Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Birthday Present

I started volunteering at Arizona State Museum (ASM) shortly after retiring from my nursing career, happily leaving all those medical problems behind me. At ASM I worked for the registrar and we were involved in a huge accession called the Norton Allen Collection. We managed to put 580 whole vessels on a one-day exhibit. It was a big hit! Word spread throughout the University of Arizona campus about the exhibit.

Elaine called me in to her office one day and said, “A student wants to see the Norton Allen Collection. Would you show it to him?”

I said, “Yes, no problem.”

“Cherie, there is a problem, he is blind.”

“Elaine, I don’t know how to do this,” was my instant response. She convinced me to do it and on the following Wednesday he appeared with his note taker.

I was nervous; in fact I was scared. How does one “show” a blind person Hohokam pots and other wares?

I began describing the vessels and other items to him. I soon realized this was a lousy approach.

“Take off the gloves; we don’t need them.” I took his hand and placed a censer in it saying, “This is a censer. It has a snake carved into the stone.” He held the censer and rubbed and felt it.

“It has 2 snakes,” he said.

“What?” And so it did.

And so the hour went. I would hand items to him, sometimes taking his finger and tracing the painted designs on wares. He would tell me about them: “This artist has a sense of humor. This artist is very talented. This artist is doing a very difficult design.”

Years later I told Beth, School Program Director for ASM, this story, saying I didn’t even remember his name nor knew any further outcome. Because Beth was working on ways to “show” blind children the Navajo Weaving Exhibit it was natural for me to tell her about my “tactile” experience.

Flash forward three months.

Today is my Birthday and Beth tells me she has news for me. She had related my story to Frank, who works for The Council of the Blind Arts Division. He was the blind student and enthusiastically remembered “seeing” the Norton Allen Collection.

He got an “A” on his paper.

What a birthday present!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Umbrella

As I mentioned elsewhere, we often had ‘visitors’ on the Cienega survey.

On this day we had an elderly couple join us. He looked determined. She looked frail.

She carried an umbrella as she said she had trouble with the sun.

We are in the Arizona desert and there is no shade, you know!

Michelle put them on a crew who was to survey fairly close to the dirt two-track but was still out in the middle of nowhere.

My crew was up on ridge tops and we could see the umbrella walking back and forth.

Good! They are doing ok I thought to myself. At least the umbrella was doing ok!

The successful day ended and on the ride home I asked the umbrella carrier how her day went and if she enjoyed the survey.

She said she really enjoyed herself but of all the comments she could have made she said in astonishment,

“But you know we had to sit on the ground when we ate lunch!”

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Shot

Texas is one of my favorite parts of the country so when I was invited by Paleo Cultural Research Group (PCRG) to participate in the Gault dig I quickly accepted. A Clovis excavation at that, and under the direction of Mike Collins and Stan Ahler, who could ask for anything more?

The work was exacting and the soil not much different from concrete. The skies were blue, the Texas air hot and the 10-member team was having a laughing good dig experience.


The shot rang out and we dove for the pit floor. The smell of gun smoke/powder hung in the air. We were all OK.

The questions started. Who did the shooting? Where did it come from? Why would someone be shooting at us? Has it stopped?

We kept low in the pit. Then little by little we started to rise up to look around. Other teams further away were continuing their work as though nothing had happened. What in the world?

Back at work excavatiing, members of our team were beginning to say they were excavating plastic! Clovis and plastic? Doesn’t make sense.

This was too much for my brain. I decided to have a cigarette.

I climbed out of the pit and went to my backpack only to find my lighter had exploded under the hot Texas sun!

Gun shot indeed!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


We had just finished surveying a huge swath of BLM land in a pass outside of Heber, Utah. The area was strewn with shotgun shells casings, 22 brass casings and clay pigeons. A real mess in a beautiful area.

“We” were students who had signed up for the field school with Bonnie.

I was along as a volunteer to assist Bonnie with whatever she needed me to do. In this instance it was to assist with surveying techniques.

The students had learned quickly. They were a very enthusiastic group, and tireless as youths are.

On a break one student had suggested they go up “higher” up the mountain to see another quarry he had heard about.

At the end of the survey they were still intent on the quarry visit.

I had already seen enough quarries to last me a lifetime and I was tired. I said, “Go. I’ll wait and rest in the rocks below near the road”.

They went on their way and I wandered down to a very boulder strewn area near the road. They were to be gone about 20 minutes.

I had just found a comfortable resting spot in the boulders when I saw a car drive up and 2 men and 2 boys got out. They were all carrying guns! Shotguns!

They raised the guns to shoot and they were pointed in my direction! They did not have targets and it appeared they were going to shoot randomly.

I had a red pin flag and waved it shouting, “Someone is here. I am here. Don’t shoot!”

They looked astonished and disgusted. They said something and headed back to the car and drove off.

I was shaken.

In the evening back at camp the BLM ranger came by and I told her about the incident and I had really feared I was going to be shot. She listened intently with a look of horror on her face and she said, “Oh! The paper work!"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Big Skies and Vindication

Montana has really big skies and boy do the stars shine at night especially, when one is away from every bit of artificial nightlight.

I was at Mammoth Meadows way outside of Dillon, Montana under those big skies, for a Paleo-Indian excavation under the watchful eye of Rob.

I shared a pit with another gal, far more experienced than I at excavation.

She had recovered a small animal rib and a bolo in her area of our pit. I had recovered nothing.

Suddenly I had a hair! I showed it to her.

“Throw it away. It is from your brush,” she said. “No it isn’t. My brush is black and this is red.” My big defensive response!

I took it to the crew chief: “Throw it away. It is from your brush.”

I took it to Rob: “Throw it away. It is from your brush.”

To heck with all of them I decided.

I provenienced it (means I measured height within the pit, distance from both sides,in otherwords its EXACT location in the Universe) labeled it, placed it in a film canister and sent it to the lab.

The next day the lab director came to me saying, “You submitted a hair!”

“Yes.” I said. “It is from your brush,” she said.

“Throw it away then,” said I, knowing full well nothing is thrown away once it goes into the lab!

That winter a note from Rob on the report: “the hair is extinct horse.” (extinct horse is pre 10,000 BC) Not only that but it was the first hair recovered in that type of acidic soil that was thought to destroy all hair.

YEA! Vindication for stubbornness doesn’t get much better than this.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The City Kid

Seventeen students from all over the US had joined us in Colorado for 3 ten-day excavation sessions.

Budding Archaeologist or maybe they joined to get some easy college credits.

Our Archaeology Field School students were excavating and sifting furiously.

One young man, whom I will call Jacob, was from New York City. He had never been outside the city.

We were at 9,800 feet midst the mountains, some of them known locally as “14s”- 14,000 feet high and breathtaking in their beauty.

But altitude slows one’s activities, makes one breathe deeply, makes one light headed, and makes one not remember the simplest of things.

So was this incident altitude or culture induced?

As I mentioned, sifting of the excavated soil was going rather furiously and the dirt was getting too high under the screen.

The crew chief knew this could be dangerous so, he yelled, “Jacob, get the wheelbarrow and move this dirt.”

Jacob, who at the time was walking across the site, stopped dead in his tracks, stared at the crew chief but was unresponsive. Again the crew chief yelled, “Jacob, get the wheelbarrow and move this dirt.”

Finally a response, “What’s a wheelbarrow?”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Little Doggie

Our paleoindian dig was outside of Gunnison, Colorado not too far from a large cattle ranch.

One morning I stepped outside of my little trailer and saw 200 head of cows headed toward the dig area. I watched and watched some more. I felt rather disquieted.

My trailer was parked about 100 feet in the flats below the small knoll where the dig was located.

The cows continued past me and I watched them go miles away, up and over a far off ridge. Whew! Last of them I thought to myself.

About 2 am I heard the chomping, farting, shiting, snorting, bellowing of cows. Then, my trailer, all 700 pounds of it, started to rock and roll. Really rocking and rolling!!

The trailer was being used as a scratching post by those beasts.

I grabbed my little 8 pound Poodle, SILA, put her on a long leash; threw a flannel shirt over my nylon nightgown and added boots to my feet. We tore out the door into the night’s cold.

I started shouting, “hi’ya-- hi’ya” over and over-- SILA "woofed and woofed" as she nipped at those cows to keep them moving. The two of us of worked hard to herd those damn cows to the next pasture.

We were cold and tired when we went back to bed.

Later in the morning the rancher arrived. I told him about the cows using my trailer as a scratching post and how scared I was that my trailer was going to be flipped over. I asked if he had any suggestions as to keeping the cows away.

Looking down at SILA he said, “Get a dog!”

Saturday, May 8, 2010


The Sierra Ancha cliff dwelling area is located outside of Phoenix. I had been working there with Rich for a number of years and we had so much to do Rich decided to enlist EARTHWATCH’s help.

People came from all over to join in this wonderful endeavor.

My crew was sent in to map an existing known but undocumented cliff dwelling structure in another valley. We had a vague idea were the cliff dwelling was located so we started our scouting.

A “sorta” path was found leading up the 200 foot sheer cliff face. The path took us to a narrow ridge. One by one, bellies tight against the cliff, hands way out to our sides griping the rock face we picked, slid and skirted our way along the narrow ledge holding on for dear life. An older guy behind me said, “Hurry up! We have work to do.” I smiled and gave him a polite murmur of “I am going as fast as I can.”

We found the dwelling 200 feet up. Walls intact, artifact on the floor and the dwelling looked out on the valley’s desert floor for miles around. Hours were spent drawing and mapping the dwelling. Measurements were taken of the existing walls and the multiple courses that included type of stone used. Rock by rock we measured. Form by form was filled out. We were exhausted not only from the work, the small space we had been confined in for hours but from the nerve wracking climb into the dwelling.

On the way back, repeating the stance of bellies to the cliff face and hanging on for dear life, I heard the same man say to the girl behind me, “Hurry up we have dinner waiting.” Now this gal was from Boston, a tiny thing too, wasn’t about to take his nonsense. In her best deep thundering voice I heard her shout, “Fuck Off!”

Hmmm. Sometimes youth has a unique way of putting things in perspective!

Monday, May 3, 2010

A Field exercise

Pima Community College has an excellent Archaeology Department. The Field work/exercises though, almost cost me a friendship.

Marilyn and I met in class, discovered we lived around the block from each other and so began our friendship, driving to and from classes together especially, the evening classes and the Saturday fieldwork.

We partnered up for many of the exercises, one being a mapping project. Each team was given a 10meter square area to map.

“Map everything: rocks, bushes, grass etc. everything in your area and be sure to use your compass to properly place items on your grid map. It has to be exact!” Tough and exacting instructions to us from Buff, the Field Director.

We each had a compass. They were identical. We had had the same class on how to use it. But we were messing up.

The usual and comfortable way to hold a compass is to hold it, arms slightly extended/bent, away from the body and about chest high.

Marilyn and I never got the same readings for anything!

Our tempers began to flare as we were now behind the rest of the class. Pressure was on. Still we could not get it right.

Marilyn’s civilian job as the Hematology Lab Director at a local hospital was but a tad more exacting than mine as a Nurse. We worked under the Perfectionist’s axe!

Finally, we called Buff to our area and explained our dilemma. One of us wasn’t ‘doing it right.’

Buff had a tough time trying to figure out why we would get such different readings when we were doing things the same way.

He checked for the accuracy or problems of our compass; he checked for metal nearby.

Metal? Marilyn said she wore an under-wire bra.

That was it! Her bra was causing the problem!