Friday, July 1, 2011

Shovels and Sunburns

Alright, week one down. I'm tired, beat up and incredibly excited. We started off the first day with a breakdown of pretty much everything; the history of the site, how the grading for the course is going to work, what a typical day will be like, etc. It was quick and simple and pretty basic. I had heard a lot of the history already in the other classes that I had taken from the professor who is overseeing the operation.

We're working on the Robert Newell house in Champoeg State Park. It's just a little way off of what used to be Napoleon St., which runs through part of Champoeg. While the house still stood, Champoeg was a really happenin' place! Apparently it was a forerunner for state capital back in the 1840's and 50's, at least unofficially. It's where a vote was taken to decide whether or not the Oregon Territory was going to be under English or American rule. The vote was literally tied half-and-half until two French-Canadian trappers (Matthieu and Lucier) came out of the back of the group and voted for American dominance. Thus, the first provisional government was established in the Oregon Territory. There's a pretty sizable monolith in Champoeg to commemorate the event, with all the names of those who voted in favor of American rule. It was called the "Plymouth Rock of the West", apparently, and people came from all over just to see it. They rode steamboats up the Willamette just to stop by and check it out. Pretty cool. As for the rest of the park, it's packed with history. They marked out where the old town roads used to be, so you can see the different city blocks. Our professor worked a lot in that area, so he was able to tell us exactly where certain buildings had stood. He showed us where the medical practitioner's house stood. He had his practice right next door. Also, he and his wife were both "crazier than a barn owl" according to my professor. She wrote the first novel in Oregon (called "The Grains", or something like that, which chronicled the life going on at Champoeg as filtered through her eyes [mostly it was just gossip]). Eventually she died and their place burned down. But they really didn't sound like super outstanding people anyway. A lot of major Oregon history took place right there. It's sort of humbling to think about it. This all took place when Portland, Oregon was a small farming town that no one knew about. That little switch-up is kind of amazing. Anyway, I'll stop boring you with the history. It's on the web if you want to look it up. It's really pretty bloody cool.  Read up on it and then check out the park. You totally won't believe that it's the same place.

So, on to the actual digging part! We worked for a full day on getting the back-fill dirt out of the site so we could actually start working. Luckily, they came through the day before with a backhoe to take out a huge chunk of it, but there was still quite a bit to do. I wouldn't be exaggerating if I said we moved close to a ton of dirt that day. We all kinda just slogged through the dirt, learning our way around a shovel and such. I ended up in the worst possible spot ever after lunch. We started digging out a brick rubble feature that's super fragile, so you can't be really rough with your shovel. Well, everyone around me was uncovering the feature pretty quickly while I stood in a trench filled with mud and hit absolutely nothing. I passed by the point at which they found the feature and still nothing. So I'm trying to stay off the feature (I was snapped at for being too close to it), clear out the trench I'm standing in and dig three times as much as everyone else had to. It was only then that one of the assistants told me I had picked the absolute hardest spot to work in. Awesome. So, everyone else finished their areas relatively quickly, and I was stuck working through a ton of intricate angles and thick mud. Good start to field school.

The next day, we actually started to get to work. First, we had to sharpen our tools and I, of course, sliced my thumb open. Blood gushing, me trying to hide it from everyone, etc. Just an all-and-all bad start to the day. However, once we started getting our levels going, my unit partner and I found some amazing stuff! We found quite a bit of pottery and a number of square-cut nails, as well as some other odds and ends; a pipe stem, glass, a button, etc. The pottery is all small shards, 'cause we're still in a plow zone, so nothing is going to be huge and intact, but it was still some pretty rare stuff. Some mocha-ware, some green transfer-print stuff and whatnot. Exciting! To know that I was holding objects that were part of daily life in the 1800's was mind-blowing. We finally finished the 20 cm level the next day and I got to cut in my first wall. It's just making the unit look nice and even, and also allows for easy access to the stratigraphy of the soil. My walls are freaking beautiful. I'm just gonna say that, 'cause I can't do too much other stuff well. But I can do that. And really well. Haha. We started another level around noon, but didn't have time to finish it before the end of the day. I kept getting crap from the assistants about how I couldn't keep my floor level. They're all good people, though, and just enjoy giving me a hard time. Ya know. It happens. Eventually, I got my act together and worked damn hard to keep my floor level. My unit partner... did not do so well at that. She was a little... meek. Hands-off, I guess. She preferred to stay out of the hole and just screen the dirt that I was bringing up. C'est la vie. It just got a little lame after the second day in a row, while my hands were cramping up and my back was completely gone.

So, field school was done for the week. I was heading home, and, as a little going away present, just before I made to to the intersection leading toward I-5, some guy pulled out in front of me and I slammed into the side of him. Awesome. Totaled my truck, I believe and I was stranded in what used to be known as La Butte. The town was too small so it died. Yep. And I'm stuck here. So, almost an hour later, a tow-truck comes and picks up my car, and a bit after that my dad pulls up and takes me home. Thank god for the weekend and time to recuperate. I need to heal all these cuts and take care of these blisters.

It looks like it's going to be a fun summer!

P.S. I'll try to have more interesting stuff to talk about next time.

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