Summer PIT Winter Dreams - Passport in Time

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Summer PIT Projects Make for Winter Dreams

By Gail Carbiener, PIT Volunteer

A number of my wife’s and my friends have asked why I go on PIT projects. Answering that question has always been difficult and awkward, and my answer never seems quite adequate. Oh sure, I give them all the “normal” reasons for leaving my wonderful wife of 47 years at home when I drive several hundreds of miles to volunteer in the dirt:

1. It is a learning experience. We learn how to dig a hole one meter square and several feet deep with a small trowel and a brush. In addition, we get to put the dirt into buckets and then sift it through screens to see what might be there—maybe a flake or chip of chert or obsidian. By looking at the type of chip or flake, the archaeologist can frequently tell what was likely going on at the site. My friends by this time are usually trying to change the subject!

2. It gives me a chance to stay in shape. We get to walk over several miles of forest each day, frequently up very steep mountains, carrying equipment and a backpack. Of course, it sometimes rains, but most of the time the sun is shining and temperatures are near the century mark. We use insect repellent and sunblock. My friends remind me that I go regularly to the doctor to have skin cancers burned off my face!

3. We get to volunteer with the FS. Volunteering is rewarding and makes you feel good. We get to help the archaeologist complete projects that would not get done without volunteer labor. Most of the time, we are working on important projects. Projects such as surveying for prehistoric sites, surveying burned-over lands, mapping old roads, restoring historic buildings, and cleaning and cataloging artifacts take time and money, both of which the forest archaeologist has less and less of each year.

4. I get to meet many new friends. The PIT projects bring volunteers from all over the world who are interested in archaeology. Although we see several of the same volunteers, many new friends are made with each new project.

The volunteering and meeting new friends are generally better-understood reasons, whereas learning and staying in shape, get less-favorable acceptance. But these are not the real reasons that I apply for, attend, and enjoy PIT projects. My reasons are much harder to explain, and I feel certain that many others involved in PIT must feel the same way. It is what I call my “winter dreams.” Let me explain.

Over the past couple of years, I have had the pleasure of volunteering on PIT projects that have taken me to wonderful, unique, and special places.

1. With my metal detector, I found a U.S. Cavalry campsite at the edge of Yosemite National Park in California. We were near Soldier Creek, on the old road, where we saw only one car all day!

2. Near Flaming Gorge, Utah, we helped put a new roof on the barn of an old homestead. The homesteader never used mechanical power in his farming adventure. Two bull moose came down to the road in the evening.

3. At the base of Mt. Shasta in California, in the thick forest, we located the old emigrant and military road by finding artifacts with our metal detectors. The following week we did the same thing on the flank of Mt. Lassen. That day, a beautiful red-tailed hawk flew over carrying a snake in its talons.

4. Near the edge of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, we mapped an old railroad used for copper mining. We found a large, previously unidentified prehistoric site containing several grinding stones and a large number of salmon-colored chert points, some complete. The archaeologist led us to a canyon wall covered with pictographs, none of which had been disturbed. 

5. On a PIT project with only two volunteers, on the back side of a lake in southeast Oregon, we located and mapped a homestead cabin and barn that had been burned in a forest fire over 12 years ago. A great blue heron challenged us each day for use of the cool spring.

6. In New Mexico, after hiking 5 miles and gaining over 1,000 feet in elevation, we looked down over the vast desert toward Mexico to the south and the White Sands National Monument to the west. Our PIT crew did this for five days, as we located and mapped cavalry and American Indian battle sites.

For me, these are the activities that make for winter dreams. Each PIT project provides at least one special moment, perhaps a view, finding a complete point, eating dinner with the crew, avoiding a hail storm, locating the old emigrant trail, finding cavalry cartridges, admiring the newly restored roof, or hundreds of other moments that will remain ready for that daydream. So, you want to change the subject? I understand.
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