of temples and houses stretched before us.

            This was an archaeological wonderland to me. My mouth opened and my eyes widened. “Oh, wow,” was all I could say.

            Athena, our impressively tall guide and muse, shooed us past the entry, the first tour of the day, “Before it gets crowded and too hot,” she said.

            But it was hot already. The sun beat down mercilessly. I felt like an egg cooking in a frying pan. I’d worn my lightest clothes and had doused a scarf in water before putting it on under my hat, but those measures offered only fleeting comfort.

            We walked over to a colossal slab of stone with faint characters etched into it. I sat at its base in the shade next to Jean, one of my companions on our Road Scholar excursion.

            “This is where Apollo and Artemis were born,” Athena said. “Delos was built during the Classic Era in the third millennium BCE and was always a sacred place.”

            My eyes scanned the horizon. Delos must have been a huge city in its time.

            “Delos fought with Corinth and Crete and even Rome. Those were violent times,” the statuesque Athena continued. “Now, let’s find the ampitheater.”

            I picked my way through loose rock and rubble, through rows of what had been homes, their extant walls about waist high. I kept my eyes on the ground, not because I’m a well-trained archaeologist, but because my titanium knee had weakened my right leg during its recovery. I plodded forward using my hiking poles.

            We passed a blue arrow on a wooden stake pointing the way. On top of the arrow, a young, mischievous, multi-colored cat batted at a black playmate on the ground below. We rushed for our cameras, but were too lat—the black cat had scurried away and hid among the stones. The first cat stayed on top of the arrow as if posing. Most of us got his picture.

            At the ampitheater, I sat on the steps and imagined a masked Greek chorus explaining Oedipus or Antigone. Had they been written by the time this theater was built? I didn’t know.

            “How’s your knee?” Helen asked.

            “Not too bad,” I said, “but I’m really careful where I put my feet.”

            “I imagine you are!” she said.

            Sweating, I drank the rest of my water. We followed Athena dutifully into the remains of an upper class home, the House of Dionysus. Its columns stood silently around an almost complete black and white mosaic floor. Athena described the depicted animal as a “demon,” but I’ll wager it was a leopard with big, snarling teeth.

            Jan said, “Hey, archaeologist, what do you think this is?”

            She pointed to what looked like the base of a column that was hollow inside. I thought of a moment.

            “Well,” I said, “I’m not a classic archaeologist, but I think that’s a cistern. How they collected any water on this desert of an island I have no idea.”

            “Hmm,” Jan said, “I bet you’re right, though.”

            I was soon vindicated during Athena’s narration about the wonderful house. So, I hadn’t lost my touch, it seemed.

            Our group walked around Delos for about two hours. As I puttered along, lagging behind due to my sluggishness, I bent down to pick up a pottery shard. This particular one had caught my eye among the thousands strewn across the landscape.

            Ooh! A rim shard! I must show this to the others on the way back.

            And indeed I did.

            “Hey, guys, look at this,” I said calling them over. “It’s a rim shard,” I said excitedly.

            “A what?” asked Gail.

            “A rim shard. This is the rim of the vessel. You can calculate how big it was by the angle of the rim. I mean you can calculate its circumference. And see how thick it is? Must have been way huge.”

            “Oh, yeah? That’s so interesting,” Marty said.

            We continued walking, trailing after Athena like a parade of ducklings to an avenue populated with a row of stylized stone lions that sat partially eroded. I’d seen pictures of them in textbooks decades ago. I took pictures of them on my iPhone, knowing their mystical presence couldn’t be captured. What had they seen throughout the millennia?

            The ferry would soon take us back to Mykonos where I’d relax and drink a ton of water, and maybe take a swim, but there was one more find and a surprise left for me that morning.

            On the way back to the dock, I saw a large stone slab among the ruins with an inscription on it. Big deal, many stones had inscriptions on them. This one was special, however—it was written in two languages, Latin and Greek.

            I could maybe translate that, I thought.

            But, I could only make out one Latin word in the sunlight—ergo. It would be a start.

            As we waited for the ferry to dock, Athena continued her talk. “Delos was sacked by the Romans and by Mithradites when it was still a powerful place. Then, an earthquake destroyed the city in the seventh century CE and the island was abandoned. It’s been scavenged for marble and other building materials for centuries. The only new houses you see are for the archaeologists that inhabit the island.”

            Oh, how I would have liked to talk to one of the archaeologists, but none were in sight. Would I like to stay out there with them and excavate? Well, no. The heat and sun are too brutal and I prefer the lower temperatures of Alaska.








Posted July 17 2018


     I looked out of the battered DC-3’s dirty window and saw . . . nothing; nothing except vast expanses of brown tundra surrounded by mountains dotted with snow.

     The old plane touched down on the dirt strip in Umiat, an old World War II base consisting of dilapidated Quonset huts and trailers near the north coast of Alaska. I nervously stepped off the plane in my new, squeaky-clean work boots to see two of the Quonsets on fire, black smoke and flames billowing into the crystal blue sky. Roustabouts continued working around the airfield as if fire was a regular occurrence.

     I hoped to live to see my 26th birthday.

     A lump in my throat, my hands sweaty, I looked beyond the airstrip towards vast, open vistas and thought of the desert planet Tatooine, Luke Skywalker’s home planet in Star Wars, the new movie I’d seen before flying off to my own interstellar adventure. I felt as if I’d been transported directly from urban Washington, DC to a dangerous, alien world.

     In over my head, a stranger in a strange land with no wilderness experience and my archaeological training limited to textbooks, I joined crewmates hired for their outdoor savvy and field experience. Everything about me said new—the new boots, unwrinkled flannel shirt, spotless down vest, and the obvious insecurity of being out of my comfort zone. I sucked on a cigarette, trying to look nonchalant.

     My plan to fit in and not get killed in the wilderness would be simple, I decided—observe my crewmates and follow their lead. And so, with everyone vastly more experienced than I, my education began.

* * *

     After a couple days’ orientation, our crew of eight got ready to fly out to Howard Pass in the western Brooks Range, where we’d be for three months. Malcolm, our congenial bespectacled leader, chose Amazon Toni to fly out on the first helicopter run with him. My uneasiness peaked when my turn came to get on the chopper, but I managed to jam myself into the back seat among tents, sleeping bags, 5-lbs bricks of Tillamook cheese, and boxes of something called Pilot Bread. I’d ferry out with blue-eyed blonde Lucy, a veteran of several field seasons in Georgia, but new to Alaska like me. She wedged herself into the front seat next to Sam, our veteran pilot, among piles of sleeping pads and bags.

     The floor of the Bell Ranger was Plexiglas, so I could see the ground beneath me. My boots floated above the gravel; my stomach churned. The chopper began to vibrate; the rotors whirred, their hum growing louder. Sam turned to see if I had buckled my harness correctly. He gave me a thumb’s up and pulled back on the collective.

     My field of vision grew with each foot of altitude. A small creek glinting in the sun wandered off to the west, disappearing in the distance. Stunted trees and bushes accompanied the stream on its journey.

     Numbness, dread, and confusion overcame me as I entered this stark world. Reading about the North Slope had little in common with the real deal.

     Miles of winter tundra lay below me like a brown carpet, rolling on to meet black, forbidding mountains covered with snowfields. Cold, dark, unpleasant-looking ponds dotted the unforgiving landscape. Rain streaked across the Plexiglas windshield and the air grew colder. I grabbed my gloves and wool knit hat from my daypack and put them on.

     Looking ahead through the windshield, I saw a large meandering river, the Colville. Standing on one of its gravel bars, a large bull moose with impressive antlers drank from the clear water. He looked up as we approached, then fled.

     Jesus, look at that bastard run.

     I stared into the distance for a while, trying not to panic, then became aware of a subtle change in the sound of the rotors as they slowed and the helicopter dropped down to hover above the ground. The effect of the earth moving up to meet my feet both terrified and exhilarated me. Again, my stomach lurched.

     On the ground ahead of us, Malcolm and Toni waved to us, their bright yellow rain gear jarring against the brown of the tundra. Sam set the chopper down and cut the engine. At his signal, I cautiously stepped down onto the spongy ground. Mountainous slopes shone frigid and menacing, and wind whipped around me as an ever-increasing number of raindrops pelted my woefully thin rain gear.

* * *

     An image of my mother and stepfather eating dinner and watching the news in our den in Rye, New York floated into my mind. They were eating Mom’s meatloaf on tray tables and talking about the deplorable state of politics during the Carter Administration.

     To keep my load light, I’d only brought one sweater—a thick wool gray ski sweater with red reindeer they’d brought me from a recent trip to Europe. I wore it now and the smell of mothballs made me homesick.

     My father had died when I was five. He would not have been able to take my mother on a European trip, let alone give me such a wonderful sweater. His death continued to haunt me—it kept me unsure of myself. I was certain fate would strike again and my stepfather, twenty-five years older than my mother, would die soon, and I’d be plunged into more uncertainty and sadness.

     I discarded these thoughts as scenes from a different life. This was my reality now—a different kind of unknown.

* * *

     Toni and Malcolm had already set up the large cook tent.

     “There’s coffee,” Malcolm said nonchalantly, as if welcoming me into his home in Fairbanks.

     I ducked into the tent to find a spoon sticking out of a jar of Folgers. Pouring hot water and instant coffee into an ugly plastic cup, I rejoined the group outside. Quick on my heels, Lucy brought out coffee for Sam and herself.

     We stood in a circle, dots on the land, drinking coffee and taking in the newly created looking and harsh landscape.

     Back in my one-room apartment in DC, I wouldn’t have touched instant, but the Folgers tasted good in the drizzle. I cupped my cold hands around the warm mug. Malcolm unwrapped a Hershey’s bar and offered it around.        

     “Good flight, Sam?” Malcolm asked.

     “Uh huh. Weather’s closin’ in, though. Gotta get the next batch of folks sooner rather than later.” He spit a wad of chewing tobacco on the ground.

    “Will we get everyone out today?”

     “Think so, she’ll be good for another couple of hours or so.”

     “Well, we better unload the chopper so you can get going.”

     After unloading the helicopter, we waved Sam goodbye. The chopper roared to life, kicking up enough dirt to obscure the sky as it lifted off. The sound of its rotors spinning at top speed reverberated from the nearby mountains. Sam disappeared from view and the sound eventually faded away, leaving me convinced I’d never see DC, or even Umiat, again.

* * *   

     I stared at the tundra and slowed my breathing to calm myself, but anxious thoughts persisted. I knew I didn’t fully comprehend the dangers waiting for me, beyond animal encounters and the real possibility of injuring myself.

     I’m going to die out here, or at least humiliate myself.

     I imagined tripping over a rock and impaling myself on my newly-sharpened trowel or being stalked by a brown bear who’d maul me, snap my neck,    and bring whatever tender parts I possessed back to her cubs. Even a best case scenario looked grim—I’d leave the top of my daypack open one day, the wind would carry away my possessions, and I’d have to rely on others for clothes or freeze to death. They’d all know I was an urban punk, the weakest link in the chain.

     Toni and Lucy volunteered to make a water run to the creek, grabbing two large plastic jugs each.

     “Hey, guys,” Malcolm, yelled after them, “Take a shotgun! It’s loaded and the safety’s on.”

     Then, to me he said, “Have you ever set up a tent?”

     "No," I replied, rubbing my gloved hands together in the brisk air.

     “We need to set up all the tents by the time the rest of the crew gets here and before it really starts to pour.”          

     I wondered how much colder and wetter the weather could get. Would I freeze to death in my tent?

    He reached under the bright blue supply tarp, retrieved a tent bag, and dumped it on a relatively flat, dry place, counting pegs, ropes, and poles.    

     “First thing, we insert a line into the grommet, burn the ends of the rope so it won’t unravel, and tie a knot.”

     He used his Bic lighter to seal the ends. A pungent aroma filled the air as the plastic in the rope began to melt.

     “Do you remember how to tie a bowline?”

     “Haven’t tied one since Girl Scouts.”

     I watched him, trying to follow his hands. He had some rhyme about a rabbit and a hole I couldn’t quite follow, but I managed a left-handed version of the knot, despite my hands shaking from cold and nervousness.

     “Okay,” he continued in a steady voice, “next we put the poles together and stuff them into the tent sleeves to form the frame, like so. When we’re done with that, we lay a piece of Visqueen on the ground and put the tent on it.”

     Malcolm watched as I secured the rain fly to the top of the tent, pulled it taut, placed tent pegs through each fly and guy wire, and pushed them into the ground while avoiding punching holes in the Visqueen.  

          I set about my task looking confident, despite an abundance of self-doubt. Malcolm exuded experience and calm. Maybe a small part of it would rub off onto me.

     “One last thing,” he yelled over the increasing wind, “get sleeping bags and pads from under the tarp and throw one of each inside so the tents don’t blow away.”

     “Okay. Got it.”

     Malcolm walked back in the direction of the cook tent, leaving me alone. Talking myself through the process of setting up each of the remaining tents, I inspected my handiwork, and breathed a sigh of relief when I was done.

     I headed over to the cook tent for a break and some company, not wanting to be left by myself in this strange new place. The breeze had picked up and the rain felt even colder, the drops stinging my face like little needles. My thoughts drifted to the penetrating dampness and the desolate landscape. I looked around and ducked inside.

* * *

     A pot of water was about to boil. Lucy, Toni, and Malcolm chomped loudly on Pilot Bread piled with peanut butter.   

      “How about a joint?” Toni asked. “Is that okay, Malcolm?”

     Malcolm chewed his lower lip and the beard beneath it, an indication of anxiety I’d first recognized in Umiat when he’d noted we were short of first aid supplies.

     “Well, must be against several regulations, but okay—just don’t set the tent floor on fire. Be careful,” he said.

     My ever-present anxieties lessened as I inhaled and began to relax. I lit a cigarette and blew the smoke out the front tent flap into the rain.

* * *

     We spent the rest of the day greeting our crewmates as they flew in, and offloading supplies. By suppertime, we were eight and our number complete.

     My crewmates showed their ease with wilderness living in their free-flowing conversation about freeze-dried food and the lack of privacy when relieving oneself. Toni had made her own parka by hand and Kelly had brought a large Buck knife with her, something I’d never heard of. She took out a whetstone and began sharpening the knife as if she’d performed this task every day of her life.

     Sitting cross-legged in the cook tent and feeling incredibly out of focus, I listened intently to their small talk, concentrating on putting pieces of new information together in a way I could understand and use them.

     Did my inadequacy show?   

     “You know, you can boil up some of that Labrador tea and not get sick,” Helen said. “It’s good, too.”

     “Nice on a cold day, but I like a hot cup of Tang myself,” Ron said, cleaning his nails with a Swiss Army knife.

     “Cocoa’s good,” Malcolm said, “and if you have some booze to put in it, it’s even better.” He cleaned his glasses with a dirty bandanna.

     Okay. Hot Tang, spiked cocoa, and Labrador tea . . . Got it.    

     I’d have to ask questions eventually and show my ignorance, but that would be infinitely preferable than not asking how to take the safety off the shotgun.

* * *

     After a filling meal of still-crunchy freeze-dried chili, I put on my down vest and took my mess kit over to the creek to wash dishes. Helen joined me.

     “Don’t worry, Georgeie,” she said. “You’ll catch on quick. Right now, you’re our cheechako.”

     “Your what?”

     “Our cheechako. It means tenderfoot.”

     “I didn’t know it showed.”

     “Well, you were really quiet when we started talking about camping stuff, you know? But, believe me, you’ll be a different gal at the end of the summer and you’ll know as much shit as we do.”

“God, I hope so,” I said, reveling in what I assumed to be a compliment or at least a vote of acceptance.

     She touched my shoulder, gave it a squeeze, and retreated to her tent. Feeling somewhat reassured, I left for my own tent to spend my first night north of the Arctic Circle.

     The sun shone through the rain when it would have set long before back east. My L.L. Bean watch read almost midnight. I tucked myself into my sleeping bag, leaving on my long johns and wool socks, while wondering how to make friends. How could I, shy and short on confidence, sell myself as someone worth knowing when my experience was so minimal?

     I finally fell asleep with only my nose and the top of my head sticking out of my sleeping bag.

* * *

     The next morning, I awoke to a cloudy day and the sound of laughter. Wanting to know what in hell was so funny, I wandered over to the cook tent. There was a pause in the conversation. Seven bright-eyed faces looked up at me.

     “I think Georgeie’s going to be our late riser this summer,” Ron said in a voice too cheerful for my taste before having caffeine.

     I smiled uncomprehendingly. “Coffee?” I asked.

     “Here you go, Georgeie,” Kelly said. I mumbled my thanks and lit a Marlboro.

     Malcolm explained the order of the day. “Today, we’ll take it easy and stay together. Each of you will carry an honest-to-God number two lead pencil, a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook, a roll of flagging tape, a couple of stakes, an entrenching tool, a 3-meter tape, some coin envelopes and paper bags, a black magic marker, and a brand new 6-inch Marshalltown trowel.        

     “We’ll also carry Nikon cameras and both shotguns, loaded, because you never know. Got it?” He looked at me, the greenest of greenhorns, and smiled.

     Again, I conjured up the image of a grizzly taking me down, munching on me, and dragging the best morsels back home.

     “You’ll pack a lunch, carry full canteens, and take rain gear and whatever else you need for the day. Oh, and do NOT forget your bear whistles.”  

     I would definitely save room for smokes and, if I’d had it, a flask of vodka to bolster my courage.

* * *

     I wore most of what I’d brought with me, including several layers of wool socks and my wonderful reindeer sweater. I hoped I’d be warm enough.     Fairly satisfied none of us would freeze, Malcolm told the crew we were ready to find our first archaeological site and record it.

     “As you might remember, the goal here is to find sites and flag them so they won’t be destroyed when oil and gas development come. That day is just around the corner.

     “Look for flakes—small pieces of chert, jasper, basalt, or obsidian with some shiny and flat surfaces. Flakes are the most typical artifact we’ll find. If we’re lucky, maybe an arrowhead, too. Georgeie, you’ll get the hang of it. Walk next to someone with more experience.”

      We set off across a patch of tundra strewn with lichens and the buds of wildflowers. The Brooks Range looked down on us silently, each peak a sentinel holding untold secrets. A little distance from camp, I saw a black stone below my left foot, and thinking it might be something, I picked it up and showed it to Kelly who was walking next to me.

     “That’s just a piece of rock,” she said, turning it over. It’s not a flake. It’s nothing, sorry. The texture is too rough.”

     I felt somewhat foolish, but a revelation occurred to me—photographs of artifacts in textbooks bore little resemblance to the real three-dimensional item.

     “And put your hat on,” she added. “You lose most of your heat through your head.”

     I took my red baseball cap from the back pocket of my Levi’s and put it on.

     “Hey! Here’s something,” Toni yelled.

     “Let’s see,” Malcolm said, walking over to her. Taking the object, he turned it over in his hand, licked it free of dirt, and held it up to the sun.

     “Good job, Toni. Let me show everyone. Then, put it in a coin envelope and keep it in your daypack.”

     When Malcolm showed the artifact to me, I could see how the flake was different from the piece I’d found. Its light brown surface was flat and shiny. I ran my finger over it, feeling the undulations that ran through the small piece, like ripples in water.

     “Ahh, okay,” I said, marveling at the treasure. “What was it used for?”

     “Nothing, really. Probably struck off a larger artifact that was something, a tool of some kind,” Malcolm said.

     “I see,” I replied, although I wasn’t sure I understood completely.

     “Now, we’ll fan out and look around to see what else might be here,” he continued, addressing all of us. We’ll draw a site map and photograph the area. You’ll write up site notes and, not to worry, I’ll make sure you know how.”

* * *

     Several hours and archaeological sites later, my feet began to hurt, and I could feel blisters on my heels. The soles of my flat feet throbbed and I thought longingly about my moleskin back in camp. My sore feet distracted me from thoughts of bears and wolverines, even as I scoured the ground for paw prints. I wanted to find an arrowhead or something, but my energy lagged and the straps on my daypack dug deeply into my shoulders.

     “Alrighty, gang,” Malcolm said around five o’clock, “Let’s head back to camp. It’s been a long and successful first day.”

     Ah, relief.

     Stumbling into my tent, miserable, my feet begged for attention. I was about to fall onto my soft, welcoming sleeping bag when I discovered something far worse than sore feet. My only sweater was gone. I panicked.

     Oh, shit. Oh, shit. Shit. Fuck.

     Briefly warming up during our march home, I had taken my sweater off and tied it around my waist. Only when I ducked into my tent to take off my boots, attend to my feet, and put my sneakers on, did I realize my loss.

     Shit—my only sweater. How will I keep warm? Fuck.

     Forgetting the moleskin, I headed over to Kelly’s tent, yelled her name, and stuck my head through the front flap. Her alarmed expression reflected my fright.

     “What’s wrong? You look really freaked out. Here, have a cigarette.”

     Taking a Marlboro, I sheepishly told her about the loss of my sweater. Feeling like an ass, I could have cried in frustration and fright. I felt shame in having to confide in another person and ask for help.

     “Could happen to any of us, Georgeie. I have plenty of clothes. Here, take this turtleneck. It’s wool and it’s red, so when you wear it, you can’t get lost.” She smiled reassuringly.

     I took the wonderfully soft sweater and hugged Kelly so hard I could feel her body heat through layers of long johns, shirts, her sweater, and my down vest.

     “I don’t know how to thank you,” I said, wiping away tears of relief.

     “Hey, it’s okay. We have to watch out for each other up here.”

     I relaxed, took a deep breath, exhaled some smoke, and thanked her again. As I left, her red turtleneck gripped tightly in one fist, she yelled after me, “Put your hat on like I told you!”

* * *

     On the slog back to camp the following day, I spotted a familiar gray and red object caught in the brush next to the creek.

     “Oh, my God! My sweater!” I shouted. I wept in disbelief and delight, then ran over, shook off the moisture, and hugged it like a long-lost friend.

     I sang the rest of the way back to camp. When we ducked into the cook tent, and Tom rolled a celebratory joint, offering it to me first. I accepted. Over dinner, my happy mood continued, and I think everyone felt my relief.

* * *

     My confidence in being able to survive in the tundra, as well as my skills as a fledgling archaeologist, increased daily. I was hitting my stride, although my stride was not that long so early in the summer. I could usually spot an artifact, became proficient at sketching site maps, and could draw a good representation of an arrowhead.

     Laughter even escaped my lips from time to time.

* * *

     On our last day on Rough Mountain Creek, the wind whistled through nearby mountain passes, gray storm clouds filled the sky, and the temperature dropped into the low forties. Malcolm, Lucy, Ron, and I, leaning into wind gusts with effort, worked our way along the creek to the north. Toni, Kelly, Tom, and Helen hiked up the slope of Ihkluhk Mountain to a series of prominent terraces.

     That day, I wore everything I had with me—long johns, jeans, felt liners inside my boots, flannel shirt, gloves, my wonderful sweater, Kelly’s red turtleneck, down vest, wool hat, gloves, and rain gear for wind protection, but I dearly regretted my lack of a parka during the grueling walk. My down vest and rain gear weren’t going to cut it. My feet were already cold, even with sock liners and two pairs of wool socks. Filled with apprehension, I told myself to suck it up and keep up with the others.

     Finally reaching our destination, a wide, low terrace, we fanned out to survey the area. I studied the ground and was rewarded with a scatter of flakes that appeared bright and shiny in the rain that had begun to fall.

     “Here’s something,” I yelled, bitterly cold as I squatted down to look at my discovery.

     “That’s great, Georgeie,” Malcolm yelled back, cupping his hands to carry his words over the wind.

     I dug into my daypack, pulled together the field gear I needed to record the site, and took off my gloves to write in my field journal.

     “Lucy, would you dig a couple of test pits?” Malcolm shouted. “Where you put them is up to you, but keep them within thirty meters of Georgeie’s flake scatter. Ron and I will measure in everything and you can draw the site map, okay, Georgeie? Then, we’ll get out of here since the weather’s gone from bad to worse.”

     I attempted conversation, but nothing came. The wind whipped me around, penetrating my clothing. I stopped shivering.

     What did Malcolm say? Never mind . . . Think I’ll rest for a while.

     I plopped down on the frigid tundra trying to concentrate. “Malcolm, I don’t want to draw the site map, and I need to find my gloves,” I said, my hands like blocks of ice with frozen fingers.

     Malcolm stopped rummaging through his daypack, sprinted over to me, squatted down, and peered into my face. He took off a glove and touched my cheek with the back of his hand.

     “Oh shit, she’s ice cold,” he said, snapping his fingers in front of me, “and her eyes aren’t focusing. Help me get her on her feet, guys. We’ve got to make her walk around to keep her body temperature up. Shit. She’s hypothermic.”

     I felt naked in my clothes and stumbled as Malcolm and Ron tried to get me to my feet.

     “Do some jumping jacks, Georgeie,” Malcolm barked.

     I tried to stand on my own, legs rubbery. Confused, I wobbled into an upright position, but jumping jacks were a bridge too far.

     “We’re going in NOW. Lucy, find the walkie-talkie and call Tom. Tell him we’re all going in pronto,” Malcolm said, wrapping his rain jacket around me and staring into my face.

     Lucy, shivering, took the radio from Malcolm’s daypack, and called the other crew.

     “Crew two, this is crew one. Do you read me?”

     “Time for a check-in already?” Tom’s voice crackled through the radio.

     “We’re heading in. Georgeie’s acting funny, and weather’s getting worse. Malcolm says for you guys to pack it in.”

     “Okay, It’s howling up here and sleeting. Tom, over and out.”

     “Georgeie, get up front. We’ll get you back ASAP,” Malcolm shouted, his voice tense. “Lucy, Ron, walk behind and watch her. I’ll lead with the shotgun.”

     He pointed me in the right direction, but I stumbled a few times before finding my footing. My feet were bricks, my hands, folded into my armpits, icy inside my gloves, my ears frozen solid despite my wool cap.

     Lucy carried my daypack.

     “You all right, Georgeie?” Malcolm yelled.

     “Uh huh,” I mumbled.

     After what seemed like an endless and surreal walk in outer space, we reached the cook tent.

     “Lucy, help me take off her clothing. Strip her down to her long johns. Good, now shove her inside the sleeping bag,” Malcolm said, his tone worried.

     “Got her, Malcolm,” Lucy said. They poured my limp body into the sleeping bag, filled a stuff sack with my clothes, and put it underneath my head for a pillow.

     I began to shiver.

     “That’s good, Georgeie, you lie there and shiver for a while and get warm,” Malcolm said, sounding fairly calm. His tentative smile betrayed concern.

     A blast of frigid air hit me as Tom, Helen, Kelly, and Toni barreled through the tent door, gusts of wind propelling them inside. Toni zipped the tent door shut behind her as fast as humanly possible. I could hear freezing drops of rain plopping down on the tent flaps. Winds snapped loudly at the flies and guy lines.

     Malcolm pumped the Primus stove. It lit with a whoosh. Vaguely aware that everyone now sat cross-legged around me, I became a low table at a Japanese restaurant. When the water boiled, Lucy handed me a cup of cocoa. I accepted the cup; its warmth soothed my hands. Apparently, Malcolm thought I was dawdling. “Drink the cocoa now! You have to!” he shouted.

     I somehow found the strength to lift the cup to my lips.

     “Wiggle your toes,” he demanded. My toes moved stiffly in the sleeping bag. “Okay, good.”

     After I rested my cup on the sleeping bag, Ron grabbed one of my hands. “Still pretty cold,” he said, “but the color’s coming back to her face.”

     I looked up and smiled at him, then lay my head back on the stuff sack and rested.

     What’s the fuss? I was just cold. Am I in some kind of danger?

     Tom and Helen fed me peanut M&M’s. Toni and Ron chatted quietly. Kelly sat at the front of the tent, holding my toes through the sleeping bag with one hand, the other hand clutching a cigarette. Everyone watched me intently.

     “Guys, I’m sorry about today,” Malcolm said, his voice shaky, “We should never have been out in this weather. What the hell was I thinking?”

     I thought he would cry.

     “It’s okay, Malcolm,” Toni said. “We made it and we’re fine.”

     I knew then I’d had a close call and had been the focus of extreme worry. Every few seconds, someone looked down at me to make sure I was all right and tuned in to my surroundings.

     “I’m here. I’m listening,” I’d answer, finding the conversation fascinating, but not completely following it. I grew sleepy and sensed the danger had passed. I rested in good hands.

     “Oh, look, she’s dozing off,” someone said.

     “She must be exhausted.”

     “I bet she was scared.”

     Warmth enveloped me. My new friends had taken care of me.

     Someone gently took my cup away and placed my hands back inside the sleeping bag.

     I drifted off to the whisper of “She’s a trooper, isn’t she?” in my ears.

     Nothing would harm me now. Content and secure for one of the few times in my life, I slept while they kept watch.


MAY 29 2018




posted March 2018

I grabbed the Feb 12/19 issue of The New Yorker from the tossed-out magazines downstairs last (?) week and found an article about polar exploration by David Grann, author of two books previously featured on my FB biz page, The Lost City of Z and the one about Oklahoma I haven't read yet. Something about a Blood Moon? I've been urged to read it.

Anyway, this article, "The White Darkness," is about Henry Worsley's 2016 attempt to retrace Shackleton's route across Antarctica. Worsley wanted to do it w/o a crew or laying supply caches.

He almost made it at an age, 55, many of us are becoming more sedentary. He had at his disposal a radio and ultimately radioed to be rescued after a solo journey of 71 days and nearly 800 miles. At Punta Arenas, he was told he'd developed peritonitis and died during surgery.

This is an incredible portrait of a present-day explorer who gave his all. It ran in his family. A distant relative was Frank Worsley, captain of Sir Ernest Shackleton's Endurance expedition during WW I.

Above is a map of Worsley's Matrix Shackleton Centenary Expedition of 2008-09. Worsley undertook the expedition with two colleagues, one man a descendant of another Endurance crew member. The 97-mile mark is the closest "Shacks" got to the South Pole. You'll also note near the tip of S America, South Georgia Island and Elephant Island. Shacks' crew was marooned on elephant Island while Sir Ernest and four crew members sailed over rough seas to S Georgia Island, climbed over its mountains, made contact with a whaling station, and went back to rescue him men--all survived.

And, I have the opportunity this Oct/Nov to go to the tip of Argentina, the Falklands, South Georgia, sail by Elephant, and visit Antarctica. I may leave my field cap at Shackleton's grave on S Georgia. Can't wait.


Cube Cove, 1984

Posted January 2018


                  I’d heard flying into Juneau could be frightening, but since I’d already flown in small planes and landed on gravel bars up north, I didn’t think too much about it. I settled into my seat on the Alaska Airlines jet, enjoyed coffee and breakfast, and opened my dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s latest book, Pet Sematary.

                  South of Yakutat, the sky clouded over and rain pelted my window. I looked for a glimpse of the ground below and the mountains I knew were around us, but saw nothing. One hour later, through increasingly dark skies and disturbing turbulence, two bounces indicated we were on the ground. When I walked down the gangway and looked around, bases of fog-shrouded mountains at the north and south of the runway showed themselves through driving rain. They had been invisible during our approach.

                  Holy shit. We flew through that? I thought, grateful I had not seen the peaks from the air.

                  After Andrea and I claimed our duffels and daypacks, we stepped outside in the damp May air. This trip was my first for the Corps of Engineers and Andrea, a senior biologist, had been assigned to keep tabs on me, the new archaeologist. My task was to locate a cabin ruin and assess whether it was worth saving. The cabin’s salvation could potentially hold up a logging permit application from the Corps. Andrea would scope out endangered species and other environmental issues. One nest of Peregrine falcons might also deep-six the logging application.

                  A guy from the floatplane company she’d hired found us almost immediately. We piled into his truck, me in the back, the junior member of the team.

                  “Ladies,” the guy said. “I’m Gus. I guess we’re going to sign us some papers down at the floatplane basin so we can take you to Admiralty Island tomorrow.”

                  “That’s right,” Andrea said in a barely audible voice.

                  Gus turned to me and put out his beefy hand covered with grease.

                  “Hi, Gus. I’m Georgeie,” I said, shaking his giant paw without hesitation.

                  When he climbed into the driver’s seat. I noticed curls of red hair sticking out beneath his Peter-Bilt baseball cap.

                  We drove south through town, passing more sailboats than I’d ever seen.                 

                  “Over there’s Douglas Island and the water between here and there is Gastineau Channel. All this used to be Tlingit territory, but we kind of crowded ‘em out when gold was discovered here in about 1880,” Gus said matter-of-factly.


                  Over a halibut dinner at the hotel, I asked an important question, or so I thought: “I didn’t see anything looking like a shotgun case at baggage claim. Where’s our shotgun?”

                  “We don’t have a shotgun,” Andrea answered softly.

                  “Really? Why not?” I asked incredulously.

                  “You have to supply your own gun if you want to bring one. I don’t shoot and I guess you don’t either,” her little-girl voice growing annoying

                  “Well, no, I don’t. But what about grizzly bears?”

                  “That’s the rules. There aren’t any shotguns you can check out at the office.”

                  “Isn’t that looking for trouble?” I asked, stupefied.

                  “Could be, but we haven’t lost a person yet,” Andrea replied, her voice rising ever so slightly in annoyance.

                  I decided not to pursue the conversation—it seemed useless. I made my way back to my room where I read a few pages of my book, and fell asleep.


                  The six a. m. wake-up call came sooner than I wanted it to. I grabbed the receiver and slammed it back in its cradle, immediately jumped into my clothes, then ran downstairs to consume as much coffee as possible along with a hurried breakfast. Andrea yawned and talk was minimal. Apparently, neither one of us liked an early morning

                  Outside the lobby door, Gus honked and waved from his truck. The weather had turned sunny, the sky a beautiful blue. I breathed a sigh of relief and offered a prayer of thanks to the gods.

                  “C’mon, y’uns, get in the truck. Time’s a wastin’.”

                  Conversation proved impossible due to my sleepiness. I left that to Andrea and Gus. We arrived at the floatplane dock, our aircraft bobbing up and down next to the old wooden structure.                  

                  “Get in, folks. The pilot will load your stuff so it’s balanced,” Gus said.

                  I let Andrea, the de facto boss, get in first She took the front seat. I made it onboard after one or two attempts at navigating between he stationary dock and the bobbing plane.

                  Our pilot bounded out of the office and ran to the dock. My mouth dropped and I became fully awake. A young guy with rippling muscles showing beneath his plaid shirt, he had a bulge in his Carhartts in just the right place, and a thick head of blond hair.

                  “Hi, ladies, I’m Derek. I’ll be taking you over to Cube Cove this morning,” he said. His smile revealed a set of even, pearly white teeth.

                  “I’m Andrea, and this is Georgeie,” Andrea said with a coquettish smile.

                  “Hi,” I waved from the back seat.

                  “Well, hi. Okay, we’re off in a sec, so buckle up!”

                  I turned my head to watch him walk away, his athletic ass swaying back and forth in his jeans.

I heard slamming of compartments and sucked my stomach in as Derek adroitly stepped in front of me and squeezed himself into the seat next to Andrea. I could have touched his butt. Instead I studied the weave of his pants.

                  “Alright, guys, I’m going to turn ‘er south into the wind and rev ‘er up. Hold on!”

                  The plane made a deafening roar as it plowed through the water, waves reaching up to the windows. I’d never been on a floatplane before and doubted it could escape the drag of the water. But with a mighty surge of the engine, we were off. Derek flew us west as we climbed over Douglas Island. A string of mountainous islands and the Gulf of Alaska lay in front of us.

                  Blue-green spruce forests covered the islands. Although there were fewer cabins the farther west we flew, fishing boats dotted the water as far as I could see. I thought the landscape beautiful, but so different from my usual haunts in the high Arctic. Although the sea and islands teemed with life, I found them scary. How would I find anything in an impenetrable forest, and how could I keep from being found by a lurking grizzly?

                  Reaching the west coast of Admiralty Island, we turned north and began our descent into aptly named Cube Cove. We slowed, Derek cut the engine, and in moments we were skating across the water, the cove as smooth as glass. When we were close to shore, Derek put on a pair of waders, hopped out, secured a rope to the front of the plane, dragged it partially onto the beach, and tied the rope around the stub of a tree trunk.

                  Now came the fun part—deplaning. Andrea opened the front right window, stepped onto the wing, and carefully put one foot, then the other, in the ankle-deep water.

                  “I’ve never done this before,” I said, nervously stepping onto Andrea’s seat and starting my exit. I put my right foot on the wing, leaned out, and yelled, “Now what?”

                  “Hold on to the top of the window and put your other foot out on the wing. Then, if you have to, sit on the wing, and slide into the water,” Derek said.

                  “Okay,” I said.

                  I decided to sit on the wing and planted my right butt cheek on the metal surface. I extended my right foot over the water and then maneuvered my left foot and leg out of the plane, flexed the knee, extended my right foot into the water, unfolded my left leg, hung it over the edge of the wing, and slid off.

                  “Tahdah!” I threw my arms open wide in a gesture of accomplishment, amazed I hadn’t topped my boots and that my feet were still dry.

                  Andrea took no notice of me, probably thinking, Well, she’s in her thirties and she’s never done this before? Jeez.

                  Derek offloaded our daypacks and equipment and put everything on the beach for us. I grabbed my shovel.

                  “Watch what you do with that shovel, Georgeie. You could hurt someone with that!” Derek said, grinning.

                  “It’s our only bear protection,” I said.

                  “You don’t have a gun?”

                  “No,” Andrea said nonchalantly. “It’s not allowed.”

                  “It’s none of my business, but that seems really stupid,” Derek said, his brow furrowing in concern.

                  “We’ll just have to make a lot of noise if we see a bear, I guess,” Andrea answered in her increasingly annoying little-girl voice.

                  “Well, I’ll be back to pick you up at four p. m. on the dot. I don’t want you girls out here too long without bear protection.”

                  “Sounds good to me,” I said.

                  “Well, so long. Stay safe,” Derek said as untied the plane, got back inside the aircraft, revved the engine, backed up, took off, and was lost to view in less than a minute. The sound of the engine lasted a while longer.


                  Andrea and I were alone. The thick forest looked ominous. I wanted nothing to do with it.

                  “Let’s walk along the shoreline first until we reach the drainage at the head of the cove,” Andrea said, looking at her topo, “then walk uphill for fifty feet or so and make our way back through the forest.”

                  “Okay,” I said, not sure I liked that plan.


                  I unwrapped my shovel, hoisted my daypack on my back, flung the shovel over my shoulder, and caught up to Andrea who hadn’t waited for me to get my stuff together. Keenly aware of everything in my field of vision and every sound I could hear—our steps, the breeze in the trees, a hawk’s cry—I wished for eyes and ears in the back of my head.

The temperature was balmy compared to up north. I found the weather actually relaxing to a degree.

                  I looked for artifacts as we walked, but found none. Perhaps the cabin ruin would be interesting. Would it be in ruins? Was it habitable? Anything significant about it worth preserving? I hoped for something interesting to pass the time quickly.

                  Along the side of the drainage, I tried to excavate a test pit at the margin of the beach and the forest.

                  Christ almighty, I thought. Digging here is a lot tougher than up north. There are all these roots and shit. This is going to take forever.

                  “Here,” Andrea said, “I brought a pair of root cutters. These’ll help.”

                  I got down on my hands and knees and began cutting out roots and weeds, then troweled down about 20 centimeters, placed the dirt on the ground next to the pit, and troweled through it to see if I’d missed anything.

                  I don’t like working down here, I thought. It’s far dirtier, there’s much more soil, and all these fucking weeds.

                  “Well, nothing here,” I said. “I need to find that cabin ruin that has everyone’s panties in a twist.”

                  Andrea seemed stunned by my choice of words, her eyebrows raised high on her forehead. “Okay, I’ll catch up. I’m going to take some photographs along the way and record general notes.”

                  I found myself blazing a trail through downed branches covered in moss while avoiding the many large fir trees blocking my way. My footing precarious due to the damp and wet of the understory, I grabbed at a thick stalk of something for support.

                  “Shit! What the hell was that?” I yelled, immediately withdrawing my hand from the stalk and catching my balance.

                  “That’s oplopanax horridus,” Andrea said calmly. She seemed pleased to showcase her command of Latin. “It’s commonly called Devil’s Club.”

                  I stared at my work-glove covered hand full of prickly spines. Some had penetrated into my skin.

                  Many other swear words came to mind, but I decided to take the high ground with Andrea. She wasn’t the swearing type in the office, and probably wasn’t out here.

                  “Well, I can understand why it’s called that. I thought it was some kind of big maple sapling. I didn’t see the spines.”


                  I continued to slog through more Amazon-jungle-like vegetation until I saw a couple of upright pieces of milled lumber.

                  “Those aren’t natural,” I said. “They look like posts of an old cabin.”

                  Andrea did not respond audibly, so I approached the uprights and could see two small horizontal logs on the ground on either side of a gap, the threshold of a long-vanished door.

                  “Yup, this is the cabin I’m supposed to evaluate, and this is the front.”

                  I could see an outline of the cabin’s perimeter fairly easily because the logs were still in place, but found no floorboards. Either the cabin had had no floor or the boards had been scavenged, along with the door, walls, windows, and roof. Cautiously, I stepped inside, avoiding anything made of rusty metal like tin cans, tools, or nails. My last tetanus shot had been at least five years earlier.

                  “This cabin’s nothing much because there’s not enough left to tell a story,” I said.

                  Andrea nodded and may have said “Uh-huh.” She took pictures of the area and I asked her to photograph the cabin remains.

                  “Sure,” she said. “I’m relieved the ruin isn’t going to slow down our environmental assessment for the new logging project.”

                  “Shouldn’t,” I answered. “There’s a record of who built the cabin but the homesteader left in the 30s.”

                  I drew the ruin , walked around it several times, and walked out in several directions looking for paths, an outhouse, other structures, or artifacts on the ground, finding nothing.

                  “If this were on the Slope,” I said, “the landscape would be easier to read. There’s probably stuff on the ground, but I can’t see it.”

                  I thought I heard a twig or two snapping and the wind blowing through the trees. The sounds of the forest made me jittery, and I stared into the dense woods, trying to discern anything out of the ordinary, but my gaze met only with trees, trees, and more trees. There had to be a bear lurking nearby. I knew it.

                  “We can walk to our pickup point along the beach if you like,” Andrea said. I thought she might have picked up on my nervousness.

                  When we broke through the forest and brush to the beach, we sat down to have lunch and stared west across the cove. I had to admit the setting was serene with the forests of Admiralty and Chichagof islands, and the waves gently rolling into the cove.

                  Because we’d finished our tasks and had a couple of hours to wait for the floatplane, we walked back slowly to our pickup point while chatting. Andrea was divorced, had a daughter in college, and hated birds. I was working on my PhD in anthropology, had no kids, and was married—not the most thrilling discussion. We sat down at the north entrance to the cove and waited for Derek.

                  Unexpectedly, a barge on Chatham Strait appeared from the south and turned into the cove. We looked at each other in surprise.

                  “What the . . . ?” I asked softly.

                  “I don’t know,” Andrea said.

                  The barge sailed past us toward the drainage where I’d dug the test pit. As we watched transfixed, the barge dropped a gangway. Several large steamrollers drove out of the barge and onto the beach, moved inland crushing the forest, and leaving a wide swath of destruction. The ground shook like an earth tremor.

                  “Holy shit,” I said, Andrea’s reluctance to swear notwithstanding. “That’s something you don’t see every day.”

                  “It’s like D-day, or something,” she said.

                  The sounds of trees cracking filled the air.

                  A second barge appeared in the cove, pulled up next to the first one, and began offloading dump trucks, a few all-terrain vehicles, and, finally, three pre-fab houses on huge flatbeds. An invasion had begun.

                  “Holy shit,” I said a second time.

                  “Holy shit,” Andrea agreed.

                  No one saw us sitting on the beach. No one got out to look around the area, or even take a pee; all of them were headed inland. We heard a few voices carry, but could not make out any words; there was laughter, too. I thought I saw smoke rising from a cigarette.

                  They don’t give a shit about the trees or anything, I thought.

                  “I guess we don’t have to write our report up,” Andrea said, frustration and dismay in her voice. “They didn’t bother to wait, did they?"

                  The racket continued throughout the rest of the afternoon. The sounds reminded me of antediluvian contests among dinosaurs. I expected to hear loud screeching, and see a T-rex race to the beach pursuing some poor smaller creature. Any bear in the area was most likely swimming to Chichagof or Baranof Island by now.


                  Derek arrived on time, first flying over the barges and tipping his wing, presumably to take a look at the activity. He headed toward us, landed, and drifted to shore.

                  “Holy shit. That’s something you don’t see every day,” he said using the same words I’d spoken not long before. “Must be setting up a logging operation or something.”

                  The loggers, or whoever they were, apparently didn’t spot Derek on his way in or on our way out. They were oblivious.

                  During its heyday, in the late 80s and early 90s, Cube Cove reached a population high of 152 people. By 2000, the number of inhabitants fell to 72, but the census still recorded 25 households, 48 percent of which had children under the age of 18. There was a school, a post office, even a taxi service. 98 percent of the people were white, 2 percent Native. I remember the town occupying a full page in the southeast Alaska telephone book. By 2002, logging operations ceased and the school closed. Cube Cove was later abandoned.

                  The location is as uninhabited now as it was the day before it came into existence in May, 1984. I’d like to fly over Cube Cove today to see if any long-lasting damage to the forest can be seen, and I wonder if the company ever got its permit.

This is not my first daypack. I bought it in 2010 because it looks like my first daypack. It's yellow and has one pocket attached to the back. I bought this one in Target to fly out to St. Lawrence Island. The second time we flew out that year was in December--the subject of another story!


posted November 2017

            When I first went to Alaska in 1977 as an archaeologist, I brought only one backpack filled with clothing and supplies. That was it. The instructions in my employment letter gave a long equipment list but no clue how to squeeze so many items into one space.

            My only experience with hiking had been with the Girl Scouts when I was ten, and all I had left from that experience was my mess kit. But living in D.C. fifteen years later, I had an advantage—there was an Eddie Bauer within walking distance of my apartment. I knew I had to ask them to outfit me for Alaska. Otherwise, I would have no clue.

            Eddie Bauer did its best.

            “Just one backpack? And you gotta leave room for a sleeping bag and a tent?” the salesman asked.

            “Uh huh,” I said.

            “That’s gonna be pretty damned hard, but let’s see what we can do.”

            Two hours later, I walked out with a backpack, a pair of long johns, two pairs light cotton pants, an extremely light set of rain gear, a Buck knife, a pair of sneakers for wearing around camp, and Sorel boots with shoepacks. I’d take the sweater my parents had brought me from Denmark, a couple of plaid shirts, my mess kit, a carton of cigarettes, and a lighter.


* * * *

            When I arrived in Fairbanks the following week with forty other archaeologists, our gear was inspected and many of us were found woefully unprepared. Plans had changed since I’d been hired, allowing people to bring more things with them, but a few of us hadn’t gotten the memo.           

            Because many of us had little, we caravanned from our dorm on the U of Alaska campus to downtown Fairbanks, a place reminding me of Dog Patch with its run-down buildings and trash-strewn yards.

            Big Ray’s Army/Navy, the Mecca for work clothes in Interior Alaska and the Bush, had rifles, knives, bug dope, hanks of rope, work gloves, sleeping bags—everything. At the suggestion of better-prepared colleagues, I bought two flannel shirts, two pairs of jeans, an untold number of socks, a few bandannas, a bungee cord, and my first daypack.

            I had never heard of a daypack.

            “You put in it what you need for the day,” Brian said, “It’s that simple. You don’t want to carry a big backpack around, do you?

            “Uh, no,” I said.

            “Hey, let me help you,” a woman named Kathy, with a very pronounced New York accent, said.

            I looked at her quizzically.

            As if reading my mind, she said, “I come from Manhattan, but I moved here a few years ago. Never have lost the accent.”

            “I’m from Westchester County,” I said, eager to make a friend, a fellow New Yorker at that.

            I thought she was looking at me in disdain, as if I might know less than nothing, but said, “See, here’s some. Look at these. Pick something sturdy but not too big. You’re new up here and the last think you want is some big-ass pack that can hold twenty plus pounds, so keep it small.”

            “Okay. How’s this one?” I said, grabbing for one of the hundreds available.

            “It’s great—small, simple, and yellow. You won’t get lost carrying this around.”

            Perhaps she thinks I’m simple, too, I thought, but pushed that idea away immediately.

            My bright yellow pack had one main compartment and a handy zippered pocket on the back with nicely padded adjustable shoulder straps. It cost less than ten dollars in 1977, and not being the best quality, probably would cost about fifteen dollars in 2017.

            I thanked Kathy profusely, and then went to search for bear whistles with some of the other tenderfeet.

                                                * * * * * *

            Once we flew north to Umiat, then out into the tundra north of the Brooks Range, our crew gathered for the first time to spend a day looking for archaeological sites. Kathy signed up for a different crew, and I missed her, but there were people here, on the Howard Pass crew, who looked friendly, and some who even had experience in remote Alaska.

            I appreciated my daypack’s small size when I learned what all could get stuffed into it: rain gear, spare socks, heavy stakes for marking archaeological sites, metal site markers to be wound around the stakes, a fire starter, ten-meter tape, note book, flagging tape, trowel, file, map, canteen full of water, space blanket, extra pencils, my knife, and bug dope. I also squeezed in my sweater.

            And then there was lunch I didn’t think I could fit another bloody thing in my pack, but I wanted to eat, so my survey party for the day—Brian and Teresa— rummaged through the food cache, gathering pilot bread, cheese, peanut butter, jelly, and a load of breakfast bars. Tom and Helen wisely filled a couple of sandwich bags with peanut M & M’s and Snickers bars to add to our banquet.

            I hoisted my daypack on my shoulders. Not too bad, I thought, lighting a cigarette. The cigarettes were an unhealthy indulgence, but the lighter could be justified for coming in handy as a fire starter if needed, or to keep the end of a cord from fraying.

            Someone had to carry the fifty-meter tape and the shotgun. I quickly volunteered for the tape, not wanting anything to do with the shotgun, a huge thundering thing. I had always had a phobia of loud noise, and practice firing the gun back in Fairbanks had been traumatic. Brian slung the shotgun over his right shoulder with no comment. I was a tenderfoot, and Teresa, his wife, was a tiny person, less than five feet tall. Tom’s choice to shoulder the shotgun seemed logical.

            That day, my first day out, the two of the veteran Alaskans looked after me, making sure I wore my wool cap at all times and didn’t lag behind. Despite the unseen presence of wolverines and grizzly bears, I knew they’d keep me safe, or as safe as possible.

* * * * * *

            I loved my daypack. I emblazoned my initials on it with black magic marker one evening our first week out. Because it was so cheap, it began to fall apart almost immediately.

            “It’ll be fine,” Ron said one day over dinner.” Just put some duct tape on it where it’s wearing thin.”

            “You can sew the seams up with dental floss, too,” Malcolm said.

            “Up here, anything can be fixed with dental floss and duct tape,” Helen offered.

            Soon, my daypack had a protective silver layer of duct tape across the bottom and the yellow shoulder pads were reinforced with dental floss where the original black thread had pulled out.

            Often, I would use the pack as a pillow in my tent while reading, or during our lunch breaks in the middle of nowhere. Sometimes, I’d prop my feet up on it like a piece of furniture.

            My yellow companion lasted three summers. After the zippers jammed so the contents routinely spilled out, I shit-canned it when I got back to grad school in the fall.

            I don’t remember my second daypack. Only the first. I can see the bilious shade of yellow to this day. It saw as much wear as I did those first few years in Alaska.


The Bear Went Over the Mountain (1979)

            All seemed right with the world. The five of us—Mr. Mike, Pete, Susan, Tim, and I—were enjoying a lazy morning at the Lisburne site The terrace the site occupied overlooked Iteriak Creek, and the Brooks Range loomed to the south. The peaks always drew my attention. They looked mystical, the fog shrouding their lower slopes made the peaks appear to float.

            A southern breeze kept the bugs at bay and the sky shone a deep cerulean blue—not a cloud on the horizon. Plopped into the vast tundra setting, our bright red tents and vivid yellow tarp connecting them made the tundra look like a carnival had come to town.

            We were oblivious to our intrusion on the landscape as we dutifully excavated our squares along the southeastern boundary of the site. We had to dig carefully, but the end of the field season was approaching and this would be our last year at Lisburne. There was a sense of urgency to finish up.

            It felt like autumn with the mosquitoes gone. The tundra had turned bright red in places. The low bushes dotting the margin of the creek looked decidedly fall-like as well. Ice had begun to form along the edges of nearby small ponds. No longer could I trudge over to the excavation in a flannel shirt without slipping my red down jacket on top of it.

            I had found a tedious number of nondescript flakes in my square that Mike and Pete made me locate individually on a map in my notebook. The entries ran something like this:

                        “Square 76S/85E. Flake # 209, 14 cm BS (below the surface),

                        76.34 S, 85.09E. Gray chalcedony, no wear or use-retouch.”


            Mike came over with his clipboard and asked, “Any artichokes?” That was his clever way of asking if I’d found any artifacts worth photographing.

            “No,” I said, “just flakes. 209 so far,” I said glumly.

            “Well, pardner, okey dokey, let’s see what Tim has,” Mike said as he leaned over to look in Tim’s square, adjacent to mine.

            “Any artichokes, Tim?”

            “Nah, just a retouched flake. Looks like it was worked, then used as a knife, maybe,” Tim answered, handing the flake up to Mike.

            “It’s not that exciting, but at least it’s something.”

            “Uh huh,” Tim said, lighting a cigarette and offering one to me.

            Mike next visited Pete’s and Susan’s squares, wrote down the number of flakes in their squares, and retreated to the cook tent, probably to tally the morning’s finds and finish his morning coffee. He was back out in a few minutes, trowel in hand.

            “Okay, boys and girls. Let’s see what the master can find in square south 78, east 80. There’s sure to be good stuff here, a complete Clovis point at least.”

            “Yeah,” Pete said. “Remember Dr. Dale’s green Clovis point last year? The one we all ran over to look at, collapsing the sides of squares as we went?”

            “Sure,” said Tim. “No use drawing site profiles—we crushed them when we rushed over to see Dale’s point.”

            “None of that now, friends. Let’s get serious,” Mr. Mike said solemnly. “Think I’ll make chili tonight . . .”

            His voice trailed off as the five of us concentrated on our pits.

            I imagined myself the first archaeologist to find a Neanderthal bone. Mike was probably sorting out the early prehistory of the North Slope in his head. Tim, as usual, was a mystery. I never knew what he was thinking. I imagined Pete and Susan were wondering when they could sneak back into their tent for some afternoon delight.

            Out of the blue, Tim, in his quiet, tiptoe voice, said “Jesus fucking Christ.”

            Thinking he had found something phenomenal, I looked over. But, Tim wasn’t looking into his square; he stared straight ahead, mouth gaping, eyes wide.

            In front of him—in front of us—was a huge fucking grizzly. The bear was so close, I could see the whites of his eyes and the flare of his nostrils. His head took up most of my field of vision. I could have reached out and touched his nose.

            I would have said, “nice bear.”

            Instead, I screamed, “Holy fuck!” at the top of my lungs.

            At the sound of my voice, the bear stopped and stood up.

            Tim and I also stood up, dropping our cigarettes. I fought the urge to run, knowing who would win the race.

            Pete, Susan, and Mike immediately stuck their heads out of their squares, then jumped up like Jacks-in-the-box. My heart pounded in my chest.

            The bear swayed back and forth, looking in our direction and sniffing the air.

            “Get over here with me, all of you, and wave your arms. We’re one big creature and we’re going to make a lot of noise and scare the shit out of the bear.”

            “Where’s the shotgun?” Susan asked.

            “Fuck me, it’s back in the cook tent along with the rifle and the revolver,” Mike said, yelling in the direction of the bear, who continued to sniff the air.

            “Shit,” Pete yelled.

            We kept yelling. The bear backed off a few feet, but kept his eye on us. Because bears don’t see well, Mike’s plan of making us look like a giant creature seemed to work.

            The bear continued to sniff the air. Jesus, he was big. The claws alone were probably five inches long, and the teeth? I didn’t look. The bear made not a sound but got down on all fours and gradually retreated. We continued to yell. When he got to the bottom of the bluff, the bear turned toward the creek and then casually crossed to the far side.

            “No more work today, boys and girls. We’re on bear watch,” Mike said, almost hoarse from yelling.

            We walked slowly to the cook tent, never once taking our eyes off the grizzly. With our arsenal handy, we walked to the western edge of the bluff and watched the bear as he pawed the tundra looking for ground squirrels. He flipped one in the air, caught it with a paw, broke its neck, and ripped it apart.

            Tim grabbed my hand and kissed the top of my head reassuringly.

            I wanted to pee, but decided I’d better hold it while the bear was still in sight.

            “That was something,” Pete said. “I’ve never been that close to a fuckin’ bear.”

            “And you know I haven’t,” I said. “I’m the newbie here.”

            “How the fuck did we end up at one end of the site with no firepower and all our guns at the other end?” Susan demanded.

            “I thought you guys had the shotgun,” Mike said sheepishly.

            “Well, we didn’t, did we?” Pete said.

            “Next time, we’ll be prepared,” Mike said. I sensed a joke coming on. “First, we’ll fire the shotgun at the bastard. If we miss and the bear gets closer, we’ll fire the rifle, right in his eye. If we miss again, we’ll shoot each other with the revolver so we won’t suffer.”

            Our guffaws and laughter could have been heard clear over in the next valley, if there had been anyone there to hear us. We rolled around in the scrub until covered with dirt, holding our stomachs to contain the laughter, the cleanliness of our recent showers at Betty Lake camp a memory. Mike had broken the tension with his stupid joke.

            We resumed bear watch. The bear, having had his fill of ground squirrels, continued waddling off to the north. He approached a notch in the hill to the west and disappeared.

            We continued to watch where he’d been and checked the surrounding landscape for any other large predatory fauna while Mr. Mike started dinner.


           TRUST YOUR EQUIPMENT (1977)

            When I first arrived in Fairbanks, everything scared me. This new world represented the unknown, and I did not know a soul. Why had I applied for a job as a field archaeologist in remote Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, when I had never been west of Pittsburgh, and had never even held a trowel? Even more perplexing, why had I been hired, because I had a Master’s?

            Just because I have a degree won’t mean shit up here, I thought. I am in over my head and I am going to die up in the tundra.

            I felt out of place, a fish out of water, an idiot. I had only the bare minimum of clothes with me, and would have to rely on the charity of others if the going got rough, which knew it would listening to the others swap tales of past wilderness experiences. Thank god I’d brought my Girl Scout mess kit with me and had purchased a Buck knife the week before leaving DC.

            I was joining a group of thirty or so archaeologists, each with more wilderness experience than I had. I could tell by their well-worn clothes—L.L.Bean, Eddie Bauer, REI, North Face, and many brands I’d never heard off before.

            How the hell was I going to get through the summer, and would I be accepted?

            One of my friends back east had said to me, “You can stand anything for three months.” I now wondered if that was a load of BS.

            During our week of training, I learned lots of neat stuff about lichens and mosses, how to light a Primus stove, that any white berry is poisonous, and other essentials of the frozen north. We spent our last two days at Fort Wainwright in “Arctic survival school.” I did not like the sound of those words.

            We were driven to a remote part of the Post where our task was to rappel down a cliff.  I heard Harvey, one of the crew chiefs, ask a soldier, “Why are we rappelling down a cliff? There are no cliffs where we’re going!” He responded the cliff descent was part of the overall training, so we had to.

            My nerves started to get the better of me. Rappel down a cliff? Me? I had never climbed up a fence and down the other side before. I hung back toward the rear of our group trying to appear inconspicuous, even nonchalant, but listening intently to a soldier describe how to handle the rope:

            “We’ll give you leather gloves so you won’t skin your hands. Keep one hand in front of your harness and position the other hand at your butt. Keep that hand in a fist and kind of‘ sit on it. You’ll climb up there,” he said, indicating the top of the cliff with his chin, “we’ll harness you up, and you’ll push off. Got it?”

            Not really, I thought.

            Then I heard something amazing. Harvey decided not to launch himself into space even if it made him look chicken.

            “I’m not great with heights. I don’t feel safe doing this. So, I’m not doing it,” he said.

            Every woman within earshot as it turned out, including me, decided we wanted to be on Harvey’s crew because he was careful. He’d keep us safe.

            I had to face the cliff, however.  I had to prove myself, being the city slicker plucked from a future career in editing and proofreading in DC, and plopped down in the Arctic as a fledgling archaeologist. 

            I dutifully followed the others up the rock face. The cliff resembled photos I’d seen of El Capitan in Yosemite; I did not look down when I reached the top, panting. One of the soldiers had hooked Lynn up to a harness. He told her to lean back and push off. My anxiety increased, my hands sweaty. Timidly, she pushed her feet off the cliff face and started her descent. I couldn’t look.

            With Lynn safely down, I was motioned forward, hooked up to the harness, and handed a pair of gloves. “Sit back. Sit on your hand and lean back. Don’t worry—we do this all the time.  We’ve got you up here and down below.”  I was terror-stricken and am sure I showed it. He looked me square in the eye and said to me something I will never forget: “Trust your equipment.”   

            His words had a calming effect as much as did his self-assurance. I leaned farther back and pushed off into space.  Exhilaration! I had never done this before, and I had never even dreamt of such a thing.  My flight was an amazing descent, except pushing away with unequal weight on my feet took me at a diagonal rather than straight down.  But, the guys on the ground had it under control. They talked me back into the middle of the rock face and soon I was on solid ground and oh, so proud.

            It was if I’d completed my first moon landing.

            “Trust your equipment,” became a phrase I have conjured up many times over the years. Sometimes the challenge is physical, like the cliff face, but sometimes intellectual or emotional as well. Who remembers their dissertation defense and is not a deer caught in the headlights? Who doesn’t dread going into a hospital room to see a dying loved one and not need to screw up their courage?

            I have been afraid of bullies, of going to the dentist, and especially of asking for help. When I get the jitters, I think of that phrase and how I pushed back into thin air—but now the equipment is me, and I trust myself.



            Ground squirrels are the northern version of the prairie dog—they sit up on their haunches with their cute little paws held in front of them and sniff the breeze with their cute little whiskers before disappearing into their hidey-holes. Sometimes they twitch their little tails and make an adorable squeaking sound that has given them the name sik-sik by the Eskimo.

            They hang around camp and, at first, are shy and curious. After a few days of smelling canned bacon and that old standby, mac and cheese made with powdered milk and Tillamook extra-sharp cheddar, they become a tad bolder. Pretty soon, when it’s your turn to make breakfast, you hear a quiet rustling near the side flap of the cook tent.

            One day, there’s a hole in a box of oatmeal and a little pile of ground squirrel turds on the stack of freeze-dried food cartons you use as a seat. It’s at this point they cease being cute. You stand up and begin to swear as the backside of the newly -fat waddling rodent retreats into the wilderness.

            Finally, someone vows to do something. In August 1979, Mr. Mike had had enough. We were camped adjacent to the Killik River, excavating an archaeological site that actually had a few centimeters’ depth, a rarity on the North Slope. Our family of sik-siks had become emboldened, but eating into a garbage bag and littering our camp with coffee grounds and chewed paper towels reeking of bacon grease was the last straw.

            Mr. Mike is a bone fide, genuine, Arctic he-man with forearms the size of small trees and a reddish beard so masculine I would become lightheaded when he lumbered over to see what artifacts I might have found in my square.

            He also liked to shoot things. It was something he did that perpetuated his Arctic he-man mystique. He once even shot my pocket watch, but that’s a story for another day. Bear, caribou, wolverine, ptarmigan, ducks, and fox fled when he cocked the trigger on his rifle.

            That day, a ground squirrel had left a trail of saltine crumbs beginning on the plywood board that was our dining table and continued on the ground and out the front tent flap. Mike muttered words to the effect that the next crumb would be its last. He stormed over to the supply tent and grabbed the nearest firearm available—a 30-06 shotgun. It was loaded with shot, or at least I think it was. It could well have been slugs.

            I was smoking a cigarette outside in the warm sunshine when I heard him pump the weapon, and then KA-BLAMMMM!

            “Jesus Christ,” I muttered. Susan and Pete peered out of their tent, rather like ground squirrels themselves. Down by the creek, Tim zipped up the fly on his Carhartts, and practically flew up the hill.

            “That’ll fix the little bastard,” Mike said as he wiped the sweat from his brow with his bandanna as if he had just exerted himself greatly.

            The five of us were now looking into the distance for signs of the sik-sik. Had he hit it? Where did it go? Where was the corpse?

            Then we heard the sound of rain falling gently on the breezeway between the cook tent and the supply tent.

            “Huh?” Pete said, confused.

            The sky rained sik-sik parts. Mike had pulverized the little critter, who had been at ground zero. The parts flew up into the air, and now they were being carried back to earth on a gentle breeze.

            The carnage was gross with the red sik-sik bits gently hitting the billowing yellow breezeway. One bit was large enough that part of a paw could be identified. The small particles began sliding down toward the edge of the tarp and drip on the ground.

            Pete took matters into his own hands. In an instance of vigilante justice, he grabbed a roll of slightly chewed paper towels and thrust them toward Mike while yanking the shotgun away.

            “You dumb shit, what made you think you kill a sik-sik with a slug? A moment of silence for the sik-sik that didn’t know what the fuck hit him.”

            Mike shrugged his shoulders and muttered something about not having to worry about goddamned ground squirrels again. None of the sik-siks would dare enter our camp again.

            As he wiped the offal from the flyway, his mind drifted, I suppose, to his camp at Grayling Lake. He would spend September there and kill many critters to fill his larder for the winter. He smiled, and then started to whistle.


Fashion Show in Umiat

            Now that the summer was more than half over and most of us had gotten our bearings and kept or found our sense of humor, someone in Umiat, perhaps Linda or soon-to-be Reverend John joked one night around the supper table that it would be great fun to have a fashion show.

            "A fashion show?" asked Leslie, "Why in God's name would we have a fashion show here, and what in Hell would we wear?"

            “Well, it’s the middle of the summer. We’re all callow sophisticates now and we could use something completely different to liven things up,” Lucy said, batting her eyelashes.

            “And now for something completely different! A fashion show in Umiat!” I said, imitating John Cleese’s British accent as best I could.

            "That could be interesting," Debbie said, "Look at all the different brands of raingear we have up here, all the unique clothing and accessories. We could have a contest for who's wearing the dirtiest, most raggedy flannel shirt, or whose baseball cap has the best phrase on it."

            "I've always liked Peterbilt myself," I added, reflecting on Ray's bright red cap bearing that brand. A glimpse at Ray's cap generally made me somewhat horny, although not for Ray, just horny in general.  

            After a spirited and intense bullshit session, a plan emerged.

            “We’ll host it in our tent tomorrow night,” Ken said.

            “Thank you, Ikpikpuk crew! Mighty nice of you all,” Lucy said.

            “Let’s have live music, of course. That’s you, Sam, and John,” Debbie ordered.

            “Whoever has any marijuana or hash left, they can donate it to the cause,” Ross said, an almost buzzed-out smile appearing on his face.

            “GSI has booze,” Ken obserbed.

            “And Georgeie and John, because you’re in the band and you’re judges, you can’t participate in the fashon show,” Leslie said.

            I feigned tears, “Boo hoo.”

            “Now, it’s up to each crew to come up with an outfit from all the clothes and other crap we have around Umiat, so let’s get going huddle in our respective tents to plan the best and most diabolical get-ups and beat out the other bastards for first prize,” said John, a devious and crooked smile crossing his face.

            We trooped back towards our tent camp causing quite a clamor as we talked over each other in excitement and anticipation. Jay, driving toward the Hilton in a beat-up Jeep, slowed down long enough as he approached us to put his index finger to his lips and mouth “shush.” He then saluted us and stepped on the gas. The Jeep backfired several times as it picked up speed.           


            My creative juices were flowing. I would throw my energies that evening into making a costume for Lucy that would win first prize. Before she and Sam disappeared into one of the many abandoned Quonset huts for the night, I told her I needed her baseball cap.

            “I’m going to make you famous tonight.”

            "You’re not going to embarrass me, are you?" she asked in her drawl.

            "Oh, no, I wouldn't dream of it!"

            She eyed me with suspicion, then handed me her cap.

            "Well, you want to win, don't you?" I asked.

            "Okay, she said, just do it," she said, walking out of the Howard Pass tent and in the direction of the Lookout Ridge tent to find Sam.

            I knew what I needed. I went to the supply box in our tent and found some Elmer's glue and a cardboard box of Pic mosquito coils. I took one of the green, flat, circular Pics from the box and stuck it through a metal holder, then glued then glued the Pic and its holder to Lucy's cap, like a beanie with a rotor on top.

            Howard Pass would win the fashion show when I lit the Pic as she walked into the tent and paraded herself down the makeshift runway made of cast-off rubber car mats.  

            What else could I add?

            While we all had raingear, Lucy was the only one of us who brought chaps instead of rain pants. The red chaps would be fetching with nothing underneath them and would clinch first prize for sure. I grabbed them out of Lucy’s daypack, held them up, and realized she’d never go bare-assed. Then I remembered the pair of lacy black panties I’d brought with me just in case . . .

            In the supply box, there was a laundry bag of communal spare clothes the crew contributed to in case some of our clothes got trashed in the field. I dug my panties out of the bag and threw them on Lucy’s costume pile. I added Kelly's wonderful bright red long-sleeved turtleneck shirt that I had borrowed, and a black bra. None of us had worn bras in the field, but someone (probably Kelly) had brought one and left it at base camp.

            "Okay, this is it," I thought, rubbing my hands together as if I were plotting something of great importance— beanie with rotary Pic, chaps, panties, red red turtleneck, black bra on the outside. What about her feet? Tossed in the back of the tent was yet another Kelly indulgence, her Dr. Scholl's sandals.

            "We win!" I cried, jumping up and down, as if I were on a trampoline. The tent floor shook in exhilaration.


            I walked outside sometime after midnight to brush my teeth and found myself staring at the western horizon. Various conversations could be heard drifting out of the tents, but it was mostly quiet. The sun now dipped noticeably further with each passing day. Soon, there would be a few minutes of twilight, and later, a little darkness.

            Oh, my God. I’m casting a shadow!

            A feeling of sadness swept over me. I’d have to leave soon.


            The fashion show loomed large in the following day’s preparations. Of course, I had already completed my wonderful costume for Lucy.

            When she saw it, Lucy said, “You expect me to prance around in this get-up like a tart? People will laugh at me!”

            “Oh, no they won’t. They’ll think you’re hot. It’ll be fun. Try it on!”

            “Okay, let’s see.”

            Lucy wiggled out of her clothes and donned my magnus opus tentatively, one piece at a time. She looked at me for reassurance. Grabbing her baseball cap with the Pic and putting it on her head, she said, “How do I look?”

            “You know the Pic will win us our prize once I light it.”

            “George, I do believe you’re right. I like it! Even the black panties and bra. I’ll strut my stuff and we’ll win.”           


            When the hour came, we piled into the lookout Ridge tent with the exception of the four contestants. Whistles and catcalls began immediately.

            Linda the supply clerk, one of the judges, yelled: “Representing Howard Pass, we have Miss Lucy!

            The plywood door opened. Lucy stepped regally onto the runway made of cast off rubber mats and walked down the center of the tent. The air hung thick with marijuana.

            “Wow, she’s hot!” someone yelled.

            “Oh, baby!” came another catcall.

            “Give me your Pic!” came from the far corner.

            “Hey, blondie, I’d like to get in your chaps,” yelled a drunk GSI CAT-train driver.

            Lucy responded to the hoots and hollers by shimmying her breasts and leaning back, limbo-syle. I had never witnessed her so wild and unbound. My guess is that she’d had quite a session with Tim earlier in the day.

            Lookout Ridge was called next. Debbie’s flagging tape streamers, glued onto a hard hat provided by GSI, fluttered behind her as she walked down the runway in a full set of raingear. On the back of her rain jacket Ken had written “Dig we must.” She also carried a purse improvised from empy freeze-dried Beef Stroganoff bags.

            She got catcalls too, many referencing her butt.

            “Now I know why they call you Butterbutt! Bring it over here, baby!”

            “Shake it, don’t break it!”           

            Colville River, the third entry, featured Leslie wearing a colander from the Umiat Hilton decorated with a few valuable condoms still in their wrappers. Her bright orange survey vest bulged with various items stuffed into the dozens of tiny pockets—a plumb bob, ruler, pencils, a Silva compasss, and other essentials that I could not see from the back row while tuning my guitar.

            “Bring me a few of those condoms, girl!”

            “You’re gonna need ‘em!”

            Ikpikpuk entered last. Mike’s Bean boots were completely covered by silver duct tape. They no longer leaked and Mike said he was happy because of it. He also sported tampon fish-lures on his baseball cap.

            “Boo, get off the stage!”

            “We want the women!”           

            Miraculously for us, Howard Pass won on the basis of the black panties and the Pic that billowed smoke from Lucy’s head. Ikpikpuk came in last because their contestant was not a woman. They sulked at first because they lost, but were awarded Miss Congeniality for hosting the show and making us all comfy, high, and happy. The band dedicated its first song, Rock Around the Clock, to them.

            The party broke up around two a.m., or more truthfully put, all partiers were kicked out of Lookout Ridge’s tent to get some sleep before the short night ended with our flights back out to the field after breakfast.


News of the fashion show traveled fast. By the time of my next rotation, everyone on the project knew about it and the event became the subject of gossip and retelling, details changing slightly each time the tale was told. Lurid descriptions of the experience soon escaped Umiat in the form of letters home to many parts of Alaska and to the Lower 48 as well.

Posted 1 June 2017

Experienced third hand July 1977





The chopper arrived at the Howard Pass camp bringing Ron and Kelly back from Umiat, while Toni prepared herself for her sojourn to our wonderful base camp.

“I’m so excited! Destroilets and real food! I haven’t been back to Umiat in awhile,” she gushed, jumping up and down.

But before taking her to Umiat, Al ferried Tom, Helen and I to the northern side of Disappointment Creek near Kavaksurak Mountain. I snapped three photos of a large caribou fence from about 1,000 feet up. As Al started to set us down next to the creek, we felt something pull sharply at the chopper from below.

“What the fuck is that? Christ, is the engine screwing up?” Al yelled, tilting the helicopter to the left and the right.

“Oh, shit. There it is—a wolverine! Look at the size of that thing!” Tom yelled, pointing down to the left skid.

We had surprised the hefty animal in a patch of grass and alders. I had never seen one before except in a picture at one of our training sessions in Fairbanks, but the reactions of my comrades signaled that a wolverine was something nasty.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” Helen screamed over the sound of the rotors.

“Wow, I’ve never seen one this close,” Tom shouted. I heard the strain in his voice.

“I can’t see it! Move your god damned head, Tom,” I yelled into the melee.

Aggressive and vicious, the largest creature in the badger family, the animal’s claws and teeth clamped on to a skid as Al attempted to land. Only by rocking the chopper back and forth did the creature let go, even momentarily. As the chopper pitched to the left and the whine of the rotors changed, I saw the wolverine and gasped. Its brown striped face and thick, gorgeous brown and tan fur glistened in the sun as it twisted its body to keep itself attached to the chopper.

“Look at those fangs and claws! Look how white those teeth are,” I said for some reason. The teeth and claws could have been green; what would it have mattered?

“This isn’t good! That thing could make us lose our balance and crash,” Al yelled.

I grew quiet, feeling the seriousness of the situation.

“It could bite your leg hamstringing you, and then, bye, bye, George!” Tom yelled back to me.

Al hovered over the wolverine, but with each attempt to shake it off and scare it away, the animal renewed its grasp of the skid. Okay, so the creature was only supposed to be the size of a dog and weigh seventy pounds, but its ferocity gave it the appearance of an unleashed underworld monster intent on crippling the helicopter and eating us for breakfast.

After five attempts to land with at least two successful latching-ons and tugs by the animal, it ran off to the south.

That’s something I’ve never seen before,” Al said, sounding slightly calmer than five minutes earlier. “Okay, guys, I’ll fly you up north a mile or so and you can follow Disappointment Creek back to camp. But, if the bastard follows us, I’ll do my best to run it a fair distance away and then take you all back to camp.”

After a thorough scanning of the scrub, the mountains, and the creek as we slowly flew north, we landed. The four of us climbed down warily, stepped a few feet away from the helicopter in different directions and pee’d.

“I needed that,” Tom said.

“How ‘bout a smoke?” Al asked. He lit a Salem Light and offered the pack around. I finished mine in record time, my left hand still shaky. I’d never seen Helen smoke before, but it seemed the proper response to our situation.

“My pulse is still racing,” I said.

“Yeah, mine too,” Al said. “I’ve never even heard of this kind of thing happening before. I’ll grab the binocs and if I see any movement in the brush, hi ho, hi ho, it’s back to camp we go.”

“I’ve got our trusty shotgun,” Tom said, grabbing his gear from the chopper.

“Better you than me, an unworthy tenderfoot and southpaw. I’d be useless,” I said, trying to inject a little humor, “and, I’m still shaking.” I grabbed my daypack along with Helen’s.

“I could kill that son of a bitch, too,” Helen said. “No wolverine can get the best of me.”

“The kick from firing a shotgun set you back on your ass, my tiny wife.”

“Don’t you count on it,” she said with a confident smile on her face.

“I saved some of my comrades in ‘Nam,” Al said. “Really bad business, but I could take a wolverine out.”

I had nothing to add except, “I’m just grateful we’re here in one piece, all of us.”

When nerves had finally calmed and all seemed well again, we waved goodbye to Al, who took off for safety of Umiat, an outpost on the edge of civilization, but far closer to the civilization than we were.

“What I wouldn’t give for a tumbler of Scotch,” I said.

“George, tell you what. After dinner, come visit us in our tent. I have a flask half full of Chivas. Let’s do ‘er in tonight,” Tom said.

I could have kissed him.



Posted May 2017

Experienced July 1977 and never forgotten!

March 31 2017. Friends and Colleagues: I HAVE been busy, not just lazing during the oh-so-wonderful Portland OR winter. Below is the cover of my first volume about Tribal consultation. It's a how-to primer on successful consultation strategies with Tribal Nations. Learn the whys and how of meaningful interactions with Tribes based on mutual respect, cross-cultural communication, and understanding. It's intended for Tribal, Federal, State, local, and corporate employees who have been frustrated in the past by misunderstandings and delays in project execution. Also intended for those who are starting out in a consultation or mediation career. Broadly applies to other cross-cultural situations as well. Contains short section on pertinent laws and regulations. Easy to read bullet format.

Future volumes, also brief, include synopsis of historical Federal-Indian legislation, synopsis of pertinent cultural resources (historic preservation) laws and regs pertinent to Native Americans, and facts everyone should know about Tribes.

Find it on Amazon, print and kindle versions, $6.99, 24 pp. Please consider purchasing a copy and leaving a review. If your review is especially stinky, please let me know how I can improve.


March 15, 2017. So, my friends, I have been churning out stuff, from stories to how-to's, to my memoir. The memoir is about 2/3 edited. Christ Almighty, I love my writing class. As much as I would like to get the book out this year, there's about 100 pages left to edit, and then a rewrite. If I didn't like to travel so much and if I hadn't acquired the post-retirement habit of laziness, it would be done by now. BTW, on May 1, I'm going to Greece with Road Scholar. Will see many of the Greek Islands, including Crete. Can't wait. Am trying to get into shape NOW.

BTW, Donald Trump and his Merry Men get worse every day. xoxoxo. 

02 January 2017

Well, pooh. The site has been down for a couple of weeks due to a glitch on Yola's end, I think. I had intended to finish my report on the Balkans before I go on my next adventure, but that may not happen. On 10 January, I fly to Venice Italy (where it's as cold as it is here) and then to Lisbon three days later. It's in the 50s-60s there. Yippee! I've never been to Portugal, so am very excited. Old bud Nancy and I will explore Lisbon as much as my six-month old new knee will permit, and we'll also train up to Porto which it supposed to be just fab.

So, why have I been so quiet lately? I've been busy writing other stuff. I intend to finish my memoir about my first summer in Alaska, 1977, by my next birthday, 07 July. Why, because there's a bit in the memoir about my 26th birthday on the North Slope, and that will be 40 years ago on the 7th.  There's a version of the festivities posted on this website. Of course, I've edited it two or three more times since I posted it, but the piece retains all the excitement of that day.  Just to give you a glimpse into that best of birthdays, I received presents in the field, wrapped in comics from the Fairbanks News Miner, or as some would say the Fairbanks News Minus. My gifts were a small vial of Bonnie Belle lotion to wipe dirt off my face and cotton balls, a pack of Winston's, and two packets of instant cocoa. I had never felt so loved by friends before, and I haven't since. The feelings buoy my soul on a cold night like this.

The memoir has gone through two title changes: from Permafrost, to In the Field, to Cold Hands, Warm Hearts. The first title I thought sounded quite stern and ominous, plus it is the name of a journal at UAF. The second title, I was told, was undecipherable to the non-field scientist. So, I've hit upon the third one because it captures the cold temperatures and the warm feelings. It's a bit light, but not completely; kind of like Jean Shepherd's stories. You know him from A Christmas Story--"You'll shoot your eye out, kid!" I used to listen to him every night on WOR at ten pm. God, he was fun to listen to. He'd talk about Flick and Schwartz and Gruber and the Old Man, but also launch into highly dramatic travelogues. I remember one about the african veldt that was riveting with its drum music in the background.

Just so you know I haven't been fucking off completely, below is the most recent except of my memoir that will undergo scrutiny. It's almost half way through the short Arctic Alaskan summer of 1977.

Any comments? Let me know. 

Well, must continue editing now and think about packing. 

Happy New Year, everyone. We will survive Donald Trump.

Excerpt from Cold Hands, Warm Hearts

 Posted 02 January 2017

We forded two glacial streams–the Aniuk and the Etivluk—on our way out to the bluff. At both crossings, we took off our boots and multiple layers of socks, rolled up our jeans, waded across barefoot, and stopped on the far side to reassemble ourselves. The water felt warmer than I expected, but after the previous day's naked plunge into Kiingyak Lake, anything felt warmer.

Our routine usually allowed for a brief break to refill canteens and shoot the breeze after fording a stream. Consequently, we sat on a flat spot of alpine tundra next to the Etivluk, dried our feet with our socks, and broke out the chocolate supply. I grabbed a package of peanut M&Ms from my daypack and passed them around. Ron, a graduate student at Brown University, said he wasn’t sure what he was going to write for his dissertation or when he’d finish his Ph.D.

“I’m done with course work, thank God, and I’d like to write about one of the Eskimo sites we worked on during the pipeline a couple of years back. But the artifact collections are in Fairbanks, and I’m going back to Rhode Island. My major professor has the Onion Portage artifacts from the Kobuk River back at Brown, so I’ll probably do that instead. It’s a cool assemblage and parts of it are probably really old, like maybe 15,000 years old. Would be interesting,” he said, stroking his beard and looking thoughtfully into space while retying his bootlaces.

“I’ve got to finish my MA at the University of Georgia and decide what’s next for me,” Lucy said. “Get a PhD? Maybe. But right now, it’s ‘Finish that thesis.’” She touched a blue wildflower next to her absentmindedly.

“Well, you know Fitzsimmons at UConn is an Aleutian expert,” I began, “so I’ll probably write something up on his work on Umnak Island. Maybe he’ll even get me out there to dig next summer. But I’m really hoping he’ll send me to Siberia to excavate with his buddies in the USSR.”

“Now, George,” Ron admonished, “You’ve been warned! Fitzsimmons is a charmer and a task master and not above a little skullduggery, excuse the pun, and he may send you to Siberia for good.”

“It’s too late now,” I replied. “I’ve been accepted and even have some funding, but he scares me. He’s so famous.”

“You’ll be fine,” Lucy said encouragingly. She patted my hand.

Her confidence helped, but I still felt intimidated by the inevitability of working with the illustrious Uncle Mikey.

“If I survive the summer and learn some field archaeology, that will help,” I said. “I’ll have stories to tell, maybe not as many as Uncle Mikey, but they’ll be vivid. There aren’t any bears in the Aleutians, so no bear stories, but I’ll have some. A bear story or two will definitely help my reputation.”

“Be careful what you wish for . . . “ Lucy said.

We passed the rest of the day undisturbed by major discoveries on the bluff, only a couple of nondescript flake scatters. Our journey back to camp retraced our crossing of the Aniuk and the Etivluk, complete with a break for raisins and peanut butter cups, and shooting the shit about our futures.


The temperature pushed up into the sixties, still delightfully breezy and sunny, the following day. What a great day to move camp to Flora Creek where we’d find our next adventure. We ate a quick breakfast and packed up the food and most of our equipment, secure in the knowledge the Bell Ranger would come soon, bringing Malcolm and Toni back, and we’d be ready to move.

The usual hour for the chopper, some time between eight and ten, came and went. Ten turned to noon; noon turned to three in the afternoon. Fortunately, we left the tents until last and, with no helicopter whirr approaching from the northeast, saw no reason to strike them until we needed to.

I retreated to the solitude of my tent to continue reading The Source, starting the chapter on the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and their wandering across the known world. I contemplated the level of hatred shown by the Christian world toward Jews during this part of the story. Judaism was a part of my life because of my blended family. My stepfather’s traditions and customs, although somewhat different from those acquired during my first ten years of life, were now familiar and welcome.

The whine of the helicopter brought us out of our tents around four-thirty in the afternoon. Al cut the engine, set the chopper down, and soon, a jubilant Malcolm and Toni were back with us.

“Christ, I’m happy to be back!” Malcolm said, jumping down on the ground and rushing over to us. “We had engine trouble and a part had to be flown up from Fairbanks. There was no way to let you know. I am so sorry.”

“We got lunch in Umiat and I kept thinking about you all,” Toni said. “Waiting was horrible.”

“Waiting was horrible here, too, but we’re fine, now,” Kelly said, hugging Toni and then Malcolm.

“Me next,” I said, enveloping them in warm hugs.

After similar greetings were shared all around, Malcolm said, “Okay, let’s go. Time’s a wasting. Chop chop! Let’s not make Al miss dinner.”

We made a mad dash to strike our tents and flew over to the new camp. Al took off almost immediately to make up for lost time, taking Kelly and Ron with him.


Camp 6, Flora Creek

Because it was more or less the end of the workday, we pitched our tents and got all gear and food stowed beneath the now-tattered and peeling blue tarp.

“Let’s think about dinner. I’ve had enough excitement for one day,” Malcolm said.

“Yeah, me, too,” Tom said, bringing out his hash pipe. We stood in a circle next to the creek and soon, feeling no pain, our moods brightened considerably after the uncertainty of the day. Flora Creek gurgled along happily to its rendezvous with the Etivluk River. I expected to hear the tweet of a songbird in this peaceful setting of green tundra, blue sky, and white wispy clouds, but all I could hope for was the shriek of a surprised ptarmigan if my feet came too close to her nest.

“Lets dance the hora in celebration of the return of the chopper from of the sky, bringing our gods back to us," I said. Those who hadn’t learned the dance in high school gym class quickly got the hang of it. I whirled around in the joy and relief of being reunited with Malcolm. We danced in a circle as fast as we could, yelling Hava Nagila to any startled creatures lurking behind the low brush.

Not paying strict attention to where our feet were, Malcolm tripped on a rock. He landed, I thought, on his ass, but instead, he grabbed his ankle, his face scowling in pain.

“Oh, shit! What the fuck! I don’t think I can move it,” he yelled.

This was a bad situation—the helicopter had just taken off, not to return for two days. We had no way of contacting anyone; no radio to signal campers or hunters who might be only one or two valleys over; no way to signal a passing plane except with a mirror.

“Let me look at it. I’ve had a lot first aid training,” Toni said, assessing the situation with her eyes.

She took his boot and sock off very carefully. Malcolm winced. His right ankle swelled rapidly. Tears wetted his face and he groaned miserably. After a few minutes, I could not see the joint at all.

“Oh, my God,” I muttered.

We lifted Malcolm, carried him to the water’s edge, and put his foot in the water to relieve the swelling and pain.

“Oh, my God, it hurts,” Malcolm winced again. The creek water did little to soothe the ankle. The swelling continued.

“I’m not going to try to rotate the ankle yet,” Toni said. “Let’s wait until you’re more comfortable, Malcolm. Maybe we can determine if it’s broken or just badly sprained.

“I know it’s broken,” Malcolm said chewing his beard and looking down at his ankle in what I took to be disbelief and fright. Helen held his head in her lap and stroked his hair. We sat around him, watched and waited, and chatted a little. The sound of the creek burbling had a slightly soothing effect on us.

“Okay, Malcolm, let’s get you back to your tent. We’ll look after you and make you nice and comfy,” Toni said.

“I’ll unroll his sleeping bag and make sure that everything is okay in his tent,” Lucy added.

“I’ll help,” Helen said.

Tom and Toni slowly got Malcolm up. He draped his arms over their shoulders and hobbled over to his tent on one foot. I followed close behind, my eyes never leaving his swollen ankle and foot. Malcolm’s return from Umiat now seemed ages ago.

Please, God, don’t let him stumble and fall.

As one of many precautions, Malcolm had insisted our first aid kit contain painkillers. After reading the labels on the vials, Tom gave him two tablets, his main concern being Malcolm’s comfort. I handed Tom a Valium from my personal stash for Malcolm’s future use, and contributed my bottle of aspirin to the effort. Helen poured water into a Melmac cup and urged Malcolm to swallow the pain pills. After Malcolm swallowed the medicine, Lucy and Helen eased him down on his sleeping bag and propped the foot up on his daypack. I made him a pillow from his stuff sack filled with his down vest and a towel and gently brushed the bangs out of his eyes.

Toni examined the injury closely. “I don’t think it’s broken. I can move the ankle a little bit.” Each slight twist and tug caused Malcolm great discomfort.

“Ow! God!” he yelled.

“Sorry, Malcolm,” Toni said, “I’m trying to see how badly it’s sprained. You probably wrenched all the muscles in your ankle and some in your foot. You must have hit that rock really hard and twisted everything on the way down. It could be worse. You could have twisted your knee, too.”

“Oh, God, I’m in so much trouble! I get loaded and dance the hora. They’ll fire me.”

“Hush, now, Malcolm, and let me wrap your ankle in an ace bandage,” Toni said calmly.

I remembered the first aid training we ‘d been given in Fairbanks and was exceedingly grateful for it, but relieved Toni had more training than the rest of us.

Does anything unnerve her? Jesus, what a pro. I couldn’t do that, not in a million years.


a travelogue written in several sections

Section I: Montenegro and Croatia

Posted December 2016

"Go to the Balkans, you'll love it," one of my friends from the Silk Route tour said. It had not occurred to me to go there, but when it comes to travel, I'm always open to suggestions. "Well, Okay," I thought. "Could be fun."

As April 2016 grew nearer, I got more excited. The Road Scholar trip would take us from south to north, through five countries: Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Slovenia. As the tour progressed, I noticed incredible variations among the countries. First, while Montenegro in the south could be the French riviera, Slovenia in the north could be Austria. While some countries are predominantly Christian, Bosnia and Serbia have a strong Muslim presence. These religious differences are reflected in the architecture and, sadly, the cemeteries from the recent Balkan War. Each country has a different point of view when it comes to the 20+ year old War, although all remember it with horror.

On the other hand, there are many similarities--all countries are friendly and the food uniformly great, from octopus to schnitzel. Cats populate the entire area and are provided for you to pet and feed.


I arrived in Herzog Novi, Montenegro, at least eight hours late due to a thunderstorm at O'Hare that delayed me getting into Munich that delayed me catching a flight to Dubrovnik, etc, etc. In Munich, I was rerouted to Zagreb where I spent five or six hours waiting for the flight to Dubrovnik, finally reaching the hotel an hour's drive and a border crossing to the north. To my great surprise and relief, our assistant guide, Mona, had waited up and told me she had dinner in my room. I could have hugged her. 

The next morning, I opened the drapes and stepped out on my balcony to see an unexpected Mediterranean panorama. I had been vaguely aware of palm trees in the dark the previous night, and now I saw a great many growing along the craggy hillside down to the water. Another wonderful surprise was the wonderful fruit plate for breakfast with the best melon I've ever had.

 L-R: View from hotel in Herzeg Novi; wonderful fruit plate at hotel; kitty in Kotor; Mona petting another kitty in Kotor;                                      potted palms at Our Lady of the Rocks; Kotor, old city detail.

Our sites in Montenegro were many and varied. I got my first glimpse of the bounty of cats in this country in the old city of Kotor, a UNESCO world heritage site. The cats occupied the central square primarily and were not lacking for attention from locals and tourists alike. The city is centuries old and occupies a strategic location on the bay leading out to the Adriatic seacoast. On the way to Kotor, we stopped at a ruined Roman villa in the process of being excavated. The black and white frescoes did not lend themselves to photography, but I can tell you all about them. We took a ferry out to an island whose sole occupant is Our Lady of the Rocks. People flock out there even though there is no other way of getting there than by water. The best picture I got was of these great potted palms next to the church. 

By the way, Montenegro has close ties to Italy. The name means black mountain in Italian and the Italians flock to Montenegrin beaches.


Dubrovnik did not disappoint. It has a long, varied, and muddled history. The most ambitious construction phase by emigrants from a dying Roman city occurred beginning in the 7th century CE. However, there is evidence of earlier Roman and Greek occupations before the common era.  Over they centuries, Dubrovnik has been occupied by the Ostrogoths, Ottomans, and Hapsburg. Latin was the official language until the 18th century CE! Now, you can hear languages from around the globe spoken within its walls.

Dubrovnik is surrounded by walls on three sides and open to the Adriatic Sea. It lies just north of the Montenegrin border and is visited by people from all over the world (100,000+ people) . It was here that we saw the first evidence of the Balkan War. In many of the walls in the old city you can see holes left by shells. It is so sad. A gloriously blue sky and warm temperatures greeted me as the group walked through the main gate of the old city. As in many of the other old cities we saw, Dubrovnik is a world heritage site with stringent regulations about all construction. It's a good thing. 

There was a sizable Jewish population in Dubrovnik and there is still a small but active synagogue. The even smaller Jewish museum in the building has torah covers, pointers, etc, but the most chilling artifact to me is a Jewish star from the Nazi era. There are a fair number of souvenir shops on the main street in the old city but they are inside old store fronts and buildings. I saw nothing distasteful there. Of course, there are many cats who like to sleep in the sun.

L-R: Dubrovnik: Torah; Shell crater in museum; Roman facade; Entrance; Sleeping cat

We were lucky enough to stay in Split, further up the Dalmatian coast. The main attraction of Split in my opinion and in most others' opinions is Diocletian's Palace. Roman emperor Diocletian finished his palace in Croatia in 305  CE.  Perhaps this Dalmatian coast native had become lonesome for his country, so he retired to Split to garden after his abdication

 His palace  functioned as his home and as a garrison. About 9000 Romans lived there. The palace is still adorned with artifacts from around the Roman empire pillaged from conquered lands. The ones I saw were from Egypt-obelisks and sphinxes.  Behind the rectangular walls is the Peristyle, a Roman square with a temple at one end with impressive columns outside. The Peristyle is near the royal apartments because his proximity to the temple was important to him. The Palace is the most Roman place I've been to. It's like a city within a city, bustling with life--restaurants, homes, stores, and hotels (including ours) are built into the its massive series of connected buildings. The palace encompasses half the town.

I had some difficulty maneuvering on the marble sidewalks and up marble staircases since it rained while we were there and my knee was killing me. On June 14 I would have a total knee replacement. I used my hiking poles, took only a few pictures, and walked very slowly and hobbled to one fabulous seafood meal after the next. I saw no cats in Split. They were hiding from the rain.



March 2016

Armed with my copy of The Journeyer, a wonderful novel by Gary Jennings about the fabulous experiences of Marco Polo, I set off from Dulles last October on Turkish Airlines, destination Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I thought, I hoped, that maybe a trip to all five 'Stans would equal my 2014 trip to Siberia and Mongolia. It did! In every way.

Actually, the desire for this trip grew from my experiences in Mongolia in 2014 (see a few stories down). I lusted to see the Silk Route and more of the lands I had written about in my MA thesis in 1976, so very long ago. The thesis was about Mongolia and touched on areas to the west, just as the Huns and Mongols "touched" them, so I had already heard the names Samarkand, Tashkent, and Bukhara. "Ooh," I thought, "I must go !" 

BELOW: A Kyrgyz family demonstrates felting; the Tien Shan heading east into Kazakhstan; Jama, the Punk, our fearless leader; the Tashkent girls' soccer team befriends me in Uzbekistan; a Zoroastrian temple in Bukhara.

 I experienced the 'Stans the way Howard Carter did when he first saw King Tut's tomb. "What do you see?" he was asked. "Wonderful things," he answered. Deplaning in Bishkek with a handful of my fellow travelers and a host of other people was pandemonium, but Greg, Janet, Boyd, Madeline, Rhoda and I were saved by the irrepressible Jama, our guide from Bukhara, Uzbekistan. More on his irrepressibility later.

We numbered 20 I learned when we'd slept a few hours and gathered for breakfast the next morning. We were from all over the country, plus a lone Canadian. Most of the folks appeared to be older than I was, but at 64, I quickly learned that most were more nimble than I currently am.

Highlights of Kyrgyzstan included a wonderful visit with a family of felters and seamstresses (see photo above). We also shared a meal with them, our first group food extravaganza. It foreshadowed all the meals on our trip, at least those we enjoyed in the houses of locals: a soup course, always piping hot; the mean course, usually lamb or chicken; and a dessert. Making lunch and dinners even more of an event, all meals included local bread, usually round; and all kinds of salads, as fresh as I've ever seen with tomatoes redder than I've ever seen.

The many sites of Kyrgyzstan, including a college in a rural village run by an ex-pat, were equalled by those in the Almaty area of Kazakhstan. Of particular interest to me was our journey across the border in constant shadow of the Tien Shan, the permanently snow-covered mountain range, described in countless journals by early explorers. I thrilled at the shear exotic names and faces. Novels, texts, and travelogs came alive.  

BELOW: White is a symbol of good luck throughout the 'Stans; A wonderful dish in Kyrgyzstan; Flight board in Almaty, Kazakhstan; A group meal in Uzbekistan.

Almaty , formerly Alma-Ata, is the old capital of Kazakhstan. We didn't travel to the new capital, Astana, but since it closely resembles Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in its newness, it didn't matter that much to me. More on Ashgabat toward the end of my travelogue. A highlight of Almaty was a bus trip way up the side of the Tien Shan to a bird sanctuary. The talons on the owl that came to roost two feet from me were the size of a small bear cub's claws. To ensure the birds of prey performed their feats of aerial daring-do,they were fed small dead creatures. I think they were chickens. I realized then and so many other times that I was not in the States.

Our stay in Kazakhstan was brief, but Uzbekistan held a certain allure since we'd spend most of our time here and the places we'd visit were fabled--Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, all stops on the Silk Route.

Jama comes from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, and he's the best guide you could hope for because he knows everyone. And did I list the number of languages he knows? Let's see. English, Uzbek, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, Turkmen, Russian, Farsi, and who knows what else. He learned English by interning someplace in Tennessee, I think it was. Someplace in the Bible belt, at least. That was NOT the America he'd seen on TV or read about. Being the affable guy he is, he's still friends with the people there. He's friends with everyone.

A real stand out in Samarkand is the Registan, a complex of mosques and madrassas (schools) that is breathtaking. At night, there is a light show projected on one of the walls. I didn't go. It seemed apocrophyl. I didn't go to the one at Chichen Itza either. Plus, it was cold in Samarkand that night.

Many of the places in Uzbekistan seem grew up in the 11th century or so, in plenty of time for Marco Polo to have visited and recorded the sights (and sites). On the way to Khiva, we stopped at an old caravansarie in a place called Navoiy. It was not my concept of a caravansarie at all. I'd thought they were oases surrounded by camels and campfires. Wrong! They were big rooming houses. No wonder Polo said he, his father, and his uncle would be safe in one. Now I understood!

BELOW. The Registan: overview; steps leading to the minaret; a beautiful interior; the Bosmas in their finery.GLR at a caravansarie near Khiva.

By this point in the trip, we'd settled into a comfy routine and mostly became friends. Jama had advised us that at least a third of people on this particular jaunt get diarrhea. For our group, it was almost 50%. I was afflicted, but not as horribly as some. I credit Sharon and Sue for feeding me Lomotil until even the threat of embarrassing myself passed. I confided to Jama one morning that my stomach was off, and I asked his advice about eating. "Eat nothing but bread and cheese!" he barked. That was fine with me. Although I kinda like salads, the opportunity to forego them was fine with me. Yet they looked gorgeous.

Bukhara is Jama's hometown. We spent several nights there and most of us spent more $$ than we should have. I bought a carpet. It's made from baby camel fur. That's what they said, folks! But, they're friends of Jama, so the carpet is made of baby camel fur. It was also in Jama's home town that I was befriended by the Tashkent girls' soccer team, as you can see in one of my photos at the beginning. There were about five of us who could not escape the girls. Everyone of them with an iPhone wanted a photo. I'm lucky I had an iPhone, too. it was warm in Bukhara nd pleasant strolling. The old city is a World Heritage site, like most of Central Asia seems to be. Most of the old buildings, especially the mosques, are taken care of like the treasures they are. The work never stops. The people are proud of their past.

It was also warm in Khiva, our last stop in Uzbekistan, almost oppressively so in Kundzhand, Tajikistan. Shorts weren't allowed anywhere we went. Neither were sleeveless shirts. But, I soldiered on as did everyone else. We were in a sort of paradise, weren't we? it cooled off in the evenings, and the evenings were delightful, making walking around all of Uzbekistan delightful. We were treated to a pilaf-making demonstration at a friend of Jama's. Families that cater to tourists, and their numbers are growing, make it a family affair. That night, we met the mother, father, assorted aunts and uncles, and the children. If there was ever a way to spread goodwill and compare cultures, this was it.

BELOW: Fashion show in Samarkand; the designer's backyard; making pilaf in Bukhara; our hostesses.

Khundzhand, in Tajikistan, was not my favorite place, possibly because of lingering intestinal difficulties, but, as I've said, mine weren't as bad as some of the others'. The Tajik people are every bit as hospitable as the other people of the 'Stans, but the country seems poor. It's a little dirty, and infrastructure is a tad old. Even our hotel was careworn. I missed half a day's visits, just to lie down on my bed and maybe take a nap. that's when I saw the most amazing things on the trip. On the ceiling as a sign pointing to Qdiba, I verified with the local guide that this was a sign pointing the way to Mecca. I would not have seen this call to prayer if I hadn't been on the mend and finding some quiet time.

We recrossed the Uzbek border for our flight to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Jama admonished us before crossing the border that Turkmenistan is a dictatorship and freedom of speech is not guaranteed. Busses, hotels, restaurants, all places are bugged. Our discomfort began at the border in the coldest temperatures we'd seen. It was our longest crossing, about a third of a mile, and we did so, leaning in to the biting wind. The guards weren't friendly either. We were admonished not to chit-chat with the guards. Clearly, foreigners are not yet welcomed here. 

But the people are nice and the country is rich. Ashgabat is constructed out of marble imported from Italy--the whole city! It's whiter than white. There is little sense of community, however, because the city is unwalkable with huge boulevards and long blocks. In the old city, almost completely gone, and delightful in its small, decidedly not-white houses and stores, there is a mosque constructed to resemble Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. An imam pointed to our feet to make sure Rhoda and I would take off our shoes, then headed inside. We stepped in, with scarves on our heads to find the imam putting on his black robe. He gestured for us to approach him and smiled broadly for us to take his picture. Thank you, imam. See his handsome photo below.

Of all the places Road Scholar goes, Turkmenistan is the second hardest visa to obtain; the first is North Korea. Jama took our passports down to the police station our first day in Ashgabat to have them stamped (blessed by the police, I guess). Otherwise, so long and good riddance to you. Who could have known that such a repressive place was home to such warm people? Not I. 

BELOW: Tajikistan, sign pointing to Mecca.Turkmenistan: Old Nisa, the head archaeologist (note trowel in bag) and our guide, overview of this Parthian site; GLR not really sure about leaving Ashgabat; Imam posing for photo; good bye, Ashgabat.

Where to finish? Perhaps in reflection.

There is joy and satisfaction in discovering something new that is also familiar and comforting. Are we not all neighbors? In Ashgabat, I rode the elevator to the ground floor with a father and his young son. I looked down at the child, said hello and gave him a stick of gum. His dad said something softly to him in Turkmen. The boy looked at him, then me, then shook my hand. I said thanks to him in Russian, and the three of us smiled. We are ambassadors, there is no doubt about it. Each of us is the best hope of understanding one another if we simply extend a hand for another person to shake.

                 BELOW: Synagogue in Bukhara; Sharon in all her glory; Zoroastrian symbol of male, female, children; an Alabai dog near Ashgabat;                my wonderful carpet made of baby camel fur.

 BELOW: Synagogue in Bukhara; Sharon in all her glory; Zoroastrian symbol of male, female, children; an Alabai dog near Ashgabat; huge owl too near my pants leg in Almaty; my wonderful carpet made of baby camel fur.


Really steep trail near Audubon Society center; Me, incredibly tired; Milepost 2 on Leif Ericksen Drive


August 2015


Christ, Almighty! When did I lose the ability to squat or to bend my right knee back to touch my butt? What is this stiffness in the morning? What is all this chazzerei, and when did it begin?

As far as I can remember, it was about 2005, ten years ago, when I sat on the dirt floor in the Longhouse at Celilo Village and had a whole lot of trouble getting up. I was only 54 at the time and had given up jogging the year before due to a strained ankle.

I used to think that jogging was the best thing for me. It sure helped me lose weight. I had a pile of runners’ bibs that I displayed proudly in my office and I even described to Runners’ World for a year or so.

However, I have a suspicion that a lot of the joint pain I experience today began during my twenty-year jogging career. Every doctor that has been a part of “Team Georgeie” in the past fifteen or so years has advised me to stop and stay stopped.

“You’re too old,” they say, or, “You’re not built like a runner.”

Well, duh.

Since my move to Portland OR sixteen months ago, I have redirected my efforts to walking. At first the going was slow and I couldn’t walk that far. My limitations are due to a double laminectomy in 1999. I was in excruciating pain for several months, and then finally had an MRI. Imagine everyone’s supply when a cyst was discovered in my spinal canal.

The cyst was beautiful, completely round, and looked like that pearl in the old shampoo commercial. Was it Prel? Not only did my eyes bug out when I saw it, but the three doctors that saw it seemed to be surprised and/or alarmed as well. In fact, the face of the sports doctor who was the first to see the film was positively white and grim.

The cyst was removed and I was cured. But, lacking the spinous processes of L4 and L5 has hastened the settling of my spine. How to combat the pain? Physical therapy, painkillers, a few cortisone injections, BioFreeze and BenGue, and plenty of exercise.

After several months of adjustment and then exploration here in Portland, I found Washington Park and Forest Park with their wonderful hiking trails. I started slowly and tentatively, perhaps one mile per walk.

Sometimes it’s hard to walk uphill for a long time (ten minutes) and I am careful about not losing my balance. And I hate the heat. I moved out here from DC to leave the heat behind. But, the last two summers have been record setting. I don’t remember ever experiencing this many 90-degree days back east and I stand accused of bringing global warming west with me.

So strong is the urge, or the need, to get outside and trail walk even in the heat, that I sometimes leave early in the morning before the sun beats straight down on me. And thanks to a suggestion from friend Paul, I bought a pair of hiking poles at REI, that Mecca for the fitness-conscious in The Pearl. I love them. I’m hooked.

My longest single walk has been 5.0 miles. That’s 2.50 miles straight up Leif Ericson Road in Forest Park and back down. That may not sound like a lot to you, but it sure is for me. I take comfort in the fact that 5 miles is way longer than the 5K races I used to jog. I’m not as fast, but I cover the same amount of distance, and more.

What about upping the mileage? Maybe when it cools off. As it is, I sweat so much that I have a spare set of shorts and T-shirt in my car. Some days, I get so hot that my shins and feet sweat. Not fun. But, I’m determined, and I aim for 20-22 miles a week.

Now, if I don’t get out every day, I feel cheated. Who’d a thunk it?

The aches and pains are definitely more frequent than they used to be. Thanks to my back, my gait has been thrown off and I’ve had everything from sciatica to spondolysis to radiculopathy. My right knee is starting to protest.

And my feet have always been bad. Bunions (two surgeries in 1987), hammertoes, flat feet. I am actually embarrassed to take my shoes off. I had to wear dumb-looking lace-up shoes when I was a kid. Only one pair of loafers did I have, and high heels? Hoo-ha! No way.

So, why am I whining? To let off steam. I’m actually quite proud of myself and I have a great sense of accomplishment. I never thought I’d be able to walk this far, and my goal in the short-term is to walk up Leif Ericson to milepost 3.25 where it intersects with another road.

Why all this impetus to get in shape now? I’m preparing for my mega-trip to Central Asia in mid-October. It’s 2.5 weeks long and promises to be “challenging.” I have the fear of God in me. Road Scholar (aka Elder Hostel) has told me politely that I’m welcome as long as I don’t hold up the parade every day. So, I trudge on, listening to The Moody Blues or Blood, Sweat & Tears.

And I’m happy about it. I love being outdoors, walking the trails, meeting people and their dogs. I swear I’ll feel the same way when it’s cold and rainy, and I’ll walk even farther. In fact, I wish it would rain today. If it were raining today, I would still be out on Wildwood Trail and I wouldn’t be writing this at all.



Gardeners' Shed, Washington Park, March 2015



I promised a story in April, but I've been busy enough that I've let it slide. So, what kind of excuse is that? A good one. Last summer, I was woefully bored and still hoping for a new career in my current career, tribal liaising. It hasn't panned out and I've been depressed. It used to be that I'd lie in bed in the morning, surfing the net, waiting for Star Trek to air at nine o'clock. Then, I'd try to wrap my mind around the fact that the phone wasn't ringing.

I wasn't completely without intellectual stimulation, however. I had three clients and attended several regional conferences. The Affiliated Tribes of NW Indians (ATNI) is an active organization and when I attend their meetings, I see loads of friends and my hope is renewed. Maybe some work will come of it. Maybe not. I have a pension. I don't need the bread, I just like to work with Tribes and "get to yes."

But I'm happier as 2015 rushes towards its midpoint. Why? I've made friends with Portland. I like it more. I'm in the swing of things on the left coast pretty well, but leaving behind the whirlwind of DC only a little.

This spring has been super extra-special gorgeous. Washington Park is a place I've visited on and off for years. It has the International Rose Garden, Japanese Gardens, Oregon Zoo, Children's Museum, Holocaust Memorial, a vast trail system, and a shit load of fun architecture along its fringes. Having tried to get into shape the last few months, I walk in the park 3-4 times a week in the park. Besides the roses, there are cherry blossoms, peonies, azaleas, and everything else you can think of but I cannot name. My favorite space in the park is a gardeners' shed-old, brick, and quaint, with a roof carpeted with grass and flowers. If I walk from the street with the great architecture, south past the tennis courts, then hook a left and walk through the lower parking lot, I next walk down hill towards a beautiful weeping willow tree and, turning right, I arrive at the bottom steps of the rose garden. I go up the stairs (ouch) and walk north through the rose garden, past the bronze statue of a Portlander instrumental in promoting the rose garden, then up the handicap access ramp, turn right at the gift shop, then walk north back to the car. This is about one and a half miles of luxury. It takes me about 30 minutes since I tend to stop and smell the roses and gawk at Mt Hood. 

More recently, I've begun to explore Forest Park, a whole 'nother experience. There's nothing much in the park except for a vast trail system. I've pushed my personal envelope walking farther and farther up the one road I've found, Leif Erikson Drive. The road ascends slowly and steadily up and up along the side of a SW-NE trending ridge system. this means, of course, that the way out is always UP. And, I've stuck with it, to my great surprise. Yesterday, using my new REI hiking poles, I walked past several mileposts, turning around at 1.75 miles, only because it was so frigging hot and sunny. 

Getting up and out is the best tonic I know of. What a sense of accomplishment. So, why am I pushing this hard? Well, it's hard to stay in a bad mood when you're out in the nearby woods with plenty of joggers, walkers, and dogs for company. Second, I am ramping up the miles for my trip to Central Asia in October. Yes, I am so excited I can hardly sit still. I'll visit my favorite "stans"-Uzbeki, Tajiki, Turkmeni, Kazakh, and Kyrgyz. But more about that at a later date.

Unable to cobble a part-time tribal consulting biz together yet, I cautiously and now wholeheartedly have returned to an old love, writing. Now, you may wonder why I haven't written anything on my blog in many months if I'm so fond of writing. It's because I have redoubled my efforts to finish my memoir of my first summer in Alaska, 1977, and its impact on me. I attend a writing seminar every two weeks in which the ms is critiqued, and I critique others' submissions as well. It's very cool and more than helpful.  the leader of the group, Linda Stirling, has launched  an intensive 90-day course, and I've signed up for that. If she can show me how to market myself, I'll be more than happy, and I will use these strategies on my liaison/cross-cultural communication career. No sirree, I haven't given up on that. Not by a long shot.

So, my days are fuller than they were last year. I read the Washington Post on my tablet for two hours while I drink coffee imported from Alaska (yum, yum Kaladi!), watch the reruns of The Daily Show and the Nightly Show, go for a short or long walk, depending on the heat of the day, and write in the afternoon. I'm still too new a retiree to want to work in the evening. I wind down around five, catch the news, and see what's on PBS. I may go out with a friend for dinner or play with Tyrae's dog, Gracie. Tyrae helps me to unlearn bad eating habits, but honest to god, I've done the kale thing, and I'm through with it.

Spare time is taken up with MeetUp groups, especially my atheist friends. Yes, I subscribe to that dogma and am still a moral person. Ask anyone. Even the man on the street! Then there's the Outdoors Adventure Book Club MeetUp that I manage to mostly miss, the Write to Publish MeetUp, and a couple others, like Russian Conversation. What this all means is that I'm meeting all kinds of new people. In fact, I've now been sited five times at various places in town. It's really a great feeling to hear, "Hey, Georgeie! How ya doing?" And, I've had four dates in 13 months. Mostly bad, bad, bad. So, I'm hanging up my spurs for awhile and concentrating on my satisfying endeavors.  Dating here, I've come to accept something I'd strongly suspected for years: Men don't grow up and we all still play games. 

I am starting to carve out a new life in PDX and, have only taken the first baby steps.

Now, what about the observations in my previous post? Portland is still white. As a matter of fact, there was an article reprinted in the Post identifying Portland as the whitest city in the lower-48 states. At the same time, there was a documentary on PBS about African-Americans in Portland, their development, and their relegation to north and northeast Portland. I have met a couple of Asians and Hispanics, but they stay in the shadows also. The other observations I made about street people, rain, and the outdoors are also still the same.

 Bottom line? Happier, much happier. More relaxed. Enjoying writing as my current cause. Getting out. Loving the scenery and becoming more and more a part of it. I'm starting to carve out a new life in PDX and have only taken the first baby steps.

But? Not fitting in completely yet. Need more fulfilling work, even pro bono. Will always be an east coaster, I'm afraid. The two coasts are vastly different. Right now, the best I'm hoping is to become a true bicoastal person. And in a place as liberal-minded as Portland, bi- anything is not that  hard to do.

ADDENDUM, May 2015

there's another big difference between DC and NYC on the one hand, and Portland on the other. Back east, the car is king. Here, pedestrians rule. Not only that, but pedestrians cross streets as slowly and nonchalantly as possible, no matter how many cars are waiting to travel down NW 23rd Street. AND, pedestrians don't look. They assume you'll stop. This does not work back east. You step off the curb at 42nd and 5th, and you might as well kiss your ass goodbye. When I was in DC last December, a person stepped off the curb of a busy street, looking both ways, of course. I automatically stopped and waved her on. She looked at me like a deer caught in headlights. I waved her on again. She looked at me disbelieving and finally crossed. Clearly, my behavior was totally unanticipated. As I said to my friend, Nancy, "NYC is a city of cars; PDX is a city of pedestrians." Tales of aggressive bicyclists must wait until another time...

A selfie in front of the Broadway Bridge; Why I moved to Oregon; Mt Hood from a posh SW neighborhood.





Ah, Portland. I’ve lived here for eight months. Do I fit in? Yes and no.   I have wanted to live here for decades, so what’s my problem? Why am I not enthusiastically embracing my decision to flee DC and move here? Well, you’ve heard the saying “Keep Portland Weird,” I imagine. No worries there. It’s weird in fun and not so fun ways. And, much to my chagrin, as an anthropologist who thrives on other cultures, it’s a tad stranger than I bargained for.

Is there a different culture out here? That depends on how you define culture, with a capital C, in quotes, italics, or bolded. What is the scale of the culture you’re assessing: a neighborhood, a city, a socioeconomic stratum, a profession, an ethnicity, a region, a country, and a continent? In April, I left an upper middle class neighborhood in wildly diverse Washington DC. There was something for everyone--all classes, colors, religions, and nationalities. I fit in great!

I moved to Portland, Oregon, 3,000 miles and three time zones away on the “Left Coast.” My neighborhood—I’m on the edge of the Alphabet District—is similarly upper middle class. Why would I have difficulty settling into another upper middle class liberal bastion, when I moved from another upper middle class liberal bastion? Well, there’s more to the local culture than political persuasion and income. So, here’s what I know about Portland so far, the good, the bad, and the ugly.



I was homesick for Alaska where there is every stripe of Asian to be found, and I was looking forward to getting back to the Pacific Rim. However, although there are plenty of Thai restaurants, I have only met one Asian person not connected in some way to an eatery. He is a transplant from Japan and seems to keep to himself. No wonder. I suppose he has trouble fitting in, too.

Even more unsettling is the dearth of African Americans. Where are you? I got a big shock when I first went shopping. The clerks at Target, Safeway, Fred Meyer, Home Depot, you name it, are all pasty white. Not Hispanic white, but White white. The white people you meet behind a counter are mostly young, wholesome looking, and of fair complexion. Who knew I could get tired of blue eyes? And they’re helpful. They want to make your shopping experience a pleasure. What is in the water, people? It’s as if this is a city of Stepford People. How about an attitude? Do you really like being a clerk? I miss the surly, in your face attitudes of the east coast. If I were a clerk, I’d certainly be surly.



I had picked up on this over decades of visiting Portland, but I didn’t realize just how common the homeless are. Now I have to be very, very careful driving home over the Burnside Bridge into Downtown and the Pearl, homeless central, lest I hit someone pushing a grocery cart. I mentioned my observation to the person who sold me my car and said I thought it was disgraceful that there is such a large homeless population here. I was remembering the faceless, poverty stricken hundreds of Washington DC huddling over grates in wintertime. “Well,” he said, “Most of the street people aren’t from here. They come here because Portland is good to its homeless.”

I hadn’t considered that people flock here because it just might be better in Portland than elsewhere. This was a revelation to me. Perhaps it’s because it’s not that cold or hot in Portland, so if you live on the street, you won’t freeze in the winter or stroke out from heat in the summer. But I’d like to know what the hell they do in the rain.

I haven’t met a belligerent street person yet, although I suppose there are some. I certainly would be miserable. And yet, I’ve seen very few panhandle, and most are polite. So, perhaps Portland does take care of its homeless and the countless homeless from other states as well.



It rains quite heavily here, heavily and frequently. People here complain about it all the time. As for me, I’m so happy it’s not hot anymore, that I can deal with it. By the way, 2014 was the hottest summer on record, and I had left DC because of the heat. And it was humid here this summer, and it’s still humid, now that the rain has settled in. They tell me it will rain until about April or May. Now, this is kind of like snow in Alaska. Sometimes snow banks wouldn’t completely melt until early June (in Anchorage no less), so I’m used to the concept of a long winter. Fact is, so far I like the rain and I love the dark. Again, it’s much better than Anchorage in the winter.

No activity is cancelled because of rain. You wear your rain gear and suck it up. Not to do so would mean you’re a wooss. Since I’ve been here, there have been a ton of sporting matches and lots of rain, and they coexist in harmony; well, perhaps they have a Yin Yang relationship. Yin, it rains; Yang, we play. Portlanders identify with the rain and their psyches are damp from its influence.

Rain is part of the culture. Just visit REI in the Pearl, a frou-frou neighborhood that I’m glad I didn’t move into. REI is two floors and has three storeys of an adjacent garage so you can park for free. The second floor is a shrine to foul weather gear. When I moved to Alaska in 1983, I had never heard of rain pants. In Portland, most people have a wardrobe of rubber, microfiber, Gortex, etc rain pants and fancy rain jackets to boot. Most rain gear comes with an attached hood because god forbid you should carry an umbrella. This is not cool downtown or in the hinterlands. Also, rubber boots are not common. There is, instead, a billion dollar industry in waterproof, water resistant, etc, footgear. Even my Bean boots don’t seem sophisticated enough for this town. So, I do what odd independent-minded malcontents do to buck the trend—I wear sneakers or plain old walking shoes. I’m sure they’ll get soaked soon.



Middle class educated white people have all the necessary accoutrements to play outside year round. Their suite of equipment includes, of course, the above referenced rain gear, but also the requisite climbing, skiing, swimming, kayaking, hiking, and white water rafting stuff besides. I have two friends who told me about a new and different sport—stand up paddling. This they do along the Willamette, the Columbia and out on the coast. They wear wet suits and tie one of their ankles to the board so when they ditch, neither they nor the board disappears out to sea. Another of their passions is parasailing. I’ve seen the billowing sails out on the Columbia. On a hot day, it looks like fun, but I have a feeling I should have started practicing this pastime long before I hit 60.

There are a multitude of companies that cater to the outdoors person. Columbia Sportswear is headquartered here, as is Nike. REI sells outdoor jackets with pockets for each item you might need on the trail—compass, carabineer, flare, hand warmer, a snack, bandanna, map, iPhone (natch), Swiss Army knife, hat, a spare pair of socks, etc. While there are several Eddie Bauer stores here, I miss the one enterprise that DC had—LL Bean. LL Bean dates to the 1920s and is especially beloved in Alaska because shipping is included. For a while, they did charge shipping, but they have gone back to their original ways, and we are all the better for it. But, if Eddie’s or Beaner’s or Columbia doesn’t suit you, not to worry, North Face, Helly Hansen, and Archteryx are also a big presence here.



Portland has more huge parks than I have ever seen. Washington Park is my favorite. It’s nearby, and there are many attractions to admire while I am torturing myself on my daily walk. The International Test Rose Garden is world famous. The Portland Japanese Garden, almost as much. There’s the Oregon Zoo, the Children’s Museum, Museum of Forestry, the Hoyt Arboretum, and the Holocaust Memorial. It’s 400 acres large, with over 15 miles of trails. I love the trails. You are immediately out of the City and into nature. If the breeze is blowing right, you can’t hear any traffic. I put my iPod on and zone out.

Forest Park, the largest urban forest in the U S, is ten times as big as Washington Park. It has about 70 miles of trails and, I’m told, is far less developed and far more isolated than neighboring Washington Park. The two are connected by a trail system that wanders throughout the City’s green belt. I haven’t explored Forest Park yet because it is undeveloped except for the trails, and it’s a little forbidding to me to explore an isolated place when it gets dark at four p m. It’s a favorite of runners, and since I can no longer run, I would be easy pickins’. Yes, even in Portland, there is some crime.

People flock to the parks in droves, throughout the year. Every time an initiative appears on the ballot to fund parks, it passes handily. I believe this year’s initiative got more votes than pot. The one dark cloud? As of January 2014, you have to pay for parking. The only free parking I’ve found in Washington Park is along the main road that winds its way uphill from the Rose Garden, and then, only at trailheads. I guess one of the ways Portland makes its money in a state where there is no sales tax is annoying things like parking and the high property taxes which are far more annoying.


OK, so I’m a cynic. I hate 60s stuff. Any mention of the terms “chakra,” “holistic,” or “naturopathic” raises hackles on the back of my neck. This stuff won’t work, I think. You mustn’t blame me; my stepfather owned a drug store. Where I grew up, you were healed by drugs and operations. Even physical therapy was a little out there.

There are easily five “wellness” centers within walking distance from my condo. I dropped into the closest one soon after I moved here in April. I have been seeing a chiropractor for my back ever since. Does it work? Kind of. Is it one of a suite of tools in my tool bag? Definitely. She sure knows her stuff when it comes to bones, ligaments and muscles, so I know she has an advanced degree or three. Most of the stuff she does to me is pretty much the same as physical therapy, with the exceptions of lasering my feet and hip, and stimulating my feet by stroking them with something that looks like a metal, toothless comb. She claims the joints around my grotesque hammertoes and bunions are loosening up. I think they are, but can she make good her prediction that I will have pain-free feet? Hahahaha! Every time I think she’s legit, my eye wanders to a tattoo behind her right ear. I thought it was some kind of medallion. It could have been miniature rendering of the Aztec calendar from the National Museum of Archaeology in Mexico City; you know the one I mean, the really famous one. However, I asked one day, and it’s merely a run-of-the-mill paisley partially lost in her hair.

Yes, the young and hip are tattooed. I was going to get a tattoo to celebrate my liberation from the federal government; a small rune on my shoulder blade, to commemorate my work with Eskimo ownership marks, NOT because I think runes are magical. However, I am surrounded by tattoos and the idea no longer seems special to me. Some people have a rose on a calf. Others have a word on a wrist. Many people are covered from head to toe with the most complicated and colorful designs. The most common ones I’ve seen are a combination of plants, flowers, and smashing waves stretching from wrist to neck. Christ Almighty, what happens when things sag? I’m sure, like the proverbial iceberg, I’m only seeing the most obvious tattoos—I shudder to think what the rest of some of these young ‘uns looks like.




Portland is not a meat and potatoes town, although you can still buy them at Safeway. The town abounds with a cornucopia of gluten free, non-GMO, and organic comestibles that would make some people’s mouths water. I did the kale thing when I first got here, at the behest of a friend. Who knew there were so many kinds of kale? So far, I’ve seen curly-leaved, plain-leaved, rape, red Russian, red leafed, and plain old kale. My friends put it in a stir-fry meal with many more veggies than meat. You have to look for the meat, but if it’s beef, you won’t find it at all. It’s OK in a cooked mélange like this, but in a salad, not so much. When I’ve been made to eat it raw, I imagine I look like a cow chewing its cud.

I’ve also been persuaded to try “gluten free” eating because it’s good for me. But, I can’t remember why. I think it has something to do with being recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic like half of America, and wanting those numbers to go down. I’ve made a few concessions, but damn it, white bread is best, just ask my Welsh cousins, or anyone who lives in the U K.   So far, I’ve tried whole grain crackers, rye bread, and (sigh) more fruits and vegetables. I couldn’t get into baby bok choy, but Brussels sprouts are enough of a part of my genetic past, that I have grown to love them. I know they smell like really bad farts, but you don’t have to eat ‘em, do you?

I do not want you to think that there are only health food stores and restaurants in Portland. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There is something for everyone here, from the cheapest fast food to the most expensive and toothsome steak. There is an abundance of Asian restaurants, as well as seafood establishments where the regional specialty, salmon, is prepared any way you want it. I’ve been treated to some more obscure cuisines, too—fondue, Lebanese, and South American. The best slice of pizza I’ve ever had, I had here, and the toppings consisted of several cheeses and truffle oil. I can smell it now. Finally, there is the establishment that no one can resist, health Nazi or no, and that’s Voodoo donuts in Old Town. There’s always a line for the billion varieties of donuts to be had. I tend to avoid donuts because they have zero nutrition and beaucoup calories, but even I succumbed to the bacon donut provided to me not long ago.



I have loved flying into every place I’ve ever lived, with the exceptions of my brief grad school stints in Storrs CT and Binghamton NY. Flying into Portland is a comfy feeling since it’s kinda, sorta home, and it can also be thrilling in a good sense. On a clear day (that’s a little joke), you follow the Columbia River toward its mouth, first passing Mt Hood to the south, then Mt St Helens to the north. Mt St Helens is the flat topped one that sprang to life in 1980. It’s still active, by the way. Mt Hood is as pretty a peak as you’d like to see, almost conical in shape. Beyond it to the south are the Three Sisters, mountains close to each other that are popular with skiers and ski bunnies alike. They are unceremoniously called North, Middle and South. By the way, ALL of the peaks in the Cascades of western Oregon and Washington are volcanic and none are completely “dead.”

If you’re really lucky, you’ll see Mt Rainier to the north, southeast of Seattle. There are bets being wagered that Rainier will be the next volcano to blow its top. Seattleites and the rest of us watch with reverence and fear.

The mountains and the rivers in Oregon are sacred to the Indian Tribes that have inhabited the area for eons. While they use the White Man’s names for them, each peak has its own native name; undoubtedly more appropriate than the names they’re known by now.  

Mt Hood is commonly referred to as Wy’east by the indigenous population. I don’t know what that means, but I imagine it’s something like the Great One—at least that’s what Denali means in Athabaskan. Aren’t these names better than Mt Hood and Mt McKinley? I think so.

But, what is a typical arrival in Portland like? Well, you can’t see a thing. It’s foggy and the rain is blowing sideways. You pray you’ll see some lights below so you can identify where you are and guess at what altitude you are flying. But, not to worry, the pilots are used to it, and I’ve never had a bad experience flying into Portland. And, I’ve flown in often enough that I know where the mountains are if I can’t see them.



Well, I don’t really know. I thought by now I’d have plenty of friends and lots of work but that has not proven to be the case. Yet, I’m not willing to give up on Portland just yet. Retiring, selling a beloved apartment, moving far away, buying a not as beloved apartment and trying to start a business have been daunting tasks, and, when done pretty much simultaneously, they can take a toll on a person. I am confident that my post efforts to volunteer, take classes, become a member of the local archaeology scene, etc, will pay off. Sometimes I am overwhelmed when I see Wy’east, and I know I’ve made the right move. Other days, not so much.

I’ll report back to you the end of April, my one year anniversary of coming to Portlandia



Written October 2014

Experienced August 2014


That’s the first line from an early lesson in my first Russian text. Transliterated into Russian, the phrase is, approximately: “HOlodna, kak SeeBEER!” It was decidedly NOT cold there when I visited Irkutsk and environs in August 2014. I was traveling with Nomadic Expeditions on a side trip from Mongolia. I had not really cared if Russia was on the itinerary; my primary goal was my magnificent obsession to the south. However, Siberia had some allure, especially since I had studied Siberian archaeology for decades and patiently compared every flake and artifact I found on survey in Alaska with photos of ones from northern Asia. So, if I had to leave Mongolia for 4 days, why not go to Siberia?

Photo right: GLR on the Trans-Siberian railroad;

sweaty hair pulled back; hotter than Hell; forced smile.

And, to stay in Irkutsk, what a treat! My travel mates, Barb and Rich, and I attempted to clear customs expeditiously, but were accosted by an extremely unfriendly baggage tag checker who could not understand why none of us had hand receipts. I had had one and lost it, and  the others never had one to begin with. Despite the fact that all other passengers were now in the lobby embracing loved ones, we were being detained and shamed so that our heads hung on our chests. We’d heard that Putin was making it somewhat difficult for Americans due to the Ukraine situation and we found this to be true throughout our stay.

I have no idea what the unpleasant woman was saying—I tend to forget the few words I know in a foreign language when under stress. Once, when gypsies in Granada accosted me, I forgot all three ways of saying, “Go away.” For the record, they are: “Afuera!”, “No me moleste!”, and “Vayate!” The harpy finally waived us through, cursing, I think, under her breath. In the lobby, which was mostly cleared of fellow travelers by that time, Lydia, our guide, and Vladimir, our driver, met us.

Lydia was a young thing, looking very much like a grad student. She also had a great accent when speaking English. Yes, Russians pronounce our “Vs” as “Ws.” Vladimir was really cool looking. He was either one fourth or one eighth Mongolian, with Mongolian features and darkish skin, but big light grey eyes were prominently featured on his face. I thought he looked like a fox; I thought he was hot. He thought I was a middle-aged tourist.

We were whisked away to our hotel, the Irkutsk Marriott. Yes, you heard me right, a Marriott in the heart of downtown Irkutsk. I even got Marriott points! The hotel was a modern building with a conference facility and the roads around it were boulevards. I thought I had experienced all the cognitive dissonance this trip had to offer in Mongolia, now here I was in a Marriott in Irkutsk situated on Chkalov Street, a large boulevard, although there were no islands in its middle with flower baskets and such.

Our first day in Irkutsk was a whirlwind tour of museums and monuments. We visited several Russian Orthodox churches, all of them active. I found this surprising since religion had been outlawed by the Soviet and that regime had only collapsed 25 years beforehand. The faithful, primarily women, wore brightly colored babushkas on their heads and exited the sanctuary by facing the altar, crossing themselves, taking a few steps back, crossing themselves again, and repeating this ritual until outside, some continuing to the curb. A treat was in store at the Church of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Lydia knew the bell ringer and we there thus invited to ascend the steps to the bell tower and observe Dimitri ringing the morning peal. Because it was early in the day, I elected to stay down below and save my back. I left the church and waited outside where I heard a wonderful concert and had a couple of surreal moments. “I’m in Irkutsk,” I thought, “Church bells are pealing; I’m surrounded by the devout; people are exercising freedom of religion; it’s a nice day; it’s hot,” but it sounded like Christmas.

Next, we had a fine walk along the Angara in one of the major parks. Across the river, I could see the ornate and quite large train station. Written in chalk on the embankment across the way was, “I love you, Katarina.” Yes, my Russian was coming back to me. On our walk, we saw a statue of Yuri Gagarin, the first astronaut. I must say this was quite a thrill because I vaguely remember the event and the discomfort it caused the U S because we were not in space first. Yuri looked quite friendly and happy—he could have been John Glenn, and was not sculpted in the Soviet fashion in which Lenin typically appears to be leaning forward into the wind.

We walked away from the river to one of the oldest churches, the Cathedral of the Epiphany, but could not enter because it was inexplicably closed. Along the side of the building were panels depicting the history of Irkutsk as an early regional capital of Siberia and the many important prefects and commissars who had lived there and kept the peace. The olden days here must have been like the olden days in Nome, with dirt streets, brothels, and an army to keep the rowdies under control. The area surrounding Irkutsk, as well as most of Siberia, is rich in minerals and fur bearing mammals. Many men came here during the early years to get rich. The lucky men brought or sent for their wives. They had children and built dachas and bought items from the west—St Petersburg, Moscow, Paris—to refine their homes on the frontiers. In various museums, we were treated to depictions of the early Siberian home, with brass lanterns, ornate silverware, finely made jewelry, exquisite brocaded fabric, and always, always a Bible, some illuminated with pictures of saints.

Across the street and closer to the river was the lovely Church of Our Savior. The frescoes elicited gasps from the three of us. Monks rushed here and there getting ready for a service. As in most Russian Orthodox churches, women had to cover their heads, and scarves were provided us. I usually wore a hat anyway, an Alaskan habit not easily broken. The sanctuary was lit by the soft glow of hundreds of candles. They flickered in front of the numerous icons. The organist was practicing. Another Christmas-like moment. We were admonished to keep quiet and to walk quietly. This was no trouble since we all wore sensible walking shoes that were noiseless, although we may have left a few scuffmarks behind.

That day, our first, brought some frustration as well as the fun just described. I couldn’t get the ATM in the hotel to spit out rubles, and neither could Rich. Ditto, down the street from the bell ringer church. And, so, Vladimir brought us to a bank with live tellers. Lydia made an inquiry, and then announced that we could only exchange cash for rubles. After a long wait, I left the bank with $200 worth of rubles, which is a LOT of rubles. The bank was on a broad boulevard lined with poplars. Cafes and shops occupied the ground floor of most buildings. Was this Paris? Nyet, spaseeba (No, thank you), it wasn’t. Irkutsk seemed to have been built during the time Siberia looked westward. Sure, there were some ugly, god-awful Soviet-era concrete buildings, but these were few and far between. If Stalin could have seen the lavish display of flowers in some of the parks, we would have sent the gardeners to, well, farther north in Siberia.

I had a great deal of fun the following morning when we visited an open market and a grocery store. I’m always curious to see what the locals buy and what’s stocked in local groceries. There were some imported canned foods, all of it expensive, but local produce and meat were not as dear. I bought a bag of pine nuts, some caramels, and sea salt flavored with rosemary just because I could read the labels. The salt is quite good, by the way. The open-air market was a sensory overload, almost as colorful as Pike Street Market in Seattle. There was a stall that had nothing to sell but various unidentifiable kinds of berries, for example. And the vegetables were a rainbow of color, with peppers the size of your head, or so it seemed. In the afternoon, we visited the Regional History Museum and enjoyed a tour highlighting the ethnographic collections. I took pictures of every Siberian tribe – Yakutsk, Koryak, Khalka – etc. I was transfixed, or at least I thought I was transfixed, until I came upon a case of Paleolithic artifacts. THEN I was transfixed. The artifacts were similar to those in Mongolian museums, but these artifacts had been found by A.P. Okladnikov, the grand old man of Siberian (Soviet) archaeology. Okladnikov had found these and touched these. I pressed my nose to the glass. I took a photo.

It had been a satisfying day. At dinner, Rich and Barb and I compared travel notes. They had traveled a lot further and more frequently than I, and I listened with keen interest to their tales of places I wanted to visit or revisit. Had they been to the Forbidden City? Check. Every eastern European country known to exist? Check. Malta? Check. The dinners were good, I must say, for what we thought would be heavy Russian cuisine. Always meat, veg and a starch. Potatoes usually played the starch role. Salads were good, created with the western palate in mind. This was, after all, a Marriott. Dessert most nights was a scrumptious torte of some kind, usually apple and sometimes with a dollop of warm custard.

The next three days were to be the highlight of the trip, a journey on the Trans- Siberian Railroad to Lake Baikal and along its southern shore. Wow! Were we excited! Lydia picked us up and explained the trip for us. We’d ride on one of the oldest segments of railroad line in Russia, constructed before being joined with the rest of the Trans-Siberian, a few years later. We’d go through 33 tunnels and see sights on the way. Then, we’d spend two nights in the charming village of Listvyanka, where the Angara enters the lake. We took our seats, Lydia and I across from Rich and Barb. Lydia was hard to read and a little standoffish. She certainly knew tons of stuff about Mother Russia and had spent time in Moscow, but had not ventured to the States. I became her travel “partner” since I was on my own, and usually sat with her. I practiced my Russian, and she was fairly enthusiastic with my vast vocabulary, consisting mostly of nouns.

The first class car was “OK” but not as first class as I’d hoped. Still, it was fine. Our heads bobbed back and forth, straining to see the first glimpse of Baikal. About two hours into our trip, we rounded a bend, then there is was. Baikal was huge, but I couldn’t make it out clearly since it was shrouded in fog and mist. Baikal is the deepest lake in the world and makes Lake Michigan look like a fishpond. It was rather, a ginormous inland sea, bringing to mind the subterranean sea in the movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth. Luckily, we did not run into dinosaurs later in the trip on its shores.

Lunch was a boxed affair. It was so odd looking, I took a picture of it. There was a good sized piece of the local fish, fried; canned fruit cocktail, perhaps some cottage cheese, an appetizer consisting of a small piece of mystery meat strategically placed on a wilted lettuce leaf, and a small piece of delicious cake. We ordered tea and nibbled on my caramels and Lydia’s chocolates throughout the ride. At last, we pulled into the southern port on Lake Baikal, Slyoodyanka. It was a settlement of perhaps 2000 people, and dated to the beginning of the railroad. We hopped off and took a whiff of fresh air, then pile back on for our amazing trip through the 33 tunnels to the town of Listvyanka.

Did I mention it was hot everyday on my Siberian visit? Well, it was, and that day was particularly hot, with not a cloud in the sky. While some people might think this was wonderful, I did not. I had taken the trip to get out of Portland’s hottest summer. Summer had followed me. Adding injury to insult was our stopping every 20 minutes or so to view an interesting historic site. Now, I usually love historic sites, but this day I was not amused. Why do I say “adding injury to insult”? Because we stopped in between hamlets and had to climb down 5-foot ladders because there were no platforms. The ladders were not so firmly wedged in gravel below. I made it down for most of the sites, but not all. My back had begun to gnaw and ache, and I was hotter than hell. I was getting crabby. We did see some cool stuff, however—an old locomotive, a friendly village, a lakeside resort. Not so cool were all the overgrown weeds, some resembling devil’s club, like the kind I had avoided at all costs in Alaska.

Finally, we bid farewell to our last stop, which was either at the shortest or longest tunnel of the route. I just wanted to get where we were going and stretch out. We reached the railroad terminus on the bank opposite from Listvyanka after dinner. I hobbled out, expecting to see Vladimir and the van. The van, however, was on the other bank. There was no bridge; we would take the ferry. I was the straggler, getting on the ferry last. I am so glad I could swim. The ferry was a kind of sawed off barge that was hardly sea worthy. The crossing was a painful five minutes, but probably more painful for those who couldn’t swim of didn’t like bobbing up and down in a current. Vladimir did, in fact, pick us up on the other side. We piled into the van happily. I was thinking, “Oh frabjous day, callou calley; she chortled in her joy.” We passed along the main road (only road?) to our hotel, air conditioning turned on full blast.

Uh oh. The Podlemorye Hotel (meaning by the sea) was a two storey round building covered with decorative driftwood. I was spent. All I wanted to do was lie down and maybe repack later. The concierge took a long time checking us in, even with Lydia’s help. I was beyond tired, Then, she walked us outside and around toward the lake to the entrance. She unlocked the door: “Your rooms are upstairs.” There was no elevator. The staircase wound around, almost like a spiral staircase. I was not happy. Vladimir, sensing my unhappiness, carried my bags upstairs. The room was great. It was a section of a circle, of course, maybe a 90-degree section. There was a bathrobe on the bed. There was a fancy shower, too. But, it was HOT. Rich and Barb’s room was also hot. After some interaction with the staff, we each got a big fan and I took a much-needed shower. Then I put the bathrobe on. It was too small. Then I turned the TV on. It didn’t work.

I longed for the Marriott and modern luxury. I didn’t want to spend a second night in LIstvyanka; especially when looking at the map and realizing that Irkutsk was only a half hour away by car. “Shit,” I thought, “This sucks.” As it turned out, Rich and Barb felt the same way, but used a kinder vocabulary to describe their discomfort. The next morning, the three of us held a summit. Rich said, “Barb and I want to go back to Irkutsk today. This place is not so great.” I totally agreed. So, we planned a coup. After a really good breakfast of fruit and porridge (the best thing about the place), we confronted Lydia and Vladimir when they arrived to pick us up. THEY had spent the night in Irkutsk, in their own beds! Lydia was a good sport. She called the Marriott. They had rooms. We’d lose the money for the second night of our abbreviated stay in Listvyanka, but no one cared. We were totally ecstatic.

As a harbinger of cooler times, it started to rain. On the way back, we scooted in to the Cis-Baikal Museum, home to all things of nature (except early humans and any mention of archaeology). Lydia hit her stride in the museum. She knew everything about each creature and plant that inhabited or had inhabited the area. Her excitement was contagious. In fact, I believe she would have stayed there a few more hours, but she had to keep to the schedule. On the outskirts of Irkutsk we stopped at the outdoor Museum of Wooden Architecture where old buildings were interspersed with reconstructions. The frontier fort was huge. The classroom was rather charming. As expected, there were a few rows of chairs, a mudroom, a bible, some candles and an icon. This was all well and good, but we were all getting wet, so back to Irkutsk we went, savoring the fact that, although Irkutsk was kind of neat, we’d go on to Mongolia the next day.

The last day of our Siberian interlude began with a trip to the historic district, again, more buildings, but less “frontiersy”—these had lacey fretwork around the windows and glass panes. Then, Lydia took us somewhere that wasn’t on the itinerary—Irkutsk’s new mall. The weather had cleared and the strolling was nice in the afternoon. Rich and Barb took in some of the stores, but I had done my back in on the Trans Siberian, and sat and talked with Lydia outdoors. She took us to a highly recommended restaurant for dinner. I remember the borscht, the beef stroganoff and the lighter-than-air torte with affection. Unfortunately, but fortunately in other ways, it was time to leave. Lydia and Vladimir dropped us off at the Irkutsk airport and we flew south and east to Mongolia. Siberia had been full of surprises and fun, though hot, but the Gobi called loudly to me, even though I knew it would be hot there, too.

 Top row, left to right: Church of Our Savior; GLR on the Angara River; Open Market; Rich and Barb on the Trans-Siberian; Lake Baikal at last; Lunch on the Trans-Siberian. Bottom row: Display at the Listvyanka Museum; GLR at the Museum of Wooden Architecture, wet.



October 2014

How long have I wanted to go to Mongolia? Over 40 years. Actually, my love affair with that country started when I was a little kid. I remember leafing through Time Magazine one day, and I found a column with a statement that Mickey Mouse had become so popular that a kid wearing a T-shirt bearing Mickey’s likeness had been spotted on the streets of Ulaan Baatar, the capital of my obsession. My fascination dramatically increased in college. In 1972, I was taking a graduate seminar in “special topics,” really means what the professor thinks is interesting at the time. I’d already become enamored of Siberia and its archaeological links to Alaska, so when the prof said, “We’re going to study deserts this semester,” I was crestfallen.

“However,” I mused, “the Gobi is a desert, only a cold one. And, it’s just south of Siberia. Why not make that my focus?” I announced my intention to the prof who said: “You’ll never find enough information in English for a project,” but I took this as a challenge, not as a deterrent.   Soon, I was spending hour upon hour at the library and ordering expensive, hardcover books by Owen Lattimore and Harrison Salisbury. Yes, there was little on Mongolian prehistory in English—so much was in German and Russian and not a jot in any foreign language I DID know, like Spanish and French. Yet, I chased down obscure articles in Antiquity (a British journal), National Geographic, and American Antiquity, soon amassing a small but significant database in English.

The man who made it “happen for me” was N.C. Nelson, a Danish archaeologist who had been guest professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks sometime in the ‘30s. He wrote about the Mongolian Paleolithic, and especially about the Flaming Cliffs of Shabarakh-Usu (now called Bayanzag) in the southern Gobi. It was here that N.C. noticed that certain artifacts were dead ringers for those found at the Campus Site in Fairbanks. He popularized the idea of the Bering Land Bridge because of this. I was hooked. Long story short, I finished my MA thesis on Mongolia in 1976.

Flash forward to 2014. I had recently retired from my government job (I like to think I graduated from it) and finally had the time to think about Mongolia after a career as an archaeologist and, more recently, a tribal liaison (my last and best job). My back was still screwed up as it had been for a year, but I thought, “If I don’t go this summer, maybe my back won’t get any better and I’ll be a year older!”

So, I booked with a company I’d known about for ten or so years. Now, I could have gone on my own, of course, but, at 63 with the bad back, I needed comfort and a security net. And even though I love foreign languages and can pick up European vocabularies somewhat quickly, Mongolian is not related to Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, or any other language I might pick up on “the Continent.” On the positive side, however, modern Mongolian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, and so I looked forward to reading signs and menu items, picking out cognates.

I arrived in Ulaan Baatar (UB to the cognoscenti) after 24 hours spent in three planes and crossing the International Dateline. Many surprises were in store. The airport, while small, was modern! There were at least three Mongolian Airlines: MIAT (Mongolian Civil Air Transport), Hunnu-Nu (named that after the Mongols’ predecessors, the Hsiung-Nu, whom many think were actually the Huns), and Chinggis Airlines. Almost everything is named “Chinggis” something, after Chinggis Khan. Chinggis is Genghis, and indicates that the way to pronounce the great Khan’s name is with a “ch” sound, not a “g” as in “gorgeous.”

My first recollection of getting off the plane was that of a smiling face waving a placard with my name on it. This would be Dijii (DeeJee), our diminutive tour guide. I kept waiting for my eyes to sting with pollution as they had when I first arrived in New Delhi in 2006, but it never happened. As it turns out, there IS pollution in UB, but not like in the Indian capital! The traffic was not as frantic either. Yet, there was much more of it than I expected. I mean, there WAS traffic and all of that was CARS, Fords and Toyotas mostly, and not camels, tin foil little taxis, etc.

Next I noticed the tall buildings and neon. “What in hell?” I asked myself. Yes, the capital is a far cry from what I expected. There were cafes, large museums, a national symphony, the opera, and nice hotels, I was told on the way in. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Diijii took me to my hotel, a Ramada Inn (really). The dissonance grew. Inside my hotel room at about 1 a m, the bathroom had slate tiles, a frou-frou showerhead and all kinds of toiletries. I fell into bed, sensing I’d really stepped through Alice’s Looking Glass.

When I woke up, I had some time to kill. I made myself some Nescafe and looked out the window. Wow. Still no draft animals in sight, but lots of autos whizzing around. It was rush hour. I tore myself away from the window to take a shower before breakfast. The shower head a lot of “vroom vroom” behind it and I felt enormously wonderful, both during and afterwards. Breakfast was a buffet affair in a very large dining room. There were western food and Chinese noodles and pot stickers. I was drawn to the local cuisine like lamb fritters. Very tasty but very fried. I drank a ton of apple and orange juice due to my substantial dehydration after my long journey. Everyone spoke English.

I picked up an English-language newspaper, The Ulaan Baatar Daily (?), and savored the absolutely extraterrestrial news. But wait; there were rap singers in Mongolia. The dissonance grew yet again. Just how and why was that popular here? When I was musing about this a couple of days later, one of my travel friends said, “Why it’s the internet of course.” Well, duh—I guess the Internet doth level all cultures into sameness.

Diijii and I and our other two companions, Rich and Barbara from Florida, set out on our first day’s exploration shortly after breakfast. The highlight was Gaandaan Buddhist Monastery. I have never seen Buddhas so tall and ornate, adorned with all kinds of symbols, from the lengthened earlobes and dot on the forehead symbolizing wisdom, to hand gestures that I can only guess at. The Buddhas were covered in gold, and were about 30 feet tall. The temple smelled wonderfully of incense and an occasional monk in saffron and red robes passed us as we admired this sacred space. DiiJii said it was OK to spin the prayer wheels for luck, so spin we did. In the back room, a group of 20 or so monks was reading prayers from old paper books in the traditional Mongolian script. We were allowed to enter and take a look quietly. “How did this sacred place survive the Soviet era?” I mused.

Outside, I had my picture taken and noticed how hot it was. Hey, wait a minute; UB is the coldest capital on earth. What gives? Well, August is August in the northern hemisphere, so I just dealt with it. Thank goodness I had on a short sleeve T-shirt and had left my down vest at home. The vest would have been the tipping point on whether I could bring on all my luggage as carry ons or whether I’d have to check a bag. I was not willing to do that on a trip with two stops between three countries.

We paid a visit to the Mongolian National Museum one day and got a personal tour. As fun as all the details of Mongol nomadic life were, what caught my eye was a case of Paleolithic artifacts. There they were—thin, elongated Gobi microcores of incredibly fine chert. Microblades had been struck all the way around some of them, resulting in a familiar cone shape. Others were an also familiar wedge shape. They were all “textbook,” most likely found in the south Gobi by Russian archaeologists like A.P. Okladnikov. My hero, N.C., took his horde back to AMNH in New York City. He found tons, too. There is a photo in one of his articles showing cores and blades heaped into piles (ouch!) in front of an exotic landscape, no doubt in the south Gobi.

The rest of the day was a blur. We stopped at a traditional Mongolian restaurant with decidedly western looking trappings. As soon as we arrived, the power went off. A couple blocks away at the museum we’d just tried to see, it went off there as well. A dose of reality, finally. Ah well, when in UB... When the power came back on, we had a great meal of god knows what. The most familiar item was Coke Lite. Again, who knew? Coke products are imported, just like the cars, but from China or Russia.

After dinner at another fine restaurant (there ARE fine restaurants in UB), Dijii dropped us back at the Ramada, our feet aching. DiJii was a little person who had lived in San Francisco for awhile. She liked the States, but Mongolia was home. She lived with her mother as I recall, and helped take care of her aging and ill father. She enlightened us on all things Mongolian, from what it’s like to live there to Roy Chapman Andrew’s famous excursions in the 1920s-30s to the Flaming Cliffs. What she didn’t know was that it wasn’t just Roy’s show, it was NC’s. I spoke about Roy’s archaeologist on the American Museum of Natural History’s expeditions as if he were a god. Well, he was to me. Diijii was full of energy, tireless really, her bubbly personality inspiring the three of us oldsters to walk further, stay out later, etc.

We staged a coup against DiiJii during one day during our stay in UB. The itinerary called for visiting a park far to the west. The thought of bouncing up and down in a van was not exactly pleasing to me and my back, and I was grumbling. Rich said, “But what about that huge statue of Genghis Khan???” We’ve seen pictures.” DiiJii explained it was in the opposite direction. “But,” we stammered collectively, “We want to go there (and not drive all day to see the Prezhewalski horses that can be seen at the Bronx Zoo at home and other places)!” “Well, OK,” DiiJii said. Off we went, through the streets, boulevards and back alleys of UB, trending to the south east and into the country. The outskirts of the capital were fascinating.

There are yurt or “ger” colonies that ring UB. Many families have a couple of gers and a shed of some sort, along with one or two cars, all surrounded by weathered fences. The mixture of old and new reminded me of Village Alaska immediately. Our driver avoided the potholes as best he could. There are plenty in the outskirts—if you know the freeze/thaw cycle in Alaska and how it strains the roads, think of an even more vast temperature swing and you’ve got Mongolia. Potholes and frost heaves all over the place.

An hour later we rounded a bend in the road and could see the great Khan in the distance. It is huge--over 200 feet high, and rests on a fairly substantial 2-floor pedestal as well. It is taller than the Christ the Redeemer outside of Rio de Janeiro and was built for the 800th anniversary of Mongolia as reckoned from its foundation by the mighty Khan in 1208 CE. That day I learned that most people in Mongolia were descended from Chinggis Khan and throughout the trip, we learned about how great leader he was, not the barbarian he is portrayed as being. While he killed plenty of enemies, he was a shrewd and great leader who had imported clerics from all over the empire to decide on a religion for the Mongols (he chose Lamaism), he instituted a writing system designed exclusively for Mongolian, and introduced a meritocracy in his court. He was quite the innovator. We climbed up a staircase inside the pedestal and then I took a short elevator ride to the lookout on top of Chinggis’ horse. There I was, practically in his bosom. And, the view! You could see forever, across blue skies with cotton balls for clouds, unspoiled green grassy fields, nearby hills, and distant drainages and mountains.

I think it was the next day that we boarded Hunnu Airlines for the trip south to the Gobi, near the Chinese border. The green changed to brown, drainages and mountains disappeared. What was left was a monotonous flat, arid landscape dotted with white gers. We were met at the local airport (one gate) and drove about 40 miles over dirt roads to Three Camel Lodge, a heaven on earth in the middle of the south Gobi. I had my own ger with its own toilet (very non-traditional). There were about 40 gers on either side of a circular dining pavilion. Actually, ALL the buildings and structures are circular.

The food was great—somewhat traditional but not all the way--fresh vegetables grown in the neighboring village, a buffet breakfast with oatmeal and omelets and, for the more adventurous (like me), lamb patties and greenish juice made from a local berry. The portions were small, intended NOT to stuff but to satisfy. What a difference from the States where eating breakfast out contains all the calories you need to mush the Iditarod. I do NOT exaggerate—try Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant in Anchorage where I ate my weight in pancakes one day. But Three Camel Lodge was pure comfort and indulgence with a minimum of fattening, empty calories. Also, there was a camel’s hair blanket on the bed and I could look through the skylight to observe the blue sky during the day and the stars at night.

Speaking of stars, one night we had an informal astronomy lecture by a member of the faculty at UB University. She even brought her telescope with her. Now I hadn’t looked through a telescope since elementary school. What a kick it was to once again look at Venus and Saturn—you could even see the rings. While at the lodge, our days were full. We visited two local families, one making its living by herding camels. I couldn’t quite get my leg over my chosen camel to ride him/her because of my back and decreased range of motion, but I had a great time anyway. I picked up a piece of whittled wood, a stick really, with a piece of round rubber towards one end, and asked DiiJii what it was—that’s what they put through a camel’s nose when they lead it with a tether. I asked if I could keep it. DiiJii asked the young boy and he apparently OK’ed the idea because it was broken. It is now a prize in my oddball collection of curious things.

DiiJii saved the best to the last day: a full day trip to the Flaming Cliffs. I had been waiting for this for most of my adult life. We bombed along in a northerly direction past herds of wandering horses, camels, and goats and sheep and the occasional ger. At last I saw a huge red rock formation rising out of the desert floor. I couldn’t tell how long or high it was because there was no object or building nearby to judge its scale.

My back had been painful for most of the trip, overdoing it I guess, but I had saved most of my effort and energy for this day. I was going to walk down the cliffs even if I rolled down after losing my footing. I didn’t care if I strained every muscle in my body. I was going for it. Rich and Barb were skeptical as was DiiJii. Rich and Barb bid me farewell (for good, I think) as DiiJii and I walked over the edge and started down.

It was pure heaven. I started slipping and sliding immediately and ended up sliding down on my butt. I was filthy. Who cared? I was an archaeologist in some sort of archaeology Disneyland. DiiJii would see what she thought was a flake and I’d either give it the thumbs up or thumbs down. I didn’t find much on the slope of the cliffs—the surface was extremely soft and had sloughed down to the valley. The soil, you could say, was in constant movement. When we reached bottom, I looked at our path down and surveyed the landform with my eye—where would you begin excavating? How would you find stuff? I placed an imaginary grid over the cliffs and tried to conjure up a map in my head. Hmmm…

Rich and Barb and our driver met us at the bottom. DiiJii broke out crackers and cocktails and we had a drink. It was a very pleasant day. I became distracted when the driver waved me over to a hole. He had a “dig kit,” obviously for paleontologists and was cleaning off a lower jaw of some creature. I took the small trowel and began exposing portions of what I took to be long bones. Whether or not he knew all along it was there, I don’t know. I expect people want to find something at the Flaming Cliffs and they are treated to their own discovery. The creature was either small or a juvenile something or other. All I can tell you was that it wasn’t a bird (the dentition was all wrong and there was no beak) and it was most likely fossilized bone.

But, pooh, I wanted a “Gobi core” of the type found here and in Fairbanks. I was not to find one, but, after leaving the Flaming Cliffs, we drove a short distance to a place “where there are a lot of stone tools.” Indeed there were. My companions were quick to pick up stone items and bring them over to me for “approval.” I’d say, “Yes, yes, no, yes, no, no, not even close, no, yes” etc. Here I was in the middle of the south Gobi reliving my flamboyant youth as an archaeologist. We found some dandy microblades and a few retouched flakes. I took the time to give the standard lecture about not picking up artifacts. I had the law on my side since we were in a protected area. I was my old emphatic self. And, I took nothing but photographs. And, even better, I was the highest I’ve ever been in my life without being high on a substance.

I did not want the exhilaration to end, but end it did. On the way back, the driver gestured toward the glove compartment. I opened it and he pointed to a round tin of mints. After a couple of gestures back and forth, I took a mint and passed it over to him. He said “thank you,” the first and last word in English he’d said to me over the past few days. When you’re in a totally foreign place like Mongolia, trying to get along in a language that Indo-European never crossbred with, one or two words of English and Mongolian and a few gestures are all you need to forge a bond.

Back in my ger, I reflected on the wonderful, awesome, magnificent day and my luck in getting to Mongolia and renewing my faith in myself as an archaeologist. I will likely not have that uplifting of an archaeological experience again. We flew back to the capital the following day and then DiiJii put me on a plane home the day after that. As ready as I was to leave, I was equally reluctant to go. You know what I mean? Happy to be going home; happy I didn’t maim myself in a country where I was unsure about the quality of medical care and couldn’t drink the water; but sorry that I could not spend a few/many more days in the Gobi. Maybe I’ll get back, there again but I tell you what, I don’t want to see those damn Prezhewalski horses until I’ve spent a lot of time climbing around the Flaming Cliffs and I’ve found a Gobi core.

Below, top row: UB today; Buddha at Gaandan Buddhist Monastery; GLR outside of Gaandan; Gobi Microcores; GLR in the bosom of the Great Khan; Gers at Three Camel Lodge.

Below, bottom row: The Ceiling of my Ger; Our Hedgehog; Barb clutches a Bactrian Camel's Hump for Dear Life; Diijii at the Flaming Cliffs; GLR in archaeological heaven; GLR explains World Prehistory to the Masses.


The Journey West

April 2014


To leave DC after 15 years, I chose the train, departing Union Station on Good Friday and arriving in Portland the following Monday. I had a roomette to myself. It was tiny, tiny, tiny. During the day, I sat in one chair, feet propped up on the one facing me. Each evening, the porter would collapse the chairs to form a narrow bed that took up the entire compartment.

There could have been a person in the upper berth, but I know of no one who would want to climb up a teeny tiny ladder in the middle of the night, folding him/herself into that cocoon and then fasten the cargo straps (pupa?) so he/she wouldn’t fall out during the night. Plus, you couldn’t sit up, and getting dressed would be most difficult, as well as disagreeable. I once traveled in India in an upper berth, my cousin Beryl having the lower berth. It was extremely uncomfortable, especially when having to climb down the ladder in the middle of the night, then amble down the hall to find the slit toilet (in 1st class we had the option of a traditional toilet or a European one-I chose the former as being more hygienic).

The food on my westbound trip wasn’t bad and was included in the price. I had to take my seat at a certain time for all three meals and was seated with different people. I’m not much of a morning person, so the meal I remember most was dinner. I sat with a couple one night from the Midwest somewhere. Finding out they were in the company of an archaeologist, the man described an artifact they had found back home. From the drawing, I could tell it was a projectile point, a notched one at that. That’s as far as I could go. I took their address and promised to send them an email so they could send me a photo, but their remark about President Obama being some kind of idiot really turned my stomach, so I never wrote.

Why do people you meet assume you feel the same way as they do?

Full from steak, baked potato, green beans and cheesecake, I waddled back to my compartment to read, relax and look out the window.

From DC, we passed through Harpers Ferry, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana (both missed during the night), and the next day, exciting Chicago. I found the lounge for the next train, The Meteor Express, and decided to go see some of the town. I had a great meal at The Italian Village, a place my friend Sande had recommended. It’s old, overly decorated, extremely economical, and looks like the inside of a funhouse or magic carpet ride. I asked the waiter to take my photo as proof of my visit. It is below. I don’t remember what I ate, except for the heavily oiled, aromatic, and wonderful garlic bread, but the rest, I quickly forgot. The restaurant itself is what I remember.

Back on the train, we chugged about 18 hours through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho to Spokane, where we spent the night. In Spokane, they uncouple the back from the front end, and one half goes to Seattle, the other to Portland. What I remember most about the Chicago-Spokane leg of the trip was the vastness and sameness of the countryside.  It was open and sparsely vegetated, like much of Alaska, but without the huge mountains and much wildlife. They were experiencing a drought, and the prairie throughout that part of the trip was brown and yellow--all my photos look the same. The drabness of the countryside made the ghost towns seem all the more forlorn. Around 10 o’clock on our last night we passed close to the entrance of Glacier National Park, but it was too dark to really make it out; too dark to take a picture, but light enough to intrigue.

The last part of the trip found us zipping along the north bank of the Columbia River. I had waited for this grand finale because I love the Columbia, especially the Gorge. It’s a very zig-zag path, mostly west, but curving to the north and south as the river bends its way to the Pacific. I took a photo of Celilo Village when we passed it and remembered the good times I’d had there attending celebrations and ceremonies. Its history is sad, however. Celilo was rehabbed by the Corps of Engineers in the 1990s and 2000s. It had been full of junky 50-year old BIA homes with inadequate water and sewer lines. Now it was in better shape. The Corps rebuilt the ceremonial long house first, keeping the earth from the middle of the building, where dancing took place, and putting it back in its original location when completing the new building. This may sound like a very positive step in the solidification of Indian-White relationships, and it is, but the Tribes along the Columbia paid dearly for a new Celilo and treaty fishing access sites: Congress caused the Corps to flood the original village and the surrounding area in 1955 when The Dalles dam was built. People stood on the south bank of the river watching Celilo falls disappear below the water. It was a death.

When the train pulled into Portland around noon on a cloudless Monday, the sky was bright blue and the air fresh. I experienced a thrill, a sense of anticipation. Would I fit in? Would I make new friends? And would I find work?

Three and a half months later, I don’t have a clear answer. I live in a great place and have reconnected with two wonderful friends, one from 7th grade, the other from Alaska. Work has been slow in coming, however. And I’m still too much of a workhorse not to care. Yet I know the future holds promise.

I am out of the quagmire that is DC right now, with the least productive Congress in our Nation’s history. I am out of the humidity. I am giving my back time to heal from debilitating pain without the stress of a high-paced job. I’m learning to pace myself. And, there are the mountains. I have dreamed of mountains since I left Alaska in 1999. I would have a waking dream from time to time that I would look out my window and see the Alaska Range. The Cascades are as majestic as the Alaska Range, but not as forbidding. I do not tire of looking at Mount Hood, Mount St Helens, Mt Jeff, and the 3 Sisters. Oregon and I have a future together that remains unwritten.

With a hopeful eye on the future, I’m reminded of the final passage in Stephen King’s wonderful novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. Red, the recently paroled convict is on a southbound bus, hopefully to reunite with his friend, Andy, who had broken out of prison and started a business in Mexico. Red says:

   “I find I am excited, so excited I can hardly hold the pencil in my trembling hand. I think it is the excitement that only a free man can feel, a free man starting a long journey whose conclusion is unknown.”

   “I hope Andy is down there.”

   “I hope I can make it across the border.”

   “I hope to see my friend and shake his hand.”

   “I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.”

   “I hope.”

Above: My "cubby," The Italian Village, Ghost Town, The Prairie, Celilo

Field Work as Seen Through T Shirts Saved Over the Decades

(and tossed out while moving west)

I had a whole mess of T-shirts and sweatshirts when I was a young archaeologist in Alaska. Most have fallen apart or been used as dust rags, but some remain intact. Some of these had been collected in the lower 48, but most I got during my various jaunts around the state, and my Alaska collection happens to be focused on the tundra. The tundra is, after all, my favorite place to be. It’s barren. There are few, if any, trees. It’s windswept and powerful, subject to 24-hour sunlight and sudden snow squalls. I’m convinced the gods dwell there amid this majesty. More importantly, you can see a critter for miles, long before it has the chance to sneak up on you. I surprised by a bear (and vice versa) only once, but that’s another story.

I have one of the T-shirts I brought with me in 1977. It’s a hideously bright emerald green T-shirt with yellow trim and it bears the legend “KAPPA SIGMA 0.” I was given this item when I was sweet heart (really, no joke) of KS at George Washington University in about 1972.  I was dating my first boyfriend at the time, but all the guys really liked me, so I became a kind of mascot (hence, the zero on the shirt) and mother confessor. One Xmas, the chapter president pinned a KS pin on me. I was SO proud. Alas, that pin sits where I lost it in 1982, at the bottom of the Yukon River, around its confluence with the Nation.

When I left AK after my first summer, never dreaming I’d see any of my friends again, I began PhD studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs, CT. Of course, I’d tell my friends I was going to UConn in the fall, but they heard Yukon. Hahaha. This T-shirt is from the Storrs Texaco gas station and repair shop. It was owned by women and they were mighty proud of it. Notice the subtle fist, wrench and female symbol. The women who ran Storrs Texaco were also subtle, but they could fix my carburetor in a day while I attended classes.

After I fled UConn for SUNY Binghamton, another long story, I had the incredible chance to work at the Utqiagvik site in Barrow in 1981. Barrow is as far north as you can get in the US, unless you count Barrow’s suburb of Browerville, and Point Barrow as well. It is the land of midnight sun. The nearest tree is about 200 miles away. It’s pools of melting snow enables a bumper crop of mosquitoes to breed there each year. They are the size of hummingbirds. About 35 of us spent the summer there, sleeping in wall tents in the middle of town. We were pelted with rocks by the kids each night until they got used to us. The people and the archaeology spoiled me for life. Excavating a house frozen in permafrost preserves just about everything, so Utqiagvik’s comparison to Pompeii is not unwarranted. The artifact on the T-shirt is a delicately incised ivory needle case from a Birnirk-aged burial. The needle case was completely intact and still contained its ivory needles. You can see it at the Browerville museum, along with the rest of the wonderful things we found during three seasons of fieldwork there.

After I moved to Alaska year-round the following year, I collected T-shirts from favorite places. Going back up to Barrow was always a treat and brought back many memories. The bright yellow “Top of the World” T-shirt was bought in the late 80s at Stuakpuk, or “Big Store.” It boasts a map of the North Slope Borough and its villages. I still haven’t made it to all the villages, just Barrow, Point Hope, and Prudhoe Bay (not really a village). I landed in Kaktovik once, but have yet to visit Nuiqsut, Point Lay, Atkasook, and Wainwright—in fact, I’m probably the only “tundra tromper” never to have set foot in Wainwright. The design is an interesting combination of old – an Inupiat traditional hunting clothing, sitting on a small iceberg—and the new—an oil well near the top of the drawing.

Moving southwest, Point Hope is on a spit of land barely above sea level. There are wonderful archaeological sites there-secondary burials from 1000-1200 years ago whose skulls contain ivory and baleen eyes. Imagine the fright of the first person (either Froelich Rainey or Helge Larsen) to peel back the thin duff and find one. As the shirt suggests, Point Hope is a whaling village and has been since the 19th century. About 5 miles inland is the remains of Jabbertown, so called because people from all over the world spent time there in between sea voyages. There is an abundance of old and elaborate wooden iglus there even though trees are many miles away. Most of the north coast gets its wood from the MacKenzie River in Canada. It travels about 1000 miles to reach Point Hope. I have a “football jersey” from Point Hope. It depicts the most important sea mammals to Inupiat subsistence:  baleen whale, beluga, walrus, and seal. On the ground are traditional implements such as a women’s knife, or ulu. The hunter wields a set of bolas weights to bring down ducks. I must tell you that I’ve found my fair share of bolas weights and ulus in the high Arctic and that I didn’t keep any for myself.

The hooded sweatshirt from Kotzebue is a favorite. Kotz is just south of the North Slope, just inside the Arctic Circle, and a jumping off point for many expeditions. I’ve been loaded in Kotz and I’ve been sick because of it. Do NOT order the shrimp at the NuLukVik Inn! Kotz is at the end of the Baldwin Peninsula. I have often thought that Kotz is located at the tip of the peninsula, almost sticking out into the Bering Sea to minimize the distance whaling crews had to travel to hunt and to haul a whale carcass home. The picture shows a hunter with a seal and some fish. He is kneeling on the ice with a seal harpoon in his hand, ready to strike. People up north go ice fishing for seals, digging a hole down to the water and kneeling stock still for hours until a seal comes up for a breath. It is tedious work, and grueling on the body.

Shaktoolik is on the west coast, south of Kotzebue, on Norton Sound. Vegetation consists of scrub trees that are about knee high. The lack of bigger shrubs and trees made it easy for my survey of the proposed airport runway extension. What made Shaktoolik special for me was its view of Cape Denbigh. In the 1930s, one of the fathers of Arctic archaeology, JL Giddings, found sites with tools made from diminutive artifacts that had rarely been seen before. He named the artifacts found at the sites on the peninsula that is Cape Denbigh, the Denbigh Flint Complex. JL died as the result of a car crash in the 60s, I believe. I got to meet his wife, “Betts,” in the '70s.  She still looked after his collections that were housed at Brown University in Rhode Island. I bought this T-shirt at the general store and picked it for its color, the fact that it showed traditional subsistence activities, and it showed a map, including Cape Denbigh, the peninsula to the north that sticks out like an appendix.

Next, is a hooded sweatshirt from the Pribilof Islands. Like most places I genuinely love, it has no trees. There are no big predators like bears, since bears simply cannot swim that far out into the Bering Sea. You can’t see any land from the Pribilofs, not Russia, not the US. Like all rural Alaska, most everything is flown in making the price of an orange – well, they must be up to 2.50 each now – way high. The islands, St Paul and St George, are inhabited by Aleuts conscripted by Russians from the Aleutians to do hard labor for the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Again, a map is a prominent element of the design.   A sea lion is the central figure. Sea lions flock to the shores of the Pribilofs. Big males called “beach masters” can weigh a ton. When the sea lions return to land each year after living out at sea, a certain amount are clubbed to death. This may sound cruel, but it is a “tradition,” and it’s now how the relocated Aleuts make a living. That, and fishing, and also money generated from ecotourism. There were no hotels when I was there, but I imagine the Germans, Japanese, and everyone else stay in the same bunkhouse I stayed in. I’ve always liked the sentiment, “We Are Family.”

I’ve been to Attu twice. Not many people can say that. It’s a bleak windswept place with nary a tree. It is referred to as “the end of the world,” because it is the last island in the Aleutian Chain, nearer to the Russian Kommandorskis than the US. The dateline bends to the west to include it in “Today. “ Attu was a big deal during WWII; in fact the Japanese Navy occupied it. The battle of Attu in June 1943 lasted 23 days. The US won, but not until all Japanese had committed suicide rather than become prisoners of war. The Aleuts had long since been evacuated or taken prisoners or war. The US government burnt their village to the ground before the island was captured. The Japanese doctor had the unpleasant task of killing his patients before killing himself. The navy hooded sweatshirt was bought at the USCG station there. It has since closed, and it’s quite possible no one lives on Attu anymore. I chose this particular sweatshirt for the map, the hood and the bright colors. Port Clarence figures prominently on the design. Whether the sweatshirt originally was destined for Port Clarence instead of Attu, I’ll never know.

These objects are not just T-shirts to me as you can guess. Each one holds memories of places, people, sights, smells, and excitement. I’ll let you guess which ones I simply couldn’t part with.


JUNE 2013

In Alaska, everybody has a bear story. You can hardly sneeze and not see a bear, no matter where you live in the frozen north. Bears even wander into Los Anchorage, especially in the spring, when they wake up from hibernation, with snow is still on the ground. Break up and salmon runs are a couple of months away and the bears are hungry, having used up their winter stores of fat.

Bears are fond of garbage, and as people move up the Hillside and bears come down, tragedy ensues. Once in awhile, someone is mauled to death, or nearly so. Usually, however, it’s the bear that ends up paying with its life. The young ones that venture into town along the wonderful 10-mile long bike trail later in the year are sometimes approached by kids or tourists. Fish and Game is called, and the bear shot. That always makes me sad. Why anyone would approach a bear, tease it, or try to feed it is beyond me. I hate those stories on the news or in the Anchorage Daily Worker or the Fairbanks News Minus.

But, let’s go into the hinterlands, where bears are pretty much the only predator and the people are few. In the many places I’ve been in northern Alaska, there is no Fish and Game. There is you, your buds, and the bear.


We had been kind of dumb shits that day. We were so overjoyed when the helicopter arrived, 4 hours late, that we went down to the creek, toked up and danced the hora. Alas, Uncle Harvey, fearless leader, tripped over a rock and almost broke his ankle. The pain was so bad that we carried him down to the creek to bathe his foot in the cold, glacial water. Then, the pills came out. There were some pain killers in the first aid kit, I had valium, and someone else had darvon. We fed these to Harvey and splinted his foot. After the drugs took hold, Marcia and I helped him back to his tent. He could not put one ounce of weight on his foot.

After Harvey fell asleep, we had a summit meeting. The helicopter was not due back for two days and we had no means of communicating beyond the 5-mile limit of our walkie-talkies.  Obviously, Harvey had to go back to Umiat, and probably to Fairbanks for treatment.  We’d have to carry on without him for a number of weeks, but the big issue was the next two days.  Teresa would stay in camp with Harvey tomorrow and the next day, we decided, while the rest of us would survey in two groups of two. 

The next day, Brian examined Harvey’s ankle. It was turning all shades of blue and green and was as big as a grapefruit. It was also stiff. Not good. He realized that he could not walk and would have to go back to Squarebanks to let his ankle heal. He was so very mad at himself and in such pain.

We told him our plan. He liked it, but he didn’t need anyone to stay in camp with him. He’d just rest and sleep. No one could talk him out of it. He’d keep one of the shotguns, two of us would take the other, and Brian and Teresa would take Brian’s personal revolver. What could go wrong?

After bidding Harvey a fond farewell, Marcia, Terry and I headed north, while Brian and Teresa headed south.   We found a couple of surface scatters, recorded them, and then sat down on a rocky ledge on a ridge for lunch. We could see camp far below us and the other team across the valley. It was time for noontime check. Marcia called Brian on the walkie-talkie. All was well. Then, “Hey, see that bear? It’s down near the creek heading to camp from the south.” “I don’t see it,” Marcia said. Then, Brian yelled,“Shit, it’s coming our way now.”

Silence, then some yelling, swearing, and a scream. “Well, fuck, the bastard just passed us, and now he’s headed back toward camp and he’s big.” We had left Harvey without a walkie-talkie. He was probably sound asleep. Then, “Hey, there’s a second bear headed toward camp from the north. See him? He’s down in the willows.”

This was NOT good. Both bears were headed into camp, one, a huge brownie; the other, a smaller blackie.  In fact, now they were headed directly toward one another, but hadn’t spotted each other yet.

We watched, transfixed, as the bears headed toward camp. There was no sign of Harvey.  Brian said, “Fire the shot gun. The bears will hear it and so will Harvey. They’ll run away and Harvey will pee his pants.” Just as Marcia lifted the shotgun to her shoulder and I covered my ears, the bears quite suddenly saw each other.  Both stopped stock still. Then they sniffed the air with their snouts and one kinda half stood up to get a better look. Then, a miracle happened. Each bear got spooked and simultaneously took off at high speed in the directions they had come from.

Both survey parties watched the bears tear across the tundra putting distance between themselves and Harvey. We conferred and decided to all head back to camp. Better to have six of us to face two bears rather than one, or two, or even three.

Harvey heard us approach, unzipped his tent, and asked us how the day had gone. We gave him a blow by blow, leaving out the archaeology and lunch, talking about nothing but the bears. Harvey’s face had a quizzical, drug induced half smile of disbelief on his face.

We passed the evening squeezed into Harvey’s tent, feeding him dinner, snacks, and whatever else he wanted. The shotguns were close at hand.  The ankle was about the same. Harvey tried to move it, and winced.

The helicopter came early the next day. We packed up Harvey’s stuff for him, and put him in the front seat next to Art, the pilot. Marcia was in the back. She’d make sure to take care of him in Umiat.

Harvey, as it turned out, was out for about 3 weeks. It was lonely without him, and we were oh so glad when he returned. The doc said the ankle hadn’t been broken, just severely sprained. He spent the first few days back with us in camp writing up field notes. The shotgun was always next to him and he didn’t nap during the day, not at all.


Lisburne was a fun place for me. It’s located in the easternmost part of NPR-A along Iteriak Creek. To the south, you can see the Mesa, the early fluted point site on top of it, and, maybe 10 miles south, the northern slopes of the Brooks Range. The Lisburne site itself is on a knoll overlooking this Pleistocene-looking landscape. It had been found in 1977 by Pete, Dale and Mike, and Pete had carefully mapped it in 1978. In this second year of excavation, there were only five of us-Mike, Pete, Susan, Tim and me.

I missed the antics of the year before when we had about 15 people, but I was happy to have a job in this most beautiful of places, and getting to know Tim, whom I later married and, alas, even later divorced.  If you need to know, I’ll tell you that Tim and I are good friends now and he will probably edit this story for me because, as you’ll see, he played a central role in it.

After breakfast on a beautiful summer morning (blue sky with enough breeze to keep the mosquitoes down), the five of us walked down to the south end of the site where we had opened a trench. There was some lively banter about drinking beer on Two Street at Tommy’s Elbow Room and the Boatel during the pipeline that everyone but me had experienced, so I began taking my square down another level in silent reverie.

Clearly, we were on the outskirts of the site. A few flakes here, a few there, were our only trophies. Tim was next to me, concentrating in his pit, ass in the air, head in the ground, as were we all. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him kneel back on his heels to stretch, or to perhaps a cigarette break.

In the smallest voice possible, he said “Jesus fucking Christ!” I looked up, as did Susan, Pete and Mike.  The grizzly was so close I could see the whites of its eyes. He had sauntered up the side of the knoll looking for ground squirrels or foxes, and run smack into us. He stared. We stared. My eyes went from his brown eyes to his very long claws and up to his nose, which was sniffing the air. How far away was he? How far away did he have to be so I could get a good look at his eyeballs? Very close, indeed.  

In reading an earlier draft of this tale, Tim reflected that the bear  “was about 10 yards away.” When I then asked him how he could been so calm, he replied, “Calm? I was scared as hell. I didn’t know whether to faint, fart, or fall backwards,” he responded, utilizing one of his charming Pennsylvania-Dutch aphorisms. Another such pleasantry is “Shit in your hat and play with the smoke,” but I digress.

Now, the great armory at Lisburne consisted of a shotgun, a rifle, and a revolver, a Magnum 357, I think. And where were they? Back at the cook tent.

Instinctively, we slowly stood up. Mike motioned us to move in close together. We began to yell at the bear and wave our arms like a huge five headed monster, chock full of adrenalin. The bear looked surprised. I distinctly heard a snort. We persisted. The bear looked hesitant, then turned tail and slowly walked back down the knoll, looking at us curiously over his shoulder. We continued to yell, “Fucking bear, get the hell out of here! Leave us the fuck alone!”

Our eyes followed the bear as it retreated across the creek and walked north, paralleling the knoll and us.  Eventually, the bear stopped looking at us and ambled away, its mind on other things. 

Still eyeing the valley, we made our way back to the cook tent for some “refreshment.” Unlike other days, we left trowels, flagging tape, paper bags, magic markers and 30- meter tapes at the site. Who gave a shit, really. “Well, fuck me, boys and girls,” said Mike, grabbing an Oly out of the cooler, “I say it’s a weather day.” I grabbed a beer, lit a cigarette, and ran a hand through my dirty, matted hair. “Jeezus,” I said.

“Do you know that we left the fucking guns in here?” he said,  “Ya know, the shotgun is for when the bear is about 50 feet away, the rifle for when you’re as close as we were today, and the pistol is to shoot your brains out when he’s in your face and ready to rip it off.”

We all laughed nervously, as the adrenalin began to flow out of our bodies, and the alcohol in. Pete picked up his banjo; Tim, the guitar, and I hummed along to “Goodnight Irene.” We spent the rest of the day plucking and picking, swapping bear stories and small airplane stories, guessing who was screwing whom in the other camps, swilling beer, and all was right with the world again.


One: Polar Bears

Now, all of the above is scary, but there are several tried and true ways of getting a grizz to leave you alone, like playing dead or making a lot of noise. The best, of course, is shooting the fucker. Polar bears, on the other hand, do NOT leave you alone. They are the one specie (I believe) that will stalk human beings. Nothing scares them. They will walk down the middle of a village and, if folks are unawares, he/she will drag a person out of his house or iglu and eat as much of him/her as he/she wants. Of course, if the village sees a polar bear ambling towards town, all the shot guns come out, the bear is dispatched, butchered, its skin stretched and pegged to dry in the breeze, and people rejoice. Bottom line: if you see a sign that says BEWARE: POLAR BEARS IN AREA, and there is such a sign at the base of Point Barrow, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT go! If you do, you will become meat on the hoof.

Two: Bear Whistles

Everyone should carry a whistle of some kind when you’re out and about. I still have mine from 1977. It still works, but is no longer shiny.  I bought it, along with some other survival gear, at Big Ray’s on 4th street in Squarebanks. The whistle is not to greet the bear or call his attention to your whereabouts, but to scare it when you startle it.  Of course, this may backfire on you. Bears have distinct personalities, like people do. If you scare the wrong bear, its fear will be fleeting and quickly turn to rage.  You can try the age-old playing dead trick mentioned above and lie there in a fetal position safeguarding your neck,  or you can have a standoff and see who blinks first, OR you can shoot the fucker before you’re attacked.  If you play dead, consider yourself lucky if the bear just sniffs you, paws you a few times and then takes that annoying whistle away from you.


  •  I meet Bob Gal; a Just So Story of the Arctic
  • By Georgeie Reynolds, PhD., Esq. etc.
  • March 2013


"You should really go back up north to Lisburne and work for Bob Gal for a couple of weeks,” Harvey Shields advised me during the waning days of our 2nd field season in NRP-A. We were sitting around a blazo- can-cum-fireplace at Driftwood Creek, waiting for Buck Maxson to take us back to town (Kotzebue) before hopping a Wienie Bird back to Anchorage. I had the choice of another couple of weeks of work either in Sitka, with warmth and trees and housing, or up north, sleeping in my tent and freezing with a bunch of people of unsavory reputation.  But Harvey convinced me to go north and, indeed, I had fallen in love with tundra by then. 

 After a couple of days R and R in Anchortown,  Pete Bowers came to fetch me and Pat Fall from Harvey’s house on Rabbit Creek Road, which was not paved back then. We enjoyed our flt to Square Banks, guzzling liquor for an hour, and then had our gear and selves weighed before heading back out to the air field. The price of the Husky Oil charter flight was a case of beer each. Pat, an archaeologist longer than I had been, and decidedly more savvy, had bought a case of Oly. I, on the other hand, bought a case of Miller Lite, for which I would be teased unmercifully.

We hopped on the small plane and headed north. It was a warm and clear day in late August. The humming and droning of the engine soon had me fast asleep. I awakened as we descended into Bettles for a quick refueling and then flew over the beautiful Brooks Range and onto the Slope. Now, I had never landed on a gravel bar before and for a sec I thought we were going to crash as we dipped below the alder and willow trees that sprouted along the shores of Betty Lake. One steadying glance from Pete, and Pat and I knew things were OK.

Several fairly scruffy men ran out to meet us. “Beer’s here,” yelled Mr. Mike. “Weather day,” called a mustachioed guy with light blue eyes and a navy blue hunting cap on his head. The cap, by the way, had the cutest little white bow perched above the visor. I was later to learn this was Bob Gal. However, this was not the time for introductions. Pete, Bob, Mr. Mike, Randrew J Peterson, and Mike the chopper pilot quickly unloaded about eight cases of beer and hauled ass back to camp. 

Pat and I looked at each other. We grabbed our gear and headed up the slope after them. The pilot grabbed some of our stuff and another couple cases of beer and followed after securing the plane. The plane, for your information, was held together with duct tape, spittle and gum. 

A camp boss directed us to the women’s Atco unit.”Wow,” we thought, “a clean bed. I wonder when we’ll see this again?” We grabbed a quick meal in the mess hall, I believe it was roast beef with au jus that night, and headed over to a very large  wall tent (a party sized wall tent) where the archaeo folks were discussing the next phase of testing at the Lisburne site. At least we thought that’s what they would be doing. But, the beer had arrived; Bob had declared a state of emergency, and a good part of a case was already gone. 

Bob was sitting on a rolled up tarp and lightly leaning against the taught canvas wall with Mr Mike next to him. They were telling bullshit stories as far as I could  tell. “Oh yeah, then there was the time when we landed at No Luck Lake and Chuck farted as he dove into the tent to show us some artifacts, BELCH.” That was Bob.

Now I remembered, once in awhile in’ 77 and ‘78, Bob and Ed Hall would make surprise visits to our camps in a chopper. Once in awhile they’d reward us with a piece of pie or a letter from home. So haughty did they seem, that we began to call the great ones The Flying Douche Bag Brothers, alternately known as the Freres a la Sac de Douche Volant. So, here was one half of the Brothers sitting around in a wall tent getting tanked. 

At some point he realized there were two new people in the tent. “Where you girls from,” he asked. “Don’t you remember? Harvey sent us,” Pat said. Mike was outside taking leak at this instant, but he had already made contact, boasting of his prowess and leering at Pat and me like we were filet mignon. 

“You’ll like Betty Lake,” Bob finally said to us. It’s nice out there and if there’s an emergency, we can walk to Ivotuk and they’ll take us back to town, BELCH.” We had heard so much about Bob from Harvey and Chuck that summer on No Luck Lake. Harvey had painted him as a demi-god of archaeology. He knew everything (well, slightly less than John Cook) and was a great field person and confident leader.[1]

 Mr. Mike zipped his fly while walking back into the tent to join the festivities. Quite the raconteur he was, especially in the absence of Dr. Dale C Slaughter, who had happily stayed behind at the site with some food, dirty magazines, a shot gun, and the thought of peace and quiet. Dr. Dale still is the raconteur’s raconteur.

 “You know, we have jam sessions out there. Yeah, I play the banjer and Pete here plays the git-tar. Yessiree, boys and girls, we have a pretty good time out there in the boonies. “ We smiled at Mike and tried to act friendly. I was alarmingly still sober.

Bob began to talk about a recent chopper ride he’d had; a boondoggle of major sites in NPR-A in the company of higher ups, way far higher up than him. When he got to a place I’d never heard of, Awuna, he stopped mid sentence. He had hit the wall. “Awooo-oohnah,” he said, and that’s all she wrote. Bob was glassy eyed and did not appear to know where he was.  Pat turned to me and said, “So that’s Bob Gal!!”We rolled our eyes and hung our heads.

A little while later, Bob passed out, head on the tarp, legs splayed out into the center of the tent. Mr. Mike, good friend that he was, gently turned him over and put his head outside the tent flap, so that, if well, you know, he threw up, he wouldn’t choke and die. Mike covered him with an Army blanket and stumbled outside.

He didn’t come back in, so we figured the party was over. Pat and I made it back to our room before the others because we were not quite as polluted as everyone else. Getting back first and being rather furtive, we figured no one would discover which room we were in and we wouldn’t get bothered or puked on.

The next morning, I woke up with a slight hangover (not too bad as hangovers go) and drifted over to the mess hall. Our fearless leader was sitting at a table clutching a cup of black coffee and staring out into space. Timidly, I approached him and asked him how he was. His face gray, he said in a very small voice, “OK.” But, he looked like death warmed over to me.  

Nonetheless, a couple of hours later, we piled into the chopper and headed over to Betty Lake. Amazingly, no one “called Roy” on the trip. My great adventure at Lisburne had begun. It would be a great couple of weeks—full of discovery, adventure, wild creatures, love, hate, rain and snow. Bob was the most stable and level headed person there and guided us like true leaders do. But, get a drink in him, hoo boy![2]  

But this is not my favorite memory of ’78; this is. In mid-September we pulled out (no snickers, please), and flew up to Camp Lonely, a place that no longer exists. After a shower and a shave, we all met up with Bob who took us to a gin mill behind an unmarked door. I was lucky, I got a seat at the bar between Dr. Dale and Miss Pat. Bob ordered drinks all around. As  I lifted my glass of Scotch rocks to my lips, Bob came up behind me, clapped me on the shoulder, and said, “You’re one of the guys now.” That moment remains one of my proudest even to this day.

Thanks, Bob. Many kisses to you, Georgeie

[1] One day I will tell you how in ’79, Bob and Mr. Mike shot our tent with Tim and me in it. It just took one shot, and the tent collapsed around us. THANKS VERY MUCH, you douches!

[2] Well, boys and girls, this is the G rated prelude to the Lisburne story. Those of you who must know more will have to wait until certain people die or go senile before I pen the X-rated version. And I will!

Roussillion, Provence, January 2013

February 21, 2013
Not only is Roussillion picturesque, quaint, picture-perfect and all other adjectives that describe hilltop villages in southern France, it also has something extra. something really wonderful: an over abundance of red ochre. You can hike up and down the narrow cobble-stone alleys, peer into churches, admire the vistas from the uppermost reaches of the place, eat a crepe au sucre near the car park, and generally take in the provencal flavor of the place. And if you're an archaeologist, artist, or devote(e) of bright colors and astonishing sights, you have the ochre. The village seems to seated atop of a mountain of the stuff, although I caught glimpses of bedrock, soil, and trees stunted by the mistral winds leaning vicariously over the edge of the steeper slopes.

There are 27 shades of ochre. Colors vary from yellowish brown to orange to bright red. Visions of Lascaux and Chauvet caves instantly stimulate the senses. You imagine an artist 30,000 years ago carefully putting the final touches on a horse or bison, or blowing the powder through a tube so that his or her hand is outlined on the wall. You recall from your undergraduate courses in world prehistory and art history the incredible movement of the animals in the flicker of an ancient fire. There must have been a trade network, you think, but, how far? This is the largest deposit of ochre in the country, perhaps western Europe. Roussillion was known long before it was given its name. The core word, of course, derives from "rouge," the French word for red.  

Was Roussillion's ochre lost to time and then rediscovered by later artists? Hard to say. I CAN say that the same paths I wandered and the same brilliant ochre I saw were known to Van Gogh and Cezanne. Imagine Cezanne's amazement when he first saw the sight in the 19th century. Lured there by stories of  friends and colleagues, he walked up the steep hill or came up by horse astonished by what he saw. After a glass of Pastis, perhaps, he would have debated whether to mine a particular hue, risking life and limb. Imagine his relief when he saw that every imaginable shade was already available at the local shop without having to lift a finger. Another Pastis, then back down the hill, laden with as much pigment as possible. Which landscape would he paint next? He would think about this while making his way back to the studio.



May 11, 2012
I never met him, but I saw him give a paper at the SAA's. I was scared of him. I do not think he suffered fools easily, although I have been told he could be a great friend and mentor.I must have cited ten or fifteen of his books and articles in my dissertation. He loved data. he didn't pull stuff out of his ass. You could take an article of his and do a study of your own based on the information he'd provide.  And he could write so you could understand a sentence! How rare is that in an acad...
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New story, below!

May 11, 2012

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I'd Rather Be an Archaeologist

May 11, 2012

When I was about six, my mom gave me the Golden Book of Archaeology. I loved it! The Golden Book of the Bible? Not so much.  Then, when I was about 10, I discovered Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels while enduring a boring evening at friends of my parents. I was immediately entranced.

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree,” a wise person once said.  My parents tried, in vain, to lure me away from a B.A. in anthropology.  I would not be dissuaded, so we hit a compromise...

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Flying in Alaska: A Thriller in Three Parts

March 5, 2012
See this new awe inspiring, terrifying, exciting and exhilarating tale, about the good, the bad and the ugly of fixed wings, float planes, and helicopters in Bush Alaska.
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January 19, 2012
Along with Spam, Sunny Jim preserves, Tillamook cheese, Dak bacon, Mountain House freeze dried food and gorp, Pilot Bread is the epitome of fine living in the Bush.
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December 29, 2011
What it's like to begin to lose your senses 2 miles from camp in howling wind....
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December 2, 2011
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December 2, 2011
This Thanksgiving, I was in Fbx (Square Banks, Bare Flanks), AK for the first time in decades. it was frigging -35 two days before hand and by the time I left on Friday it had risen to almost 2 above!! The excitement of being with Kathy, Jim, Frank, Marilyn and Mark was beyond description.
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New Story

November 8, 2011
See my story on the first act of courage this tenderfoot/cheechako had in Fbx! June 1977
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Acoma Pueblo, 2010