Digging into Life on My Summer Vocation
(Part 1 of 4)

by FishKitten


I usually drive my own vehicle on my archaeological outings, at least to the airport, but this time was different. I knew I would be going to an island in the Pacific off the western coast of Vancouver Island. What I didn’t know was exactly how or when I would get there — or which direction I would be going when I eventually left the dig. There’s no sense having a car waiting for you in a town to which you are unlikely to return. So Brad drove me to the nearest town that had Greyhound service (only one hour away) and dropped me off at the station with all my gear.

Having traveled to many strange places in my life, I have adopted a somewhat unusual set of luggage. I travel with two big Rubbermaid containers and a backpack. One container holds my tent, sleeping bag, tarps, and all my camping gear. The other one holds my dig kit, trowels, tools, rain gear, hatchet, and other archaeological stuff (plus a couple of books). The backpack contains the few clothes I take, shampoo, toothpaste, and sunscreen. No room or need for make-up, dresses, high heels, hair styling equipment or anything like that. To set off this lovely ensemble, the Rubbermaid containers are wrapped a few times around with duct tape. The duct tape is absolutely necessary and I’m not sure how anyone carried on even the most rudimentary of archaeological investigations prior to its invention. Without the duct tape, your containers can come open. The last thing you want is to get miles and miles from nowhere and find that your tent dropped out of your bag somewhere along the way. As you will see later, the Rubbermaid also has a variety of other practical uses as well.

So off I went on a bus in the general direction of the dig. It was far too isolated for the bus to go all the way, but it would get me almost 24 hours closer to where I needed to be. I knew from the start that I would be on the bus all night. For any of you who haven’t experienced that little slice of joy, let me tell you right now that it is a whole new world to those of us who generally rely on our own cars. I had, however, been on public transportation worldwide and was not to be put off by a few drunks in the back of the bus. See, if you are going to be on a bus overnight, you need to have the very back seats. All of them. For one thing, there tend to be three seats in that row instead of two, which gives you almost enough room to kind of lie down. Plus, no one walks by you during the night, so you don’t have to worry about letting your feet go across an aisle.

I went straight to the back of the bus and wedged myself and my backpack between the two young hooligans who were back there being loud and drinking (supposedly in secret, but anyone not blind, deaf, and smelling-disabled caught on pretty quickly). The looks on their faces when some middle-aged lady dressed like Indiana Jones on a bad-hat day plopped down in the middle of them were priceless. I immediately started talking (at some length) about history and archaeology and individual responsibility in today’s world, and next thing you know, those nice young men moved up to the front and sort of passed out. That was great and it gave me the opportunity to stretch out, at least to some extent, and sleep off and on until morning.

Follow the Old Ones

During the night, I had a dream. A woman’s voice came to me and said, clear as a bell, “If you wish to understand us, you must join us. Follow the old ones.” When I woke up, I wasn’t sure exactly what she meant, but I decided to watch for opportunities to do as the ancestors of the people I was seeking must have done.

  The Bering Strait and Seward Peninsula,
  where a land bridge connected Asia with
  North America. (National Park Service

The people I was seeking … you should know about them. The first people to come to North America crossed over from Siberia during the last ice age. Everyone agrees on that because there is hard scientific evidence to support it. After that, there is a division. Traditional archaeological theory supports two concepts called “Clovis First” and “The Ice-Free Corridor,” which basically state that the first people to come to the North American continent walked across the Bering Land Bridge about 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, then traveled down an ice-free corridor east of the Rockies and west of the plains, where two major ice sheets almost met. The people of the “Clovis First” civilization were hunters, who crossed in search of game. Their 11,500-year-old arrowheads were first discovered in Clovis, New Mexico.

A somewhat newer theory suggests that the first people were mariners. These seafaring people had to stay near shore, naturally, but they were maritime-adapted. This meant that they paddled around the shore of the land bridge, hunting sea mammals and fishing, plus surviving off little areas of refuge such as existed on Haida Gwaii, the land of the Haida people, also known as the Canadian Queen Charlotte islands. Those are small areas that are known to have never frozen over during the ice age. The mariners would have sailed down the west coast of the Americas, creating the conditions that allowed for some extremely ancient knowledge to be implanted there by these ancient mariners, and then to permeate from these areas, through the Incas and others.

The “Clovis First” orthodoxy is argued among archaeologists much like liberals and conservatives take each other on about national politics. Although I do not completely discount the Ice-Free Corridor, I do have some problems with it. Whether or not it existed, however, seems to me to be irrelevant as to the people who may have gone down the coast. They could have come on water whether or not others came on land.

Where I was going was in pursuit of the mariner theory. I was going to an island off the west coast of North America where some of the very first people who came to this continent may have set foot … the really old ones … the ancestors’ ancestors. Before the Maya, the Inca, the Anasazi, before there were Aztecs or Apaches or Algonquins, there were the old ones. The rest of us with native ancestry carry their blood.

Although I am supposed to follow the old ones, I can’t exactly row to the island from Siberia eating seals and scavenging for vegetation. I can, however, get off this bus and get on a boat. Let’s start there.

I got off the bus and slept overnight on a deserted beach somewhere on Vancouver Island. There were no stores or restaurants anywhere near, so as it turned out, I needed to scavenge for a bit of vegetation after all. When I started looking around I saw that berries were everywhere! Of course, I have studied west coast cultures. I knew they ate a lot of berries. Why didn’t I think of it before? So I picked a ton of berries, found some wild chamomile for tea, scoped out some young ferns, and had a grand meal. Once I started thinking in that direction, I knew that the old ones would have had shellfish, fish, or sea mammals along with the veggies. I was not about to go out killing clams. For one thing, there were red-level tide warnings. For another thing, I don’t like to leap to the idea of killing something without checking for other options. Even though I am usually a vegetarian, when I am on an archaeological investigation, I eat traditional foods from the areas where I go. It would be hugely insulting to most cultures if I were to refuse their offers of meals because I think I am too spiritually advanced to eat meat. That would not be spiritually advanced at all, but rather, it would show a lack of understanding that would negate any other connections I might be able to make with them. I figured something would come up, so I left it to the universe.

Go With the Feeling

The next day I went to a small harbour at dawn and found a freight boat that was heading in the right direction. For a small fee, they were willing to take my Rubbermaid and me along. There was no food service and I was going to be on the boat all day, so I had to find something to bring along to eat. I still had a bunch of berries, so those came along. Then I met an old native fellow on the dock. He was setting up a little folding table. As I got closer, the smell of smoked salmon wafted by on the breeze. I went over to say hello and discovered he was putting out little bags on the table. He called them “Indian Candy.” It was actually salmon, caught and smoked the traditional way. I bought a mitt-full. Afterwards, I filled my water bottles in the nearest stream, and I was off.

There are unexpected pleasures in hitching a ride on a small freight boat that stops at little isolated island paradises all along the west coast. Take my word for it; it was spectacular. The sea touches a special place in the heart … and this sea … this was the one the old ones traveled. The old ones who, like me, felt called to go ever onward into adventure.

The captain of the freight boat let me stand up top next to the wheelhouse. I could have gone inside, but I wanted to be out in the sea air. The North Pacific is nothing like that calm, warm blanket of an ocean that sometimes you see if you live in southern California or on the U.S. Gulf Coast. It is cold, wild, and ferocious, even at its calmest. Like the old ones before us, we stayed fairly close to shore … never out of sight. And like them, we poked our bow into hidden harbours and private bays nestled among the islands that are woven off the coast like handmade lace. I ate the blueberries and smoked salmon. “The Feeling” began to come over me.

It is difficult to adequately explain “the Feeling.” I guess I should explain something about myself first. My specialties, as an archaeologist, include several areas. The one I’ve spent the most time studying and researching is the history and pre-history of religion and metaphysical thought. (I’ve also done lots in American Civil War and Polynesia and Palaeoanthropology and steamships and on and on, as those kids from the bus could tell you.) In order to adequately satisfy my questions in the area of religious/metaphysical studies, I delved into both the scientific and the spiritual. Frankly, I find they go hand-in-hand more often than most people think. Anyway, without going into a discourse on the nature of reality, I will simply say that I think vibrational influences are very important. By vibrational influences, I mean everything that actually has an effect on the atoms that compose your body. Things like gravitational pull, sound waves, radioactive materials, photons, cosmic waves, brain waves, nutrition, etc. We know all those things exist. Science has proven it. The argument is HOW those things affect your mind and body, not IF they do.

That is where “the Feeling” comes in. I find if I purposely manipulate my physical vibration, I can get a much better grasp of the religious/metaphysical history of a given place. That actually sounds more difficult than it is. I mean, anyone who goes into one of the old cathedrals in Europe can feel the religious vibrations veritably bouncing off the walls. Same thing in the Temple of the Sun in Mesa Verde. You just have to think about the people you are seeking, eat the food they eat, see the places they see … you know, try to walk a mile in their moccasins as far as possible. It helps entrain your vibration to interact with theirs.

The Feeling in this case had to do with the old ones I was looking for. My job on this dig was to find the place of status, meaning, the area used by the chief and/or the shaman. I am part Choctaw, so the blood of these old ones flows in my veins. I was reaching out in my mind for their memories. I could feel them as surely as I could feel the salt air in my face.

The Guardian of the First Place

The boat put me off in a tiny coastal town, on the west side of Vancouver Island, called Bamfield. It has a population of only a few hundred. Bamfield is split into West and East Bamfield by an arm of the ocean. Such a beautiful spot. West Bamfield is boat-access only, but East Bamfield can be reached by several hours of dirt mountain roads that cross over the island from Victoria. The freight boat set me off on the government dock in East Bamfield to look for archaeologists, or failing that, to find a ride out to a deserted island.

Knowing archaeologists the way I do, I went immediately to the pub. If there are any archaeologists in your town, I assure you they will either be at the pub, on their way to the pub, or will have left a bunch of awestruck locals with many stories to tell at the pub. We tend to come off as somewhat unusual when encountered in a pack. Anyway, I left my Rubbermaid at the dock with a note that said, “Don’t touch my stuff.” I carried the backpack up the hill to the pub. The kid behind the bar immediately said, “Are you one of those archaeologists?”

“Yep, I’m one. Are there any others around?”

“Not right now, but they were here earlier.”

“Excellent. Could I please get a very cold Corona with a large slice of lime?”

“Sure. Would you like a menu?”

I considered the offer. I had spent the last several days on a bus, a beach, and a boat, eating nothing but blueberries and salmon. My fingers were purple and I smelled strongly of smoked fish and freight boats. A bath or shower was but a distant memory. I was carrying a large backpack and wearing an old straw hat that has seen way too many digs.

“No thanks,” I said, taking a container out of my pack. “I’ve got salmon and blueberries.”

He backed away somewhat slowly, pitched my beer at me and went over to talk to a table full of people who were obviously his buddies. I drank the beer, which was one of the best I ever had, by the way, and thought about what to do next. How do I follow the old ones?

An extremely small native woman walked into the pub. She must have been about 4-foot-8. Tiny. She looked like she was somewhere between the ages of roughly 50 and 612. What a smile she had. She walked slowly up to the bar. When the bartender came up, she quietly asked to use the phone. After her call, she turned her sunny little face to me and stuck out her hand.

“I’m Sky Woman,” she said.

“Hi, I’m FishKitten,” I said, although I said my real name, or at least the one that people consider real right now.

“You’ve been eating salmon and blueberries,” she said.

“Is it the purple fingers or the lovely scent that gave me away?”

She laughed. “It’s not just that. I see something. Why are you here?”

“I’m an archaeologist,” I said. “I’m looking for the First Place.”

That’s what they call the first village ever known to house the ancestors of Sky Woman’s nation … the First Place. Actually, that is a translation from their language, but that is what it means. The island where it was located is the First Island, again by translation.

“Oh,” she said, giving me a laughing look out of the corner of her eyes. “You’re with Al, then.”

Al was the head of this project. He is a big-deal kind of guy who has written a bunch of textbooks used in universities around the world. I knew him by sight, but not well. He didn’t know me from Adam, but asked me along for the project because he heard about some other stuff I have done.

“That’s right,” I smiled back, “I’m with Al.”

“He’s not eating salmon and blueberries.”

“Well,” I explained, “I want to find the spirit of the old ones. I had a dream that told me to follow them.”

She reached up and hugged me.

“I am the traditional guardian of First Island,” she said. “I’ve been waiting for you.”

“It’s an honour to meet you,” I said. “Did Al tell you I was coming?”

She gave her little chuckle.

“Not Al,” she said. “I already told you he doesn’t eat the blueberries and salmon. I just knew. I only have a few minutes. My brother is coming to pick me up in his boat to go back to the reserve. Take this.”

She dug into her pocket and handed me a small, rounded, dark stone.

“They want us to find them,” she said simply. “Keep this and look for the young eagle. The old ones will speak to you.”

“Thank you,” I replied. “I’m honoured. Should I keep eating the traditional foods?”

“The berries were the first foods to grow where the ice retreated,” she said. “They came before the trees. The salmon leap into our arms to sustain us. Eat the traditional foods until they are gone, but do not deprive yourself among your friends. Would you refuse the salmon at my table?”

“Of course not.”

“Then do not hold yourself apart.”

After that we talked about her five daughters and her 10 grandchildren — five boys and five girls — until her brother arrived to ferry her home.

— The adventure continues in the October issue of metamorphosis.