Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Little Lucky Things

The dig was not an exciting place to be this weekend. I got to stay in the field house, which is a lot more comfortable than it was the last time I stayed there in 2007 or 8; it has beds now, the water was working, and I was able to have potatoes, eggs, and tea for breakfast, with plenty of time left to birdwatch my way down to the metal barn before anybody else showed up. I saw mostly little brown jobs, and a black vulture buzzed me. In a field near the road, a flock of groundhugging birds went after the morning insects; probably just grackles, but spectacular in silhouette with the morning sun turning their wings into silver scythes when they took their low, short flights.

The other volunteer who was supposed to be there had car trouble, so it was just me, Nancy Littlefield, and Mike Collins. During the last month, a field school from New Hampshire had cleared phenomenal amounts of dirt; so much that Mike spent a lot of his time clearing the sandy backfill that was packed over the deep pre-Clovis test hole in order to preserve it, so that the sand would again be below the level of the main surface. I was given a unit up high in one corner, in such a cramped position that Nancy suggested I clear it a quadrant at a time. Nancy had a specific unit she wanted to work on, but had to sort out something on another one first, which took her till past two. We all know how that goes. She expected to be there till dark.

Not much conversation went on, though Mike talked about a "dire wolf" jaw dated to 3000 YBP which, when he looked at it, was too small to be even a coyote; and also about coming upon a ten-year-old piece of his online that he couldn't remember writing. Mike and Nancy discussed an arrangement of large rocks over several units at the same level which Mike thought looked like "a prehistoric drainage ditch," probably natural; and Mike examined the two red soils uncovered at different levels, and decided that probably the upper one was the same as the lower one, used as backfill by a commercial archeologist who worked the site earlier last century. I got the northwest quadrant of my unit almost to the desired level, uncovering lots of broken flakes, limestone chunks, and some fragments of bone and bonelike rock; and got maybe a little less bad at using the laser level and mapping. Though my mapping will never be stellar. I was wiped by three, went back to the house, changed into clean clothes, and was about to hit the road when a couple of small yellow birds began to taunt me. I never did figure them out - almost as small as kinglets, but much too bright. I got home around 7.

So was it worth the long drive up from San Antonio - made longer by spring break traffic and having to come back (after finally getting as far as Guadalupe County after an hour and a half!) for my forgotten sleeping bag? Was it worth depriving my husband of the use of the car, falling behind on housework, and being wiped for two days afterward? After all, nothing particular happened.

Well, is it worth going birdwatching on a day when all you see is birds you've seen before in familiar settings? Is it worth gardening on the days when all you do is pull up the same old weeds and water the same plants? What is one meal of leftovers worth, one good morning/have a good day exchange with your spouse or child or parent, a game of Scrabble when no one bingoes or spells the really good words like quiz and axolotl?

Mundane repetition forms the texture of life. We write the stories about the big stuff that stands out from that background; but if all you know is the big moments, you don't know your subject.

Besides, you have to show up for a lot of little stuff in order to be on hand when the big things happen. Jane Yolen once told me that her husband was what is called a "lucky birder;" which meant that he was out with the binoculars every day, rain or shine, seeing the same birds over and over until the rarity came along.

And of what is this not so?

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