By Danny Beard, field school student from University of Colorado Boulder
When you are itching with cabin fever in the middle of a snowy, cold Colorado winter’s day, the sunshine of the New Mexican summer starts to sound pretty enticing.
I always try to avoid building up too many expectations, as sometimes they can be your downfall—I just have to look at a few bad dates to understand that—but nonetheless, it’s hard not to! When I applied for the Preservation Archaeology Field School, the first thing I did was get on Google maps and look up Mule Creek, New Mexico. I was excited about the lack of population and “being out there.”
My experiences of backpacking in Colorado and “roughin’ it” infiltrated my imagination, and I pictured myself in my tent surrounded by other dirty outdoor-loving people and cooking up little camp stove pasta creations. Obviously, reading a little literature about the program broke down the cooking for myself part, for which I am extremely grateful, now that I am one week in. After a day in the field, hot, dirty, and hungry, the last thing that I would want to do is cook. The FOOD IS GREAT. The fantasy of self-reliance and the “backpacking” mentality was quickly eroded, as I realized that I am here to learn and work. All the energy that goes into camping and cooking is now shifted into archeological work…which, in retrospect, only makes sense.
I did not expect to be indoors for five weeks, but as I write this I am sitting at a desk in a guest house on a computer that is hooked up to the Internet—not exactly the “roughin’ it” set up I initially thought of. While the outdoor lifestyle is romantic in its own way, your mind is not geared towards learning and archaeology, but more towards survival. It is great to have the comforts of home, as it helps the mind to think critically rather than be on autopilot. Yes, I am sleeping in a tent and showering outdoors, but no, we are not camping.
Yes, being in the hot desert sun is tiring, but it still doesn’t make it any easier once you experience it firsthand. It is exhausting, no words can prepare you. I’m impressed at the insane amount of water I am drinking, and yet it is still not enough.
I expected monotony with the work and the daily grind, but am still getting used to being in a routine. Getting up with the sun and being in bed by 10:00 p.m. is much better than I would have thought (I am not a morning person, I love staying up until 3:00 in the morning). I do feel healthier and have more energy. Wheeeew.
In the end, if I were to plug some advice to students like me who are on the fence about their future working in archaeology, but have the itch to try it out, I would say you need to be a patient person. If not the work, then daily grind and the required hospitality of living in an intimate environment with strangers is not for you. Also, if you don’t like dirt, stay out—no one wants you.