Where in the hell am I?

Stories from the road, and home, by a contract archaeologist.

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Location: Texas, United States

I work out of town a lot as a contract archaeologist. Sometimes it's interesting. It can be quite funny, although probably only to other archys. Home is Austin, with my wife and our cute kitty and all of our crazy friends.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

True Texan

True Texan
Originally uploaded by texasrobo
I've always been secretly a little envious when I see trucks with waders tucked in the back. I have no idea why. One of the first things I thought about when I bought my waders was that I could tuck them behind the truck! Now I really wish I had picked up that cow skull.
I really like driving this Super Duty F250. It handles really well and has a good suspension. I haven't really tested the 4-wheel drive since the tires aren't really the right kind of off-road driving (especially the mudding I would be doing around here).
I avoided the really deep water today. The drill crew took pity on me and told me to go back once the water got knee-high. I was not looking forward to spending hours in thigh-high swamp water, walking in ankle-high muck, trying not to trip over submerged roots while keeping one eye out for water moccasins and the other for alligators. As it was, I slid into one of the wheel ruts and topped my right boot. Fortunately, I had a change of socks and boots in the truck.
Looks like I'll be heading back to Austin Thursday or Friday. I'm loving the money, but I'm ready to be home. I'm ready to have a full weekend again!

Monday, February 25, 2008


I've been working 10-11 hour days on this monitoring project, and I'm starting to get worn out. My knee waders do a great job of keeping my feet from getting wet, but they're not comfortable for walking 2-3 miles a day. It's also really hard to walk through water and muck, even if you're not getting wet. I've also been carrying water and lunch and a small wooden screen everywhere. At least I haven't had to carry my shovel or dig a hole.
Tomorrow, the area I'm supposed to be in is apparently under almost 2 feet of water. The driller recommended bringing hip waders. My options in this area are limited, and ultimately I determined that I would have to drive 30 minutes to Bass Pro Shop and spend $60 plus tax. I decided I was too tired and that it wasn't worth it for something I will almost never use. My plan is to put plastic bags over my socks, then my knee waders, then my snakeguards and hope that forms a pretty watertight seal. If not, well, it's not like I wasn't completely soaked through several days already.
More pictures tomorrow...if I make it.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Welcome to Texas

Welcome to Texas
Originally uploaded by texasrobo
I uploaded a few pictures from the field here in Brazoria County, mostly fun shots and animals. I really wanted to keep this, but I was more than a mile from my truck.
I've already worked 47.5 hours this week. Tomorrow is likely another 11 hour day, and Saturday may be a full day plus a drive back to Austin. I'm banking right now.
Today I spent the day monitoring the drill crew. It was a little boring (no pun intended), but at least I didn't have to walk all over the place and got a ride across most of the wettest stuff. I think I'll be back with them tomorrow, when they actually drill near/in some sites.
That's about it. I find out tomorrow if I'm here for the long haul or going back on Saturday. I'll miss the HD-TV!

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snakebite! Part 2

Originally uploaded by Miss_Colleen
So I had just gotten to the hospital and into the emergency room. I got into my gown and got into bed. Some of the nurses came in and did the usual tests, then they drew a line on my leg (visible in both pictures) so they could track the swelling. The doctor came in and ordered me up some antibiotic and antivenom. They hooked me up to an IV bag on oen arm and some antibiotic (because snake fangs are apparently very dirty) on the other, gave me a tetanus shot, and offered me morphine. I declined, because it didn't hurt too much yet and I had just lost an acquaintance to an OD.
It was at this point that people were allowed in to see me, including Tina and Colleen (who took the pictures of me). They were worried, but figured I'd be out in a few hours. One of the nurses then told us that I'd be on the antivenom for 24 hours, then I'd be monitored for my recovery.
The visitors had to leave shortly as it was time for more exams. They measured my swelling and asked me how I was feeling. I could feel the pain moving up my leg, tracking to the inside of my thigh. I could see that I was still swelling, that it was moving up my leg, and that one my veins was bruising. I asked where the swelling would stop and they said they didn't know. I was then informed that it was possible that my goods could swell, possible pretty badly. I was not excited at this prospect. I then asked when they were going to draw the venom out. I was told they don't do that anymore, because rattlesnake venom is a hemotoxin (affects the blood) and that cutting open the bite can cause massive bleeding. One should only do that if they're a long way from proper medical treatment, and then only very carefully.
At this point, my leg was really starting to hurt. Imagine the worst charlie horse you've ever had. Now imagine your entire leg feeling like that. So I broke down and asked for some morphine. However, all their patient-controlled drips were in use (or so they say, I think we just made one too many jokes about it). Let me just say that, while it did relieve my pain, the first 2 minutes of the drip were sheer hell. I could feel it go cold into my arm and move up into my chest, which would tighten. My stomach would go queasy for a few seconds. Then it would hit my head and I'd be dizzy for a couple of minutes. Eventually, the pain would subside and I'd feel a little loopy and generally fall asleep within an hour.
Not much later, the nurse (a very nice male nurse, like my friend St. Denis) came in with the antivenom. Apparently, it is kept in a refrigerator and needs to be agitated before being given to the patient. But it can't be shaken. It needs to be slowly swirled for 20 minutes. My nurses would pick up the dose and carry them around and check on a couple of patients before dropping in.
The regimen for the antivenom required 12 doses in a 24-hour period. I was given 6 doses initially, then 2 more doses every 6 hours until they were done. I might also mention that one dose of antivenom costs four thousand dollars (so don't get bitten if you're not insured or on the job! On second thought, don't get bitten period!). I swear that I could feel the antivenom working when the first doses got to my leg. It was similar to the feeling of putting hydrogen peroxide on a scrape, only inside.
I forgot to mention the cardiac monitor. I was hooked up to some machines (complete with sensors stuck on my chest) to monitor my heart rate (I don't think it was an actual EKG. It's in the background of the photo). Since rattlesnake venom is a hemotoxin, the antivenom effectively thickens your blood as part of it's magic. This leads to the possibility of a heart attack, stroke and/or blood clot.
I was supposed to spend my first 24 hours in the Cardiac Care Unit, but there were no empty beds (February in Brownsville = lots of winter Texan retirees). So I spend the night in the ER. It was pretty calm most of the time, although I was asleep for a lot of it. In the middle of the night, someone came in who was in a bad car accident and they were screaming and moaning loudly, which freaked me out. I also got peeked in on by pretty much every intern and most of the doctors in the hospital!
Somewhere in there, I was asked if I needed to use the bathroom. I had no intention of using a bedpan, so I kept telling them I didn't need to go, trying to hold out for a toilet. Eventually, I was informed that I had more than a gallon of fluids in me (I didn't even think about the fact that IVs are fluids!) and if I didn't need to go then there might be nerve damage and they'd have to get a catheter. Needless to say, I caved and they brought in a jug for me to pee in. I filled it and needed a second one. On a tangent, IVs are also chock-full of calories; I figure I had 5,000+ calories a day while I was laid up!
The next afternoon, I was checked in to a regular room. I was still hooked to an IV with regular antibiotic doses. One of the first things I did was ask to use the bathroom. They brought me crutches and I stood up for the first time in 25 hours. I was immediately struck by a case of pins and needles that was probably equal to every previous time in my entire life! Eventually, I hobbled my way 15 feet to the bathroom and got down to business.
The doctor would check on me every few hours during the day and tell me I was improving. However, he refused to tell me when I might be able to leave, saying it could be a couple of weeks. As I had a trip to Mexico scheduled for the next week, I was a little freaked out.
A physical therapist came by to show me how to use my crutches and help me walk around the hospital wing a little bit. It was pretty easy, and I was glad to be mobile. I was also easily worn out, and my left leg would still tingle really badly for a couple of minutes when I stood up. Eventually, I got to take a shower. This was wonderful, as I had been very sweaty and covered in sunscreen from the field for 36+ hours. No sponge bath for me!
I got to where I could hobble around without the crutches, occasionally using my IV for support. The swelling was down. 73 hours after first checking in, with no hints, the doctor examined me one more time and told me I was ready to check out! I called rlb, since everyone else was out in the field, and he came to get me. We swung by the project area so I could surprise everyone, then I went to the pharmacy to get my prescription for antibiotics and heavy-duty pain relievers filled.
What was the damage? As I said yesterday, I can find no physical scars. I'm pretty freaked out by snakes, but I've come in contact with rattlers since and not freaked out. I do watch my step a little more closely, and I always wear snake guards on surveys and in heavy brush (which makes me a step slower than most people). The bill was $65,000, of which 48k was for the antivenom. Workers comp took care of it all, thank goodness. I was the first blemish on our safety record in 3 years. I made it to Mexico and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan 10 days after being bitten!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

3 years ago today!

Originally uploaded by Miss_Colleen
Hard to believe it, but it was 3 years ago today that I was bitten by a rattlesnake. Colleen took this photo of the bite area in the hospital, about an hour after it happened. The bite itself is where the blood streaks meet. From what I can tell, there's no scar there now and I can't even feel any marks. I think this is the first time I've written the story out.
We were doing a metal detector survey along FM 511 outside Brownsville. The road runs along the Palo Alto Battlefield National Park, so we were looking for artifacts from the Texas Revolution. It was an unusually hot Saturday in February (over 80 degrees), and the area had been mowed in the last 3-4 days to prepare for the metal detecting. These help explain how I was bit by a snake in the middle of winter, when they're normally hibernating or sluggish.
It was lunchtime, and Tina and Colleen went with Rigden down the road to a gas station to use the bathroom. I decided to walk down a two-track along the railroad, far enough from the road to pee in private. While walking back, I noticed some stuff lying under a prickly pear cactus and decided to check it out (it was a pile of clothes).
Suddenly, several things happened at once. I felt a sharp, burning pain in my left ankle. I heard a rattle. I glanced out of the corner of my eye and saw a rattlesnake, mouth open, retreating from a bite. I realized that I was in mid-air, jumping sideways away from the snake, totally subconsciously. And then it hit me: I had just been bitten by a rattlesnake!
My first reaction was to scamper away from the snake, hopping on one foot as much as possible. Then I told myself not to panic, to keep my blood flow down. I started yelling at my coworker Josh, who was on the phone by the highway. I limped along until I was finally in earshot, and Josh and Mindy came out to help me to the truck.
I knew where the nearest hospital was, as we had driven by it the past 4 days. So I put my head as far down towards my knees as possible, breathed slowly, and told Mindy how to get there. I tried calling Tina, but she had left her phone in the other vehicle, and Colleen left hers in her room. They would find out when they got back to the project area and saw that only one truck was there.
I walked into the hospital within 20-25 minutes of the bite. I went to the window and told them what happened, and I was sent straight into the emergency room.
Stay tuned tomorrow for part 2 of the saga: the hospital!

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Slogging along

So I'm in Alvin, Texas right now. It's the hometown of Nolan Ryan, legendary baseball player. It also seems to be just beyond the southern suburban limits of Houston, although that will likely change. The project area is in Rosharon, Texas about 15 miles west. They're doing drill holes for setting explosive charges, which will use seismic readings to look for oil (or something like that).
So basically, we have maps with all of the drill locations and we have to check these areas out prior to drilling. We also have to walk along the route the drill crew will take. Not too hard, although there's a lot of walking.
The problem is that it's been raining here a lot (including a couple of inches Saturday) and so much of the project area is inundated. I spent almost all morning walking through water anywhere from a half-inch to 4 inches deep. I'm told I'm lucky, because elsewhere there's areas up to your knees, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much. But nobody likes wet feet, much less for 8 hours! Plus, you have to keep an eye out for water moccasins (which apparently stink, so I guess you can keep a nose out too). On the other hand, you don't have to dig in saturated soils!
Speaking of snakes, tomorrow is an anniversary, so stay tuned!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

36 hours in Austin

That's how long I'll have been here, more or less, before leaving again for the field. I was supposed to leave Monday late in the morning for a monitoring job outside of Alvin, but I got a call around 6pm asking if I could come Sunday late morning instead. It's a lot of extra money, so of course I said I could.
During my brief time here, I got to see my friends at End of An Ear as we posed for photos for a website. We were also supposed to hang out tonight, but unfortunately work intervened (I didn't want to drive for 2.5-3 hours and then work with a hangover and without a good night's sleep). With the rest of my time, I did 3 loads of laundry, grilled some salmon and steak, went to the grocery store and spent some quality time with the kitty.
I'll be back sometime around the 27th (depending on the weather and the job progress), and if I'm not headed to The Woodlands that weekend I plan on doing some major hanging out!
By the way, if for some reason you want to see the Rushmore 5-minute remake on the big screen, it'll be showing at the Alamo South Lamar on Tuesday night. I guess there's an audience favorite prize at stake, but honestly I'm just happy if you see the film online and leave a nice comment here (or on the Filmmaking Frenzy website). And consider me for your next project.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Long week...

So it's Wednesday and I've already worked 38.5 hours. By the time I get home on Friday (around 9:30 pm or so) I'll be up to around 66 hours. The client expects us to work from 7-5 everyday, and the nearest hotels are 40 minutes away, so it's an 11.5 hour day.
The work has been pretty fun so far. Lots and lots of driving. The project area is in a remote part of a rather remote ranch in a somewhat remote part of Texas. We've been riding 4-wheelers to get to the site locations (a perk of doing biological work rather than archaeological work). Some areas have 3-4 foot tall Spartina plants, which are a serious hazard. If you try and ride on the side of them, you come close to tipping over. If you try and go over them, you can fly forward or just end up high-topped. When that happens, you basically have to lift the 4-wheeler until you get the tires in contact with something they can get traction on. I got stuck 5 or 6 times and almost got thrown at least that often. Still, it's pretty fun and another one of those things where I get paid to do things other people pay good money to do.
On the other hand, waking up at 5:45 am and going to bed by 9:30 doesn't leave a whole lot of time to do anything but eat, shower and sleep.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Look, I'm famous again!

And so is Dan. And Staci. And Katherine and John!
One of my friends (Kensey) tipped me off that they saw my picture on some website, from the last Okay Mountain art show. I went mostly to see If Bricks Had Wings, plus check out some art and drink some beer and see some friends. I wasn't actually very impressed with most of the art. I was very impressed with If Bricks Had Wings, although it would have been better if people had SHUT THE FUCK UP and listened to the band instead of talking!!!
So go here and scroll down past all the cool kids and check us out! And go see If Bricks Had Wings (Tim Kerr and some people I don't know doing old-timey country and bluegrass) next time they play (I think during SXSW at an art show).

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

How I spent last Sunday

I helped my friends make a movie for the Rewind Kindly film festival at the Alamo Drafthouse. The idea was to do a 5 minute-long remake of a movie, like in Be Kind Rewind. Our team did Rushmore, because they knew someone who was an extra in the original. I was Max Fischer, because I kind of look like him.
You can view the film here!
I think it turned out pretty well, but we're not doing very well in the voting. Oh well, it was fun to do! If you're so inclined, please create a account and vote/comment!
Tina and I are heading to Kingsville tonight so we can be in Kenedy County bright and early tomorrow morning for work. We'll be delineating and flagging wetlands. Not archaeology, but Tina got 20 hours of overtime last week, and you get to ride 4-wheelers, so I'm looking forward to it. We'll be back Friday afternoon or evening.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Straightening up

Nothing makes for a clean house like having something important to work on (such as, say, writing a thesis). Add to that misplacing a library book, and you have a lot of newly cleared surfaces and a lot of piles from the floor put away in the proper place. It turns out that the library book was actually in my field backpack, in the trunk of my car. Which I also need to clean, but it's dark.
I really like my new record shelves from The Bookcase Store. Not only are they sharp, but they're very roomy. My old shelf wasn't big enough for all my records, so they were crammed in. This discourages listening to music. Now, it's very easy to flip through and find just what I'm in the mood for (although this Marvin Gaye semi-disco/slow jams album isn't really suited for being home alone).
So it looks like the Texas primaries are actually going to matter for the first time since I moved here in 1993. I've never voted in one, preferring to be available to sign a third-party petition. I may still do that this year, but I'm definitely weighing my options. I'm hoping to start talking to my friends and seeing what they think.
One thing that's pretty much a certainty is that I'll be voting for a major party candidate for President for the first time ever. Damn, I must be getting old.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Catching up

So Thursday (where we left off), the morning started with a heavy thunderstorm blowing through. This delayed our departure by an hour, but I didn't go back to sleep. We got to the project area around 9:30 to a light drizzle and a rapidly dropping temperature. By the time we finished the first mile stretch (11 am) the sky had cleared and the thermometer read 39 degrees. I was having horrible chills in my chest and coughing up all sorts of gross stuff. Walked a little more, then around noon my co-worker made me take a break in the truck. I really needed it, as i was fading and really hurting. She finished up the part we had started, and then we drove over to the "easy" part. It was easy mostly because it was already cleared for overhead power lines, so all we really had to do was walk. Unfortunately, both segments would have to be done as a "walk in/walk out" because the access roads were too muddy to drive.But I soldiered on. Sure, I sat on my screen a few times to catch my wind, and I didn't carry a shovel, but I did over 2 miles on that second segment, and we got it all done. And then I went to the hotel, took some nyquil, and stayed in bed for the rest of the evening!
So the sherd we found on the surface was not alone. All told, we found 7 sherds (including the original) in 5 shovel tests across 60 meters. That's actually a pretty low recovery, and suggests that the site is fairly insubstantial, at least within the narrow corridor where the pipeline is going. But it was something new and different, so I was pretty excited.
On Friday, we drove back and then I cleaned up the sherds so that Mary Jo might identify them. Then I came home, took Nyquil, and watched TV for the rest of the night. Tina went out with work folks and crashed at someone's house. Saturday, we sat together in misery on the sofa. I also went and picked up my new glasses (you can see them on my Facebook and Myspace pages). Not exactly what I wanted, but I'm getting used to them. Need to get them tightened.
Yesterday, I spent most of the day working on a secret project that I'll talk more about once it's finished! I might be slightly more Austin famous after this. Then I watched the NEW YORK GIANTS shock the world and humble the smug New England Patriots. If it couldn't be my beloved Packers, then I'm glad it was the Giants.
This week is back to the TxDOT grind, while Tina does biological survey work in Kenedy County. I'll use my time wisely, I promise, and I'll talk more about the project soon.

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