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DBNF Volunteering part 3

Monday: October 16, 2017

This is the end of the mini-series (read part 1 and part 2) about my first time with Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) this summer.

Since we were down there, Rachel and I also got to attend some talks about archaeology of the region and schmooze with some of the staff involved in various projects around the Forest. The networking opportunity potential was great, though I am not a very out-going person. I did get to ask a couple of people about their particular jobs, which is fascinating. For a brief while, I had considered being a backcountry ranger, for instance, or a firetower person (though none exist anywhere near me). I got to ask about their knowledge of trees and mushrooms and other plants – all of which bolstered what I learned in the Master Naturalist courses I took. It was refreshing to be around so many smart people willing to share knowledge again, let’s just put it that way!

One of the various projects I worked on was to help repair part of Fitchburg Furnace. It was not glamorous work, as our job was to carry gravel from the pile up the slight but long hill to inside the furnace where two engineers were correcting some blocks of stone, but it was meaningful.

I took the photo below from inside the furnace, where the gravel needs to be carted. You can see the pile of gravel passed Rachel, between the fence and the work vehicle. And though I loathe hard work at home, hard work in the field just always feels good.

And while I am not keen on historic archaeology, there was an opportunity to perhaps do something with all the iron furnaces around the Red River area, so I took Matt up on that and got a grant submitted that would pay me a real wage to do some work if it got accepted. More on that later!

As far as the other type of work I did while down there, one of the things was that Matt took us out to an area where some timber sales had been done. He and Rachel had been working there earlier in the summer before I showed up. We put in a few STPs but came up short of nothing except a nice turtle skeleton found on our hike near a little pond.

Our other big project was over at Lockegee Rock. It is used a lot by visitors, especially Morehead State University students. The level of vandalism and litter is disgusting. It is something seen in the worst urban city alley; not something one should see at such a gorgeous place in nature. But interesting areas for people today were also interesting areas of people in the past – people are people, no matter where or when you go! One day, all their garbage and graffiti will be of interest to future archaeologists, so I can only shake my head.

It was here that an enormous arachnid fell out of the sky and nearly landed on me. Instead, it splatted on the rock by my feet – and somehow survived for at least quite a while as we continued to survey the area. I swear, had it splatted on my shoulder, I would have certainly fell right off the cliffside! Unfortunately, I do not have a scale in the photo, but it was the largest spider I have seen in person – and, mind you, I did have two tarantulas growing up!

At the end, Rachel and I also worked on copying some reports from the archives at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. My friend Anna is getting her PhD there so we were able to meet up and hang out for a bit.

One of the things I love most about archaeology is getting to do meaningful work via hiking around in nature. I can’t stress enough that getting paid to do that (in any form, including just sharpening skills) is amazing. A bad day in the field beats the best day in the office, no kidding. To give you a sense of that, the average number of flights of stairs I climbed during the rockshelter monitoring was 30 (though the app on my iPhone really ought to count going downhill, as that can be just as bad or worse than the goings up, I promise!!). That is a lot on its own, but sometimes that was done with less than 4,000 steps – think about how steep that is!

Another thing that is great about it is meeting passionate like-minded people. Rachel turned out to be pretty awesome and we had some deep conversations about gender, millennials, archaeology and looting, relationships of all types, and religion (specifically Judaism since I knew next to nothing and she is a Jewish person). We even played board games, a made-up see-if-you-can-draw-the-US-from-scratch game (which is tremendously hard!) and hiked around one day when her brother and neph-dog were in for a visit. Heck, I even taught her some surface embroidery! We survived bears in the wild together and did I mention giant hoards of wolf spiders (big enough to hear as they scamper across the floor, no less!!) and rampant mice, both inside the cabin? Oh, and that the cabin lacked running water? And central air? And had a compost toilet outside in a little shack with no electricity for lights? That sounds like a horrible experience, I know, but I loved that little cabin!

I enjoyed my time down there so much – it was incredibly therapeutic, actually – that I later signed up to go back down for two more weeks. The next post(s) will be about the annual Living Archaeology Weekend!

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