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Funds Granted!

Monday: January 15, 2018

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The Kentucky Historical Society had a nice ceremony for all awarded participants of the Kentucky Local History Trust Fund. I couldn’t attend, but you can find my partner-in-crime, the archaeologist hiding in the background. Check it out here!

I haven’t had a chance yet to organize the next phase of this project, but I’ll be visiting Kentucky again to finish this leg of it. More news to come as it progresses, I assure you.

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Red River Iron Industry

Thursday: October 19, 2017

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So you may recall that I had hinted on working with Matt on a project involving historic iron furnaces. He and I talked about the possibility of me applying for grants that could pay me to do work with the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) so that I could be paid more than what the volunteer program allows. Wayna, the forest archaeologist, was also part of this discussion and suggested we attempt something for the furnaces. We have a larger project in mind, but it starts with applying for the Local History Trust Fund through the Kentucky Historical Society.

Briefly, early entrepreneurs ventured into the Red River region of Kentucky before it was even a state. Some of these business ran into quite unhappy locals, and all of them were working in conditions without modern (at the time) amenities. Their purpose was to collect iron ore, melt it down in massive stone furnaces, cool it off into blocks of iron, send these away to forges to be transformed into products, and distribute the items widely.

Wayna took Rachel and I to see a few, and Matt showed me a couple more when I was back down for LAW. Their presence on the landscape is unmistakable. Not only does their size tower over you, but they are built intentionally into hillsides, not far from water sources. It is quite easy to imagine the larger complex of buildings. And I did find it fascinating that whole towns would spring up, called iron plantations, to support the venture – from barbershops for the employees to schools for their children.

The intention of this first smaller project is to send me on a journey, collecting information that is housed in places outside of the DBNF libraries such as at the Red River Museum in Clay City. After reading through all that’s available, I’d develop a driving tour pamphlet to help get the sites more widely recognized by the public. Once this first step is achieved, I can then work on the next step of the larger project.

The application was submitted Friday, so wish us luck!

I also found a few more photos that reminded me of some interesting tidbits. Like that time I got stung twice by a yellow jacket. Fun! Or having to watch out for copperheads every time we went over to take showers at Koomer Ridge Campground. Or when, in one of our STPs, my shovel did not damage this fine projectile point! I got skillz.

Matt took me on a small trip that included an old fire tower! (Did I mention on this blog that FireWatch is one of my favorite games? And that loving fire towers must run in my blood as I recently discovered my great-grampa was a watchmen once upon a time!) Some idiots lit a campfire inside it – on a wooden floor – so you can imagine the reason why only the metal frame stands today. But the view was serene!

And on the way back home, I decided to stop by where I grew up and walk across the Ohio River on this bridge. It was hot, but I needed a small break from driving so I thought I’d check out how the Louisville Waterfront Park was coming along. Plus, I had been listening to GRRM’s Fevre Dream during the long drives, and wouldn’t you know it? New Albany made an appearance, so it was kind of fun just to sit and think about how this area was such a big center for the early steamboat industry. I knew that, of course, from my Floyd County Archaeological Survey research – but having a great literary master mention my “hometown” was kinda killer, I gotta say!

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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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DBNF Volunteering part 3

Monday: October 16, 2017

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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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DBNF Volunteering part 2

Sunday: October 15, 2017

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This is the second part about volunteering down at the Daniel Boone National Forest with my friend Matt, who is the Cumberland District archaeologist. You can start at the beginning of the story here.

After we had reported our bear incident, we had to go through bear spray training and were issued bells and spray. “Get outta here bear!” became our motto.

The last time Rachel and I went to monitor rockshelters was amazing. We faced our fears, though they were intense. So intense, in fact, that I sometimes felt claustrophobic between the dense underbrush and tree falls – or, at least, I think that must have been what I was feeling. So intense, that we began to question our sanity. Three hours in, hiking a slow trek up a hill through some awful tree falls and thick undergrowth, having reached the base of the last bit before the shelter, we stopped to ask ourselves, are we stupid?

Is it stupid to go up into this creepy looking shelter that is so vegetated there is no escape? Is it stupid to trek out in the woods when we know there are bears? Or, is it stupid to presume that we would run into another bear? Maybe we were being too cautious? Which was it?

As supervisor, I knew it was my call. It wasn’t just about my own fear – I honestly had to look out for the well-being of the person in my charge. So we played a game: hold one hand up, hiding the other. With the other, hold out one finger to go up, and two fingers to return to the truck. On the count of three! One – two – three! … We both opted to return to the truck! How shameful. We laughed. But, I knew we could do it, we just needed encouragement, to be sure we weren’t being stupid by going back in.

Rachel opted to phone-a-friend and called her dad. Unfortunately, he did not answer. I gave up any hope trying to figure this one out on my own, so I, too, opted to phone-a-friend and called Boy. He’d be the most angry one anyway if I wound up dead by a bear and I knew better, right? He had a client in the office so he couldn’t talk but I think he could sense my urgency when I sort of ignored that and plodded on with my question. “Are we stupid for going up, or are we stupid for going back?” His answer? “You gotta face your fears. Go in!” And so we did.

And we found the largest rockshelter I had yet seen. This thing was massive. We were still a wee bit frightened, here and there, and especially when it was time to go back into the thick of the forest. But intermittently, we shouted “Get outta here bear!” or “You don’t scare me!” and things of that nature. Being that we were in the shelter, I am sure our voices carried far and curious visitors rolled their eyes at our disturbance of peaceful nature. But we remained alive and bear free, so ner!

And on our way back, we wanted to find an easier route. Three hours through brush was not ideal, and we needed to get back to the station at a particular time before they closed just in case an emergency did pop up. We went all the way down to the creek from the shelter then followed it back to the truck – in fact, there was a trail there. In fact, it was beautiful and serene and mystically gorgeous. In fact, it took a piddly thirty minutes to get back to the truck. WHAT?! So, that information certainly went into our notes. Had we known about that way, we could have monitored the second shelter before returning. Matt said that is just how these things go sometimes. Oh well!

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DBNF Volunteering part 1

Saturday: October 14, 2017

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One of the first things I did when I found out my contract at the university wasn’t being extended was reach out to a former “boss” of mine. Matt co-ran my graduate field school at Hardin Village and I was curious what he was up to. He is now the Cumberland District archaeologist down at the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF) in Kentucky so I volunteered myself to help him out and he took me up on the offer! And because he’s awesome, he made sure I’d be paid through their volunteer program which does allow some travel and (what they say is “not”) per-diem rates.

[So, just to be clear here in regards to the previous post: I do not think it is ironic that I would rather work without being paid in another state than work as an adjunct in the next city over. I think, rather, that my choice underscores the seriousness of the flaws in academia. I will have more opportunity and future promise through volunteering – for free even! – than working as an adjunct. (And can I also just say how grateful I am to Boy that I can make that “choice”?!)]

Coincidentally, Matt had another person reach out to him about working over the summer. Rachel is an undergraduate, and her family has a historic cabin in the Red River Gorge section of the forest. She had plans to work two months with him already and agreed that I could stay with her for the few weeks I could spend down there. Matt set me up as her supervisor so I could score some more hours in that role as I work toward the Principal Investigator status for archaeological work. I think we may have both been initially a wee bit nervous to be living and working together 24/7 for a few weeks with an unmet stranger, but we befriended each other easily enough!

With my first venture to DBNF, I spent a couple of weeks down there through June and July (yes, during the heat wave!). Our main purpose was to monitor rockshelters. Matt took us out to show us the whats and hows about that process, and we were able to go out with a backcountry ranger and some DBNF interns from other departments to get to some more remote sections. Then Rachel and I were turned loose.

Our first day was disappointing: we spent hours arguing with the GPS who assured us we were in the right spot, but the paperwork begged to differ. We came home without having monitored anything which was very frustrating and I felt quite guilty. The hike was gorgeous and wonderful (and a lot of work!), though. The second day, we tried a different shelter and found it straight away after about an hour’s hike. (These hikes were almost always 100% uphill through dense forest off-trail with only a GPS, compass, and old paperwork to guide us.)

While we sat on a boulder at the dripline catching our breath, I reflected on how rockshelter monitoring is a dream. No shoveling means we weren’t carrying shovels and screens with us (uphill and through the woods, mind you – on top of our packs which already weigh in at nearly 25 pounds), nor were we spending energy digging shovel test probes with poor results (both of these things happened during my Floyd County archaeological survey). The task set upon us was to find a particular shelter among the hundreds scattered around, check for vandalism, search for new information (petroglyphs or disturbed artifacts), and record better data (notes on how best to find it, photos with newer-than-40-year-old-photography, laser measurements, and the like). Seriously, our task was to hike around in the woods and take photos! :D

So, there we were, chillaxing as they say these days, when we heard some very disturbing noises not far off – about 30 feet we estimate. Just on the other side of a plant that is no longer my friend: rhododendron. Lots of brush was being moved around between some THUMP THUMP THUMP noises of something big and unhappy. My first instinct was “oh gosh, it’s a bear!” because let’s be real about this – when I found out there were bears at DBNF, I almost called off the whole thing. Matt assured me that in the three years he has been there, he and anyone he asked had never actually seen a bear (bear signs, yes, absolutely) so we wouldn’t have an issue. Thus, I signed up, but that first day was tense. Every noise as we hiked through had me looking around like a scared rabbit. My imagination can certainly get the best of me in wild ways. But then I realized that was not a sustainable mentality and I put the whole bear business behind me.

We had been going back and forth between her “hush, I want to listen” to my “BUT IF IT IS A BEAR WE ARE SUPPOSE TO BE LOUD” retorts. Rachel, a Montanan more familiar with bears, assured me it was not a bear. But as the sounds grew more agitated, I assured her I no longer cared what it was; I was getting the hell out of there.

I told her I would be walking away from the noise, following the shelter wall, rather than going down where we came up, because I wanted to be far from that thing, whatever it was. I took off, barely able to walk due to wobbly legs. I was legitly scared, folks. I do not give up tasks easily. My senses were very on edge and my only thought was to book it. Rachel lagged behind, probably laughing at me. So I bended a curve and then heard her run at me….with a louder running thumping noise behind her. I hopped behind a tree and turned around just in time to catch her wrist and tell her calmly, “Don’t run,” as I had read that is the very last thing you should try if it is a bear. She said afterward that my eyes were as big as saucers – well, so were hers! While she caught her breath, I heard a distinct vocalization of what I had thought was some scared forest dwelling creature spooked by this giant bear (because in my mind it was giant, of course), and that sound clearly ran down the hill and away. But was the bear that scared it still out there?

We heard no further noises, and my mind was circling around “What do you do when you see that bear charging around the corner? Think dammit!” After a while, I said we will keep walking away, fast but calm. The vegetation was growing so dense, we could barely push through. And then I came to the realization that we were being penned in on a cliff top and had to turn back – we had to turn back to go toward the sound, heaven help us! I regrouped my nerves, restated we should talk loudly so we awkwardly talked about how she had been planning a bridal shower for her friend. Once we reached an area with a little less vegetation (to where we could actually stand side by side), I told her we should probably radio it in just to be on the safe side. My hands were shaking so badly I could barely unzip her backpack to pull out the radio we had been issued. I understood how to use it, but I had no idea the protocols of what people say on there so I simply started with “Hello?”

No one answered and after another failed hello, while I was imagining this giant beast running up from behind me at any moment, I laid into it with our names, what we were doing, and the possibility that there was a bear nearby. That got someone’s attention, though it did not at all sound like he believed me. We were advised to go back to our vehicle calmly and return to the station. How we made our legs continue to move at first is a miracle. Rachel and I tried to talk loudly but our brains weren’t working well. She had a brilliant plan to blast music on her phone and we tried to sing along. We got to the truck just when it started to rain. We radioed back to let the guy know we made it safe. Great! When we get back to the station, we will just play it off like we quit because of the weather. No one need know our crazy experience.

Except that gossip goes fast, especially when everyone is using the same radio frequency, duh! “So, you may have seen a bear, huh?” was the first question anyone asked us. So much for hiding our fears! We showed them on the map where we were and detailed what we experienced. A couple people thought it might have been a buck, but honestly I had been around a very scary large buck in rut in the woods, alone, when I was younger and this was definitely not that. I felt like no one truly believed us, but that isn’t my problem.

As soon as my phone had service, I googled bear noises. I knew I would never find that noise I heard (which I had by then determined was the actual creature who had been making the agitated thump noises) because there is no way I was that close to a bear. Right? And yet, here it is, found rather instantaneously, for you to experience: Click on the first noise, under High Emotion, that reads:

This is a distress sound made by a fearful cub. This sound is commonly made when a cub is separated from its mother. This recording was made while a researcher examined a cub out in the field. The cub was soon released back to the mother.

Identical in almost every single way. I sighed with relief! A silly bear cub. And here we were so afraid of it. I had met a bear cub before (at a bear sanctuary), and it was adorable!

But, when we reported at a different office later that day, we were told we had to report it to the forest biologist, Sandra. She let us know that if it was a bear cub (and she didn’t have a reason to believe it wasn’t, except for the even more remote possibility that it was a wild hog – but I disagree with that option based on what I experienced), we were actually in a very, very dangerous scenario. This is because bear cubs are born in the first two months of the year, and are still with mama bear mid-summer. And this actually jives with the other noises we heard – my wild imagination hadn’t dreamed up the nightmare that there could be more than one scary creature, but now I can picture the noises being made by more than a single animal. So what we all eventually determined to have happened was this:

Rachel and I usually chat a lot but this particular shelter was just above a particularly steep section of a hill so we stopped chatting and going was quite slow since we were tired by this point. When we got to the shelter itself, we barely talked until we drank some water and caught our breath. Then we started chatting and laughing and our voices probably got distorted in the rockshelter, which would have spooked nearby animals. You know, like a mama bear and her cubs. Once we began talking loudly on purpose, I think this further frightened the bears, so at the same time I was telling Rachel that I was getting the hell out of there, Mama Bear was doing the same with her cubs. Rachel and I did not know that the only way down was directly below us (hence we walked around the shelter’s edge), but Mama Bear did and that is why she ran towards us – not to chase Rachel, but just to escape. Little Cub Bear got scared and screamed while chasing Mama downhill. Had we not moved away due to my fear, we would have been squarely in scared Mama Bear’s path of escape, which would likely have been quite devastating for me and Rachel. Thank you, weak stomach, for getting us outta there! Though, I do wonder if my imagination is so powerful that I actually conjured this ordeal up myself! Hmmm…

Matt put us on other work for most of the rest of the time we were there, but we were sent out once more, alone, to see if we could bear it (get it?;). More on all that in another post!

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