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

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

ARCHAEOFUN: LIFE LESSONS FROM EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE & PLACES


Georgeie Reynolds ______________________________________________________________________________________ ABOUT ME: The world & the people in it are my oysters. My sense of adventure led me to become an archaeologist who drifted far away from home, like an iceberg. I'm Georgeie and I am lucky enough to have persevered and finished my Ph.D. in Anthropology at SUNY Binghamton. I wrote about the prehistoric Eskimos in Barrow, Alaska, for my dissertation. Before that, I spent oodles of 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. Read about it below. It was, undoubtedly, the BEST trip of my life! Destiny or a longing to see great and new things led me to Alaska, the Last Frontier, the Great Land. I'll share memories of my time there and how I think "the road less travelled" continues to influence me. Come on along and see if some of these things don't strike a note with you, if you love AK or you have archaeology and anthropology in your blood, or simply like new and cool "stuff." The last few years I'd had an out of body and mind experience in DC. It's a great place, although the summers suck and blow at the same time.I had the best job of my life, serving as Senior Tribal Liaison for my agency. It's no small wonder, with Alaska in my blood and having tired of the east, I moved out west in April of 2014. Away from the humidity and from Congress and from life in the fast lane. I learned a lot from my tribal colleges and I've found I simply must be closer to them and the great outdoors. Well, fellow travelers, let's blow this pop stand,Follow your inner Belzonis, Geists, Raineys, and Schleimanns. Embrace the things you learned when you were youngsters in the field, be it doing archaeology, anthropology, ecology, or some other ology. Remember when you last felt that sense of embarking on unknown ventures? If you have a story to contribute, please do, because we're all in this together. While I continue to TRY to understand blogging, please drop me a line at archaeofun@gmail.com

 COPYRIGHT 2009-2016. All rights reserved.

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CENTRAL ASIAN JOURNEY: THE SILK ROUTE COME ALIVE

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.

  SALAAM  KYRGYSTAN; KAZAKHSTAN; UZBEKISTAN; TAJIKISTAN; TURKMENISTAN  SHALOM

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

TRYING TO STAY FIT AT 64

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

PORTLANDIA, ONE YEAR LATER

UPDATED MAY 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.


MY LIFE IN PORTLANDIA SO FAR: THE CITY OF ROSES (OR NEVER-NEVER LAND)

POSTED JANUARY 2015

EXPERIENCED SINCE APRIL 2014

 

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.

 

PORTLAND IS VERY WHITE

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.

 

THERE ARE MANY STREET PEOPLE HERE

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.

 

RAIN SHAPES CULTURE

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.

 

WHITE PEOPLE LOVE THE OUTDOORS

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.

 

EVERYONE ENJOYS THE PARKS HERE, NOT JUST THE FLEET OF FOOT

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.


PEOPLE ARE “HIP,” TATTOOED, AND INTO NATURAL MEDICINE

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.

 

 

AND THEN THERE’S KALE

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.

 

FLYING INTO PDX IS BREATHTAKING

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.

 

SO WHAT, AND WHAT’S NEXT?

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

 




"COLD, LIKE SIBERIA!"

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.

 

MONGOLIA, MON AMOUR  

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.

BEAR STORIES

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.


1977

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.


1979

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.


ADDENDA:

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

1978


"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.




  
 

REST IN PEACE, LEW BINFORD

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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PILOT BREAD MAKES THE WORLD GO 'ROUND

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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HYPOTHERMIA, A NEW STORY

December 29, 2011
What it's like to begin to lose your senses 2 miles from camp in howling wind....
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ALASKA, THE GREAT LAND

December 2, 2011
OF COURSE, I'M PARTICULAR TO THE TUNDRA NORTH OF THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.  TUNDRA IS GREEN, GRASSY, LOW. LIKE THE STEPPES OF SIBERIA. IT LOOKS LIKE A POSTCARD FROM THE PLEISTOCENE. YOU CAN ALMOST SENSE A HERD OF WOOLLY MAMMOTHS HUDDLING TOGETHER IN THE COLD, STEAM ESCAPING FROM THEIR TRUNKS....
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FAIRBANKS: COLD HANDS, WARM HEART

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 

 RED OCHRE, ROUSSILLION, PROVENCE, 2013