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2017 LAW Volunteering

Tuesday: October 17, 2017

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With a host of partners and sponsors, the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) puts together an annual event called Living Archaeology Weekend. Since my previous volunteer experience left me on good terms with them, Matt asked if I was interested in coming back down to help him get that set up. Sure thang!

My living arrangements were different. Rachel had to return to school in Montana, so her cabin in the Gorge was unavailable. Matt set me up with a gal he knew in Lexington and though I barely got to hang out with Ellie due to my commute and exhaustion coupled with her work schedule, she provided me with a comfortable bed (I had a cot in the cabin), a kitty reminescent of my own Sasha, phone and internet access (neither option was available at Rachel’s), and full running water service. Driving twenty minutes out to Koomer Ridge to take a camp shower? Not anymore!

Much of the first week was spent getting supplies from point A to point B, with a flat tire mishap thrown in the mix. Oh, and getting a caffeine addiction that I am only now finally beating the withdrawal headaches (otherwise I never drink caffeine). But the Go Time gas station in Slade had THE BEST coffee I’ve ever tasted – butter pecan. (Sadly, they no longer carry it; I checked on a recent venture out there with Boy.)

The second part of week one made my year. First, we went out with some tree experts to cut down something like 150 saplings. After the others cut them with a chainsaw and brought them up to the road, I dragged them back to the trailer and chopped off the limbs. Over the next two days, I worked with experts in the field of primitive living (yes, that is a thing) and built two bent-pole structures, one domed and one rectangular. I am not quite sure why this enamored me so, other than I always thought it would be cool to have something like that in my yard, and now I know I can because it is not that hard! A humongous shoutout to Keith G., whom I worked with the most and pretty much lives off the grid which I always thought was a brilliant concept. Matt W. also brought some flare and skill to making them and had his adorable family in tow.

My task was to record notes and photograph the process, which now will be turned into some teaching material for other organizations. So, on the first day, in the gentle rain, that is pretty much all I did beside cut cordage with a stone tool Keith flaked for me. The second day was almost just me and Keith for most of it (or at least, it felt that way but maybe I missed my coffee that morning), so I took far less data until others were able to come help. Matt W. was able to pop in for a while (after he had just gotten married!!) and eventually, one or two other volunteers.

Then LAW happened, and while I had been informed that the first day is filled with busloads of school children, no one prepared me for the actuality of what 1200 kids feels like. Take that in for a moment. The first photo below is during LAW setup. The next photo is during a lull in LAW visitors. The third is a lull over at the historic side of things.

I was paired with Johnny, a retired archaeologist whose name was all over my rockshelter monitor reports. He’d recently badly hurt his hand so rather than demonstrate flintknapping, we were demonstrating how ancient people in the area may have processed acorns with stone mortars and wooden pestles. He had crafted some as an experimental study and it was neat to see the alterations by their use just across the two days the event went on.

Some students listened well, others didn’t listen at all (and why were their teachers not paying attention or even anywhere near them?!), but overall I think it was hugely successful. Kids had fun and took home at least a smidgen of knowledge about the past. The second day was open to the general public and while it was supposedly going to be much relaxed, I found it to be nearly as populated, though less all at once. I was able to stroll around, at least, and check out the other demonstrators. Johnny taught me a lot about food processing and was kind enough to sit down with me and explain how to make bark baskets. His granddaughter popped in for much of the day as well, and she’s the brightest 12 year old I have ever met! And the guys next to me were the flintknappers, so every now and then I chatted up with them to learn more about their craft, too.

I was flabergasted at how easy a pump drill is and made a small medallion for myself.

I got to take home some heritage seeds which I hope to plant in my garden next year (it doesn’t exist at the moment).

I made a cattail duck that floats on water.

I got to use a small loom and ask all kinds of questions about the craft (I’ve been considering buying one). I was particularly fascinated with this pulled-thread look.

Matt’s office neighbor is one of the fire guys, and he ran a blacksmithing forge at the event so I talked to him for Boy’s sake.

And we were served a nice treat of cornbread and beans. Plus, Alyson (Matt’s wife, whom I’ve known since Hardin Village also) gave me the best homemade pecan pie I have ever tasted!

And I ran into people I had met before but didn’t even think I’d see them here: Dr. Jefferies from Sapelo, Katie (a friend of a friend; we met to discuss writing an article together last time I had been in town), and the people from the Fort Ancient site I got to volunteer on for a day (whom I now realize are part of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, duh!). Oops, I may have forgotten to sneak that in during my last set of posts. But there you go, I got to work in a real unit also this summer (in the midst of a cornfield, of course), huzzah!

LAW offers so much stuff – I didn’t list nearly even half of it!. It was great to be a part of it as well as experience it. I told Boy that we are both going down there next year, even if I don’t volunteer. I’d love to introduce him to all the great minds. It was very educational, the demonstrators are amazing and passionate and almost always hands-on for visitors, and it was just a superb time. Top of the list for sure!

To recap my overall volunteering, Wayna had provided me and Rachel with some DBNF loot during my last visit to thank us. She also took us out to Sky Bridge Station to thank us for our help (I’ve actually been there several times now – you wouldn’t think a restaurant with only hotdogs and quesadillas would be amazing, but it is!). Other places we went were: Fort Boonesborough, Waterfront Grille, Miguel’s Pizza, Natural Bridge State Resort Park and Hemlock Lodge (restaurant and pool!), and of course sites and trails throughout Red River Gorge. Matt even gifted us a stellar book, Grit-Tempered (documenting the lives of undervalued women archaeologists).

At the end of LAW, the volunteers and demonstrators are invited to gather at Lil’ Abner Motel and Cottages for a pizza party and fun evening of camaraderie. I was to share Cabin 41 with some other ladies, but they weren’t able to use the room the first night (and I wasn’t able to the second), so I had the whole place to myself! Mega! We were gifted a cool LAW T-shirt and big thank you’s went out to everyone involved. Matt even made sure to embarrass me a little by calling me specifically out for my own efforts.

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