Painted Desert

Painted Desert

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


We should be heading home tomorrow. First, a picture of me at Canyon de Chelly:

There are, of course, many things that I never got around to talking about in the blog. One is all the idiosyncrasies of our apartment. The microwave that stymied us for three days until we figured out the arcane series of buttons to push to get it to cook anything. The toaster that required continuously applied physical force to get it to toast bread. The metal courtyard door, which always swelled in the heat of midday so that we were unable to pull it open, leaving us trapped in our own home.

There were other odd and wonderful things around the housing complex, too. The washing machine that took only 50 cents to use, and which only accepted one of my coins last night, happily washing the load for only 25 cents. The pool table that came equipped with ten pool cues, all of which had had their tips broken off—save one, which finally joined the others when Kate raised it a bit too high and the ceiling fan took a bite out of it. The bathroom in the office building that had only one stall, but did come equipped with a couch. The fact that grilling anything on the community barbecues inevitably meant the rest of the community descending around you and making mindless chit-chat, their eyes fixed solidly on your burgers. The eccentricities of our coworkers, which were many but which will not be mentioned here.

The most notable and memorable thing about this place, though, will certainly be the insects and other arthropods that plagued us daily. (Precisely as I write this, Katie, who is rolling up her maps for the trip home, says sternly, "No, spider! Go over there.") Last night Katie felt a tickling while she lay trying to sleep, and eventually gave in to paranoia enough to turn the light on and discover a solfugid in her bed. She told me it must have had the wrong room. This was in reference to a poem I wrote earlier in the summer:

Ode to the Solfugid

Your arms are long. This pains me not;
I rather like the way you trot
With arms aloft, those prideful banes
Of insect foes who now are not.

Your jaws are sharp. They thrill me so;
You kiss your prey with killing woe.
Oh that those jaws would kiss me once!
I'd bleed red joy before I go.

Your trunk is fat. It is no sin;
All those are meek whose flanks are thin.
Were you but ninety times the size,
Our rightful passion could begin!

This was a poem commissioned by Kate and Katie, who were amused… or baffled… by the fact that I liked the solfugids. Well, I do (not as much as in the poem!), but then I have worked and studied in entomology and I find that the more I know the arthropods, the less horrifying they are.

As for our last days at work… there's a list of rules in the office which states that you always find the most interesting thing at the end of the last day in the field. I had my last day in the field with my supervisor on Friday, and though Katie and I have been out since then, I don't know if it counts—but I did find a skeleton.

You see, all of us have this fantasy that we'll find a bone going into the ground and we'll dig around it and see that it keeps on going… to finally discover that we have, at last, found an entire skeleton of an animal. I had found some bones coming out of a hill earlier in the summer but hadn't investigated them. We did so on Friday, and saw that, in fact, it was a skeleton.

Unfortunately, this particular skeleton looked like it had been left in the spin cycle a little too long, possibly after being sat on by a mastodon. It was clearly a skeleton, but other than that, there was almost nothing that could be identified. In fact, the only things that even let us know which was the head and which was the tail were a handful of relatively unbattered vertebrae and some teeth. Those were the only bones our supervisor, a working paleontologist for the past 7 years, was able to ID. No idea what kind of animal it is, though by the teeth it's some kind of reptile. But it was a skeleton, after all, so at the end of the day we covered it to protect it from the elements. Someone will return after I'm gone to finish excavating it. Unfortunately, we didn't have a tarp with us, so we covered the thing with the emergency space blanket I keep in my first aid kit. It flashed a brilliant silver in the sun as we covered the skeleton and then heaped dirt on it, to hide the silver, as I'm sure it would be seen by anyone in an aircraft and we didn't want somebody trying to rescue it. As it was, it looked like we were burying an astronaut. On the moon.

So there you go.

Among the other things I didn't get aroud to writing about is our game, "Trash or Artifact?" which began the day I discovered the spoon in the middle of nowhere. There is a certain amount of trash out here; not enough to make an impact on anything, including a wilderness hiker's enjoyment, but enough that working outdoors six days a week for ten weeks meant discovering a good deal of it. There's plenty of this kind of trash:

Here we have a probable midden pile left by Pueblo peoples hundreds of years ago. There's also this kind of trash:

…which is a pile of antique junk on old Route 66. And we have your modern, run-of-the-mill trash too. Including all the old, UV-decimated balloons we found that had arrived in the Arizona desert from who knows where. When, exactly, does it become an artifact?

Here is a significant piece of modern history. Katie and I went to Job Lot to shop for snacks before setting off. She insisted on purchasing this 1-quart jar of chopped garlic, insisting we would eat a lot of garlic. And I suppose we did, with meals like garlic pork chops with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and green beans with garlic. The picture shows how much was left as of last night. I guess we can finally go home.

No comment is necessary for these pictures:

We're leaving for home tomorrow morning and have adventures planned, so of course there will be more blog entries when I return. Once we get to Ohio we plan to dally with friends, so we might not be back in RI until around the 15th.

For now, I thought I would leave my devoted readers with what some of you (family!) have no doubt been wanting all along, which is more pictures of me. I grabbed these pictures off Katie's computer last night, so you can thank her for the opportunity to relive the summer through the art of the portrait…

In Amarillo, spray-painting the Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch.

Me studying. How diligent I am!

Hanging out in the Painted Desert while Katie scales a hill to get data.

Relaxing at La Posada, an old hotel in Winslow.

Goofing off at Buddha Beach in Sedona.

In the field, waiting.


Weary Hag said...

Oh lord oh lord, I really and truly LOVE that last pic of you. I would love to snag a copy ... everything about it is perfect! Seriously a fantastic shot.

Now ... this Buddha Beach. You must tell me all about it upon return.

I don't see any water. I see rocks and I see trees... I don't even see a lousy solfugid! I looked really hard but see no water. This is most troubling to me. I'm guessing there was no beach ball bouncing in this general area. No Marco Polo being played.

Yeah. AZ can keep their beaches.

I'm down wit da o-shin ma-sef.

Weary Hag said...

Wait. There's more.
The trash piles ... the second photo looks like you took the pile from the first photo and just transferred it to a different spot.

But more importantly? The first photo. Is it me or do you see this too ... look to the right of your "trash pile" ... there's a large bit of rock. Do you or do you not see an raised footprint on that rock?

Maybe I just need a drink (and I don't even drink).

Mom said...

Love all the pictures and the story about the pool cues!

Can't wait til you get home and can tell me all the other stories.



Spinning Girl said...

What a delicious encapsulation!!!

J said...

The water at Buddha Beach was the river, just to the left of the photo. Silly people.