Hallelujah it’s done, and although I did not acquit myself as well as I would have 10 years ago, I did make it…33 miles… slightly damp, certainly footsore, but still carrying my full pack!

After doing it, I really have a better understanding of the Stampeder’s mental state who slogged literally a “ton of goods” over the Chilkoot Pass, and then hundreds of miles to the Klondike gold fields…I’m sure they had to be desperate or certifiably nuts!  But that’s just one woman’s opinion, and just because my visual experience of the trail was limited for the majority of the time to the two foot square patch of ground in front of me, or the backside of the hiker I was following over talus fields and high running streams, it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else doesn’t really enjoy being soaking wet to the hips and constantly on the verge of barfing!

I know I am whining, but I am still wondering what the lesson in this mini-ordeal was for me.  I have come up with a few possibilities that are good for both “The Trail” and life in general:

-          Don’t depend on eating too many granola bars for nourishment, after 4 you’ll gag at the mere thought of eating another one.

-          Wear a wool beanie…it really keeps your whole body warm, and masks the fact that your hair hasn’t been combed in three days.

-          It’s OK not to brush your teeth a minimum of twice a day as long as it is for short spans of time, and you are not breathing in anyone’s face.

-          Use at least one hiking pole…it’s really great to have something to lean on over the rough spots.

-          Try not to be obsessed with rushing through things…you’ll only end up compressing a 2400 dpi adventure into a 70 dpi poor imitation that looks OK on the Internet, but deteriorates rapidly when you try to expand it.  

Climb Every Mountain

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” 
― René Daumal

This quote has, over the years, been one of my favorites because it pretty well sums up one of the main driving forces behind doing anything that gets you way outside of your “known” zone.  I’ll be heading out this morning (July 22) on the Chilkoot Trail located here in Skagway in Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.  The trail is 33 miles long all together, and follows the path the original Stampeders took to get up to the goldfields in the Klondike…thank God we will only be going about 7.5 miles the first day, and will be stopping to do 4 days of archaeological work in a place called Canyon City…then on to the Summit and Canada where we will catch a train back home…to Skagway that is.  The pack has been unpacked and re-packed about five times now in an effort to get rid of anything that is superfluous or not vital for survival ….and I am not including make-up in this category as one never knows who one will meet on the trail does one!  With all the stuff I had in there at first I felt a little like like Hermione Granger hunting down “he who must not be named” in a mobile library!  Needless to say, going through the process of examination and discard is a subtle tap on the shoulder from the “it’s time to get back to basics” Ethers.  I admit that I did ask the Universe to send me somewhere this summer where I would learn something, and since I got to Alaska I have met persons who have reminded me of who I am, and also who I am not. It has seemed too, that anything that does not energize or at least seem fun should be tossed or left behind.  However, some lessons, like the trail in this case, are unavoidable, but next time I leave things up to the Universe, I think I’ll request Hawaii where the furthest I’ll have to walk is to the bar to get a fruity drink with an umbrella in it! 

"Parkeology" Newsletter - Recreation Center Sale

Archaeology has been described as the science of uncovering and interpreting the development of societies based on the archaeological record of physical remains of life and human activities.  In addition to making inferences about what has been left behind, discarded or lost, archaeologists can also find clues as to what value was placed on certain things by how they were accumulated, distributed, used, and re-used.

Archaeological sites can be found anywhere cultural remains may be found, and while the actual criteria for preservation purposes is usually fifty years, there is much that can be learned about groups of people based on “artifacts of daily living” that are from more contemporary settings.  To provide you an insight into how archaeologists go about the business of asking questions as a basis for later archaeological interpretation, I offer, as a case in point, the Skagway City-Wide Recreation Center Beginning of Summer Sale.

Had the whole building been covered over in the space of the weekend, and preserved as an erstwhile time capsule or a snapshot of what life was like here in Skagway in the beginning of the season 2015, what would the piles of clothes, bedding, books, and various sundry other items have said about Skagway residents’ attitudes toward “things” as commodities, their concepts of wealth, or re-use of previously owned property?  In addition, would the inferences change based on what was left after two days of being picked over?

Now it is always a good thing to keep in mind at any sale, even of brand new merchandise, that stuff is there for a reason.  It could be that the actual size was not what the tag said it was, or the color was not a hit, or the style just did not seem to resonate with consumers, or the overall design was flawed, making the end result undesirable (need I say Edsel or Gremlin?).  Also, with regard to used clothing, it is a pretty safe bet that it has been through the wash a bazillion times (technical term), and so the sleeves and length of a shirt or the waistband of a pair of pants could have shrunk considerably, or the integrity of seams could have been compromised etc.  In fact, one donator was so concerned about this that there was a Post-It note on a pair of 29” waist pair of pants that warned, “Not really that size”.  Are we to suppose then that thinner Skagway residents are more honest, or are more community oriented and concerned that someone else might make the same mistake of believing the label, or did they just have an “a priori” guilty conscience?  (Note: those particular pants were still there at the end of the sale, so nobody was taking a chance!).

Then of course, there is the dynamic of the sale itself.  Although it might be hard to distinguish in the archaeological record the number of people who lined up 20 minutes ahead of the doors opening, the size of the site itself, and the amount left over at the end might be able to provide some type of statistical fodder for analysis.  Another question we could ask that would provide an insight into the Skagway continuum of value is, “How did people decide what to give away, or what has been so de-valued in their eyes – especially if there is nothing apparently wrong with the item – that the item is not worth keeping for themselves but it is just “too good” to toss out?  Is it the brand name or how much it cost that is the deciding factor? And how much damage does an item have to have sustained before it is deemed unfit for secondary or tertiary consumption?  Has a perfectly good shirt or top been discarded because it brings up memories of an exotic trip with someone who has fallen out of favor?  Or is it more like the fleece-lined Carhartt work pants having been a faithful companion through cold and hard work (as evidenced by the paint and oil splotches) that makes the donor loth to give them up?  As a corollary, we might ask how much “damage” or wear the buyer appears to have been willing to overlook in a prospective purchase?

Also, in a comparison of site change over time, which could be done with any historical site as long as proper documentation was available, questions about the motivation of consumers could certainly be asked.  In looking at the diminishing piles, was it necessity, the thrill of the hunt, or addiction to getting a good deal that drove the buyers/lookers, or a combination of all the above?

In the case of archaeologists, we have a ready-made explanation for visiting Rec Center-type sales, because we can always say that we were doing “archaeological research” as we paw excitedly through the piles.  We may also have to argue the point though, especially when we are seen about town sporting a New South Wales Fire Department T-shirt, a Cabela’s windbreaker with a “slight” stain on the shoulder, or sleeves that don’t quite cover our wrists.

Luck of the Irish

Right now I am feeling pretty darn lucky in that I have only 12 fence pickets left to paint out of an original number of 112.  Along with the ubiquitous homeowner chores, I am also getting ready to head north to Skagway, Alaska for another season as an archaeologist with the National Park Service,  stationed at Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, or to put it more succinctly, KLGO.  I will be working again with an incredible Park Staff, and will be involved in doing some “rescue archaeology” in an area where the Taiya River is washing out a Gold Rush era site.  My comrade in arms Shawn, the lead archaeologist, and I will also be hiking up the Chilkoot Trail to do some survey work near a stop on the route to the Yukon called Canyon City.  I expect that during the season we will encounter rain, mud, and the three “B’s” - bugs, bears, and blisters!  Nevertheless, in spite of any corporeal inconveniences, I count myself lucky to be involved in such interesting work, especially in a setting of such breathtaking natural beauty.

As I think more about the phenomenon of getting to do exactly what I want to do, as far as work is concerned at least, I also consider myself lucky, in addition to having the job, to have a mind-set that “allows” me to seek adventures, to see possibilities, and hopefully to inspire others to follow their passions at any age.


Prior to coming to the United States, Irish families would hold a going-away ceremony called an “American Wake” for those departing.  This final leave-taking was done with the clear understanding that those emigrating to a new land would probably never return to their native home or loved ones.  The emotion generated by this finality, along with a deeply ingrained passion for the land itself, has seared through successive generations, so much so, that the mere mention of Ireland is often enough to produce a reflexive longing in those having family ties to the country.

The past is also a living entity within Irish culture, and is an integral component of the Irish psyche, and by extension, in many of those having an Irish heritage. Myth, magic, and legend are as much a part of everyday life as I-phones and the Internet.  The work that I am doing now attempts to tap into this deep-seated connection to the land and its past.  It also seeks to promote a re-examination of how the artistic process, using ancient narratives and technologies, might transcend time in a way that synthesizes shared cultural identity and modern mindsets, with contemporary materials.

The artistic creations, born from the unique perspective of artist/academic, and experiences gained during a literal and figurative familial exile from Ireland, complete the circle that began and harkens back to Ireland.