Sunday, December 9, 2007

Horseshoes and Indians: Part two

Okay, so it took a little longer than a day, but I'm finally going to finish this story. So where did I leave off...

Right, I gave everyone a rhyming name. Nam, our Native American Monitor. Cam, my 58 year old co-worker who has the stamina of a 25 year old. And Bam, the other Native American monitor who helped us out by driving us down the ridge, so that we didn't have to walk so far.

While in Bam's truck and while on the trail, we had a lot of time to talk. Both Nam and Bam are christian. The Mono people where far enough away that they were not missionized by the Spanish, although they did have contact... many runaway indians fled to the mountains. But the Mono people were "christianized". When europeans did settle the foothills and the mountain area's, the indians lost there lands via bad trades, treaties, wars, kicked-out, etc, and the indian children were sent (no, forced) away to christian boarding schools, to "beat the savage" out of them, and to "modernize" them to make them socially acceptable. They were not allowed to speak their language, or practice their own religion, ceremonies, etc. (this is a sore spot for me, makes me mad). ANYWAY, Nam and Bam are the surviving second generation of this. Their parents where the kids sent to these boarding schools. Well, the Mono are a strong people obviously because the language has survived, although no one is fluent anymore, and most of the ceremonies and cultural ideals have survived and are remembered. The Mono (at least the ones I've met) have blended the two religions. They are Indian as well as christian. Bam is a very religious christain. He will not perform indian ceremonies, blessings, prayers, etc. but he will tell you or he will tell Nam that he (Nam) should perform a Mono blessing for this or that, because it needs to be done. Nam is the tribal chair of his tribe, so his perspective is different. He attends a christian church, and prays, etc. but he is also a strong believer in his own cultures beliefs.

The first two days on the trail, Nam did not give any blessings to his ancestors. And to be honest, those where the two toughest days. We got lost a lot, trying to figure out our rhythm, who should do what, etc. On the third day, when he came upon a site (archaeological) he would give his blessing which consists of an offering of tobacco and a song (sung in Mono) to honor his ancestors (to acknowledge them and ask them for their blessing in return). While he was doing this Cam and I would watch quietly or be off looking at other things. This is a private thing between Nam and his ancestors. Every time I leave an indian archaeological site, I say Thank you. This is my way of acknowledging them. (My way of giving respect).

Well, after we came upon one particular site, Nam gave his blessing... and he said they (his ancestors) told me to go look over there *he pointed up the hill a bit* So he goes off to explore, and Cam and I start recording the site. He starts whooping and hollering, and comes running down the hill and yells "I found the House Pits!!!!!, and there's midden, and more bedrock mortars, and..." What he ended up finding was an entire village site. If his ancestors didn't tell him to go look during his song, we would have never found it.

So the joke after finding the village, was "hey Nam, stop talking to your ancestors... I don't want to have to record anymore villages" "stop finding features". It was all in fun, and we'd all laugh.

So the moral of the story is... I don't know. It was a fun, interesting, informative, wonderful experience. I enjoyed working with Nam and Cam, and seeing Bam again. I learned a lot. This trip happened almost two months ago, and I am just now finishing the paperwork. (it would have been done earlier but I have been on two other projects since then - but that's another story)

Here are two more pictures from the trip. The first is of the trail. The second is a picture of what we archaeologists call a Bedrock Milling Feature. (BRM for short). They are mortar holes where the indians would prepare acorns, pine seeds, and other nuts, berries, and grains.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Horseshoes and Indians

Hello all,
My dad thought it would be interesting for you guys if I tried to explain the journey I had last week with a Mono Indian co-worker out in the sierra's. I tried to explain the interesting stuff to him (my dad), and couldn't quite get across what my experience was. So I will try again here.

On the 16th of October I left for the little town of Auberry about half way between Fresno and North Fork in the foothills of the sierra's. There I met my co-worker who works for my company as well as others (she is also 58 years old). The next morning our Native American monitor (from the North Fork Mono Tribe), met us in Auberry and off we went to start our survey. Now, I had met our NA monitor before and had worked with him briefly once before, so I knew he was a nice guy and such. He is also in his mid 50's and slightly overweight (strangely enough, most of that weight is muscle - go figure). Our job was to survey a "historic" trail that somewhat follows the San Joaquin River on the Madera County side(I say "historic" because that usually means european, but in this case, the trail was made and used by Indian cowboys pushing cattle from about 1900 on up to the present). The trail is about 7 miles long and is in the shape of a horseshoe, hence the name "Horseshoe Bend Trail". We were to survey the trail and 15 meters (50 feet) on either side of the trail as well. So our NA monitor (I'll call him NAM for now on) walked on the trail and I took the high road 15 meters from him and my other co-worker (I'll call her CAM, because I can) took the low road 15 meters below and off we went. Now, this trail is not marked and not maintained and has several off-shoots and other bisecting trails, cattle trails, deer trails, and cowboy/horse trails... so figuring out which trail was ours was sometimes quite confusing... there was a lot of back tracking and up hill/ downhill, "where the hell are we" moments the first couple days. The first day we hiked in 1.6 miles, and found two sites, and one isolate (an isolated concrete box thingy), oh and a really cool rock shelter (but it was impossible to discern whether it was "old" or not.
The second day we made it in only a little bit further. By the end of day two, NAM was complaining that his knees were hurting and he wasn't sure if he could hike the entire trail. It took us two hours just to hike out the second day. I'm thinking at this rate, we aren't going to finish in time and how are we going to get halfway down the trail if it takes us two hours to hike in and two hours to hike out? (plus our drive time to just get to the trail and back is 30 minutes) We won't have time to survey and record the sites! NAM said he has a friend who would be willing to drive us down the 4-wheel drive dirt fire access road that goes down the center of the horseshoe, and then we would only have to hike down (steep down) to the center of the trail and then walk out either way... (thinking this would save time and legs (NAM and CAM legs) I wasn't all that sore... yet. Actually CAM's legs were all right too, NAM called her a mountain goat because she would disappear and then all of a sudden, she would pop out of a drainage ahead of us.
So on the morning of day three we were to meet at our normal place and meet our "4-wheel driver". CAM and I drive up and low and behold it's... BAM! (I'll call him BAM, as you may have figured out, that's not his real name) Anyway, I know BAM, he's another North Fork Mono guy in his late 60's) I worked with him last summer for about a month on some excavations in the sierra's. So I get out and give him a big hug, and said, "I didn't know it was you!"
So we all pile in to BAM's truck and off we go. We realize it won't save much time doing this, but it did save our strength for the end of the day for our hike out. It's also really fun to listen to these two old Indian guys heckle each other and make fun of each other (most of the time in Mono - they are both fluent although they both say they aren't). The one line zingers were flying out of all of us - it was always a fun way to spend the morning. We would get down the mountain to the trail in about 30-45 minutes from being dropped-off by BAM. By then it was usually 10:30am (we started the day at 8:00 or 7:45).
BAM dropped us off a total of four times. I wish I had taken a picture of what we hiked down those four days, oh well. But here's a picture from the trail looking out over Redinger Lake.
This is getting long so I'll post the rest tomorrow. I'll tell you about NAM and how he has blended his Indian spirituality with Christianity and how his ancestors communicate with him. It's interesting. It would probably be important to tell you that NAM is also the head of the council of his tribe, so people look to him for special occasions and ceremonies, and any issues in the tribe.
Okay, tomorrow...

Sunday, October 28, 2007

New job description

So, a couple weeks ago now, I got to play the part of FedEx. We were working on a big proposal on a deadline which was Friday the 12th, by 2 PM. Wednesday afternoon, my boss asked if I'd be willing to go to LA on Friday. "uh... okay". Thursday roles around and we are still working on the proposal. So I buy my plane tickets from SJO to LAX and back and reserve my rental car to get me from LAX to Long Beach. We finished the proposal by 8:00PM on Thursday. And so I flew it down to LA the next morning. I drove it to Long Beach, and dropped it off with a security guard, who wrote me a receipt. Apparently, visitors aren't allowed in the building. I turned around and drove back to LAX and got on a plane to fly back home to SJO. So basically my company forked out $500.00, and paid me for a day, to play FedEx. I suppose it wasn't a bad way to spend a Friday.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

reaping the rewards of the sins of our forefathers

This past monday, I actually got to work in my home town of San Jose. It still took 35 minutes to get to the site, but, hey. I was monitoring for the SCVWD (Santa Clara Valley Water District). Every year they have a little money to do environmental clean-up. So this year, they decided to clean up the very lovely mercury contaminated soils along Alamitas Creek, which flows out of the Colero Reservoir in south San Jose. (I never knew there was a reservoir there)

There is mercury along the creek bed because the "idiots in charge" decided it was a good place to put the byproducts of the mining that was going on in the early european days of San Jose. Quicksilver mining to be exact. And we all know that the byproduct of Silver mining is mercury. They would use mercury to extract the ore (silver) from the bedrock. They knew that mercury is very harmful. So why in the world would you put it in your water supply?

So to clean up this lovely mess, the water district hires a construction company that specializes is hazardous waste. It was two backhoes and a water truck. They would dig out the soil along the creek to just below the water level. (they lined the creek with silt paper and hay to minimize the creek water spilling over) They had one guy using a fire hose hooked up to the water truck, he sprayed the work area non-stop. Apparently, the mercury is only harmful to us, if it gets airborne. So if you keep the dust down with constant water... no mercury poisoning. So besides me (the archaeologist), the water district people and the work crew, there were two people from another company who specialize in hazardous soils and air. They set up air quality monitors all around the site and on two of the workers. So that if mercury was in the air, the monitors would go off, and we would get the hell out of there... fast. That never happened though. We were all given masks, but wearing them was not enforced. And my shoes are still on the front porch. I haven't gotten around to washing them.

It was an interesting day. The crew was nice, and the water district people were nice too. So, why was I there? Well, I was there to make sure they didn't dig anything or anyone up besides the hazardous soil. A couple years ago now, you may remember or not, that they found a mammoth on the Guadalupe River. The area where we were working has a lot of history (mining, and indian). I did find lots of freshwater shells (modern, ie not eaten by indians or miners), deer bones, and old glass bottle fragments, and of course beer bottles and cans and plastic grocery bags.

So what did I learn? That I really need to get my Hazwhopper certification training, and that San Jose has Salmon runs. I'm a bit concerned that the salmon run up streams with mercury poisoning, but I'm sure there are lots of other bad things unseen in our waters.

The moral of this story is... All this time, money, and risk to our health could have been avoided if the mercury was disposed of properly in the first place. Now it gets dug up and trucked off to a hazardous waste dump facility near Kettleman City and new soil and rocks get trucked in to replace it. Cleaning up the mess left behind by our forebear's is not new, nor will it every really go away. Some of the "idiots in charge" today, are doing the same bad things, with the "out of sight, out of mind" mentality. It makes me mad to see the effects of it all. I'll get off my soapbox in a minute... What really erks me and what I see the most is garbage everywhere. I'll be in the backcountry somewhere at an arch. site and low and behold Budweiser bottles, plastic whatever, and cig. butts. This "out of sight, out of mind" thing is flawed, cus just because you don't see it, someone else does. I decided one time to pick up the garbage along a Forest Service road (behind a locked gate) and had to stop because I filled up two grocery bags, and was spending too much time (I was suppose to be working). I do try to pick up stuff and deposit it to a local garbage can. Okay, I'll step off now. Do something good every once in a while. Pick it up, because otherwise it will end up in our streams, rivers, and beaches if we let it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Hello all,
Welcome to my blog. Just a reminder, this is a *private blog and only those I have selected can read this (unless I get hacked). Some ground rules... I'd like to keep my name private, hense the name "The lonely Traveler", besides, you all know who I am. I will also not divulge any of your names without permission, nor will I post pictures of people other than myself without permission. And I hope you all will do the same here. Okay, so enjoy. Check in as often as you like. I will try and keep this updated as much as possible.

The Lonely Traveler

*If someone is actually reading this, it is no longer a private blog. I'm open to the public. Oh, that sounds kind of dirty.

My first helicopter ride

Hi there,

I wrote this originally a long time ago for a friend from church, and I thought you would enjoy it too. About two weeks ago (not really), I went down to Visalia to meet with some SCE people about a project. The project entails SCE trying to connect two of their existing transmission lines that service most of Southern California. They need to connect these two lines so they can avert power surges and outages. So, to do this they need people like me and biologists to help them decide where to place these new towers. They do an aerial survey first (helicopter), then after they decide placement, we will do a ground survey. These towers are the large, HUGE steel towers. So I hope that’s enough of an intro to...

Okay, here it is in technicolor and everything.

I arrived at the Visalia municipal airport at 8:45 am and my flight was at 9:30. I watched the helicopter come in. He flew in from southern California (Rosemead) and had three passengers with him from SCE (Southern California Edison). There were 11 of us. 9 from SCE, me (the archaeologist), and a biologist. Lets see, there was the project manager, environmental planner, two road story guys (they build the access roads to the towers), engineer (the guy who builds and places the towers), another biologist, and some other people who's jobs I have no idea.

So I was on the first flight. The helicopter will seat four passengers. I sat behind the pilot. I was with the two biologists and some other guy who got to sit in the middle on all the flights (he was there for continuity) Our flight was an hour long.

It wasn't as loud as I thought, and very smooth. We wore those "oh so stylish" headsets. and pushed a button to talk to each other. The view was awesome. You really can see BRM's (bedrock mortars – the grinding holes that indians used to grind seeds and nuts) from the air. I have a picture, but you can't see the holes unless I really zoom in.

I didn't get too sick. I started to get a bit sick, but that was because I was looking down and swinging myself around to see stuff. So I sat up and focused on the mountain for about five minutes and then I was fine.

I can't wait to do it again. I hope I get another opportunity. Those SCE people get to do it all the time. Of course they have a fleet of helicopters and they employ I think four pilots.

So, I've attached a few photos.

The first one is of the helicopter, itself. Number two is of "the stone corral" (it's pretty cool
and was built prior to 1870. It is also the place where two famous train robbers where shot by the US Marshals and a local posse. Number three is a view of the general area with the orchards and the Friant-Kern canal and the snowcapped sierra's in the far background.

Okay, this is long enough. I hope you have enjoyed this installment of the life of a local archaeologist (my job is so cool).

Addendum: Since this was originally written, I have gone up for a second ride. Not quite as enjoyable but exhilarating, nonetheless. I flew out of Big Creek (a town in the Sierra’s, that is the headquarters of SCE for the area). There were two biologists (one was in training), our guide from SCE (I have a story about him, but I’ll save that for later), and myself. We were surveying areas for potential helicopter landing sites. And so the fastest way to get to these sites is to fly to an existing helicopter landing site, and then driving/hiking from there. So the flight was about 15 minutes as opposed to 2 hours by car. So that was nice. But it was a bit too windy where we were going. The helicopter was getting blown around a bit. And it was too windy to land. The pilot (he was great) came in to land us and almost stalled, so he flipped us around for another go, and almost stalled again, so flipped us around again… He safely landed on the fourth try, but told us he will not be able to pick us up for the trip back, it is too dangerous. Lucky for us, SCE stashes vehicles and emergency equipment at certain places, and we happened to be at one. So we had a truck to get us back to town when we were done surveying. This has not put me off flying in helicopters. I actually felt quite safe, more so than in a plane. Not sure why though.