Thursday, July 16, 2009

Ships That Pass in the Afternoon

“the descent beckons / as the ascent beckoned”
--William Carlos Williams

Today will be our last day in the field, which is, of course, a melancholy prospect. We actually have not even been out in the field for two days already, and today will probably be only a very brief excursion. We will be visiting a single cave, Ana Heva (AKA Ana Vaiteka, but that is another story, and one guaranteed to confuse if I try to explain it here without all the background of my field reports). While there, I will quickly pull a set of pin-flags I left in place to mark a datum and measurement baselines for an underground cistern that I was mapping, take some fresh photographs of the large underground switchback ramp inside the big room below the main entrance, and carry an aluminum folding ladder into the cave so that Jut can look behind a suspicious rock that he spotted perched on a ledge high up the wall. Then out.

After that, it's just a question of finishing up field reports and packing. We leave on 19.July, and that for me will begin another two days of long flights punctuated by mad dashes through various airports until—I hope—I arrive safely back in Durango, Colorado with all my luggage (as distinct from my “baggage”, some of which I hope I have shed while I have been here, along with a few extra pounds I was carrying) to find my family waiting for me. And then maybe over to Serious Texas BBQ for dinner! And then back home to a hot shower and my own bed.

But that's not yet. I still have a few days left to enjoy here on Rapa Nui to make the most of. Today is the big day when one family feeds the whole island in honor of the feast day of a Catholic saint, whose name I will try to confirm later and post here before I leave, perhaps accompanied by a photo or two. Tomorrow night is Jut's talk at MAPSE (Museo Antropologico Padre Sebastian Englert). I went by the museum yesterday to visit with Sr. Francisco Torres, the director. He was very supportive of my research on Rongorongo when I was here in 2002, and I had been wanting to touch base with him and pay my respects since I arrived here, but the first day I went to the museum, he was out, and since then, I have not had a chance. While I was there, I saw a handpainted necktie in the gift shop that I am sorely tempted to buy. I have two neckties I bought there last time I was here—one with honu (sea turtles) and one with tangata manu  (birdmen). They are both really cool, although the material is too thin and the tail ends of the ties are unpainted and left white. Perhaps I will focus in my mind on these flaws and not on how perfect the tie would look with the black suit and red shirt combo I am contemplating for my back-to-school wardrobe upgrade.

On the way over to the museum--which is a rather long but very pleasant walk through the oceanfront park with all the restored moai and ahu and the beautiful stone canoe ramp at Ahu Tahai, which must have been the pride of that community some 200 years ago—I tried to snap a few more shots of the surfers in the bay. I was trying to get them with the supply ship in the background. That's the ship that we have been waiting for since we arrived, as the lack of ethyl alcohol for our insect specimens threatened at one point to shut down our primary research focus, at least until Sergio remembered that he had a 5 liter jug stashed somewhere. When it actually did arrive, we heard that it was  not actually the supply ship but instead just the car ship, bringing more vehicles to an island that already has way more vehicles than it needs. I wonder when the bicycle ship is coming...?

A couple days ago, I was trying to get some photos of the surfers with the French warship in the background. That one was anchored  in the harbor for several days as well. I tried a couple times but couldn't get the angle right, and then one afternoon, it was just gone, leaving the car boat alone. Now the carboat is gone, having quietly slipped away in the afternoon as well, so the bay is shipless again, and likely to remain so until after we depart.

I've been trying to get some good surfer photos for my daughter Adrianna, who has wanted to attend our president's mother's alma mater, the University of Hawai'i, study marine biology, and surf...ever since she met my friend Victoria Wichman and her husband Randy a couple years back when they came over to the mainland from their home on Kaua'i. I originally met Victoria when I was here in 2002 with the UH Archaeological Field School under Dr. Terry Hunt. We worked together for several days photographing archaeological features in the Akahanga Quad and taking their coordinates, and we became friends in the process. Since then we have stayed in touch on and off, and I see her sometimes at the SAA meetings. When Victoria and Randy came to visit, we took them out to Chaco and my daughters totally bonded with them.

Terry and the UH folks arrived here on July 4, along with Carl Lipo and his own crew from Cal State Long Beach. Carl was not part of the field school here until the year after I came, but I know him from his work and from the SAA. A nice surprise for me was that they were joined by John Dudgeon and Amy Commendador of Idaho State University. John and Amy were the two UH grad students who ran the field school in 2002. They were back in 2003, but this is the first year they have been back since then, so they have been away almost as long as me.

Soon it will be time to say goodbye to my friends, some new, some renewed, and hope to see them all again in less than seven years, which is how long it took me to return to the island a second time. That's the way of these expeditions and field schools and such.  You leave your family for weeks at a time, which is heartwrenching when you have young children like mine, board your first flight practically in tears thinking of your children's faces (meanwhile, they are probably thinking of I, Carly or some such nonsense and have totally forgotten you), and after however many days arrive at your next destination, grubby and dazed with travel. You meet your new comrades, none of whom will be much like you imagined—usually they are far cooler and more interesting than you imagined—get accustomed to your new surroundings and start falling into your new routine. The new and exciting surroundings and people occupy your mind and you throw yourself into the work, dealing with surprises, setbacks, delays, new opportunities, and startling revelations as they arrive. You make unanticipated discoveries that radically alter your thinking. You discover new ideas and information that you did not even suspect existed. And at some point, you quietly turn a corner in your mind and you know it is time to begin turning your thoughts back to family and home, and you start preparing for return and re-entry to your regular life. And, of course, your regular job. You say your sad airport farewells to all your new friends, and then the gravity of your distant loved ones and all things familiar becomes the force that  pulls you forward...


  1. You're An Effin' Awesome Person Scottie!!! But Your Weird As Hell! HAaa HAAA hAA!

  2. Very nice. Love the WHOLE last paragraph. So well written. On another note, buy the damn tie. It's not like you can buy that sort of thing here and appreciate it as much. So do yourself a favor, buy the tie and wear it with the suit and the red shirt, which I imagine will look very nice, and return yet again to your root base and carry around your neck the memories of your wonderful and exciting trip.

  3. Home is the sailor, home from the sea....

    Advice given to a 16 year old on that wondrous last summer of your school years... It applies to you as well my friend...

    For a moment, close your eyes and picture everything around you. Every little detail. Commit it to memory. Some cold and windy day you will be glad for that picture in your head, and you will thank me for reminding you to do this.

  4. Scott, with the turmoil of family upheaval and stress of traveling especially through airport security (featuring dehumanizing body cavity searches) and aisle seat selection. Combined with, cave expeditions and archeology, surfing, poetry, haiku, perfect weather, sheer island beauty the likes of which most of your readers will never experience, I have one question. Are you aware of the death of that pop culture icon- Fred Travalena? Boy could that guy moon walk. Mark K.