The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Monday, January 30, 2012

On The Eventual Loss of Field Work

I have come to realize recently that my days in the field are likely numbered.

This isn't a shock, or even a gloomy outlook.  quite the contrary, in fact.  The next step in my career will likely be one of project management, which means more time dealing with management-level stuff rather than the day-to-day issues of field work and logistics.  Now, this step is likely years off, and it is one that I could probably stall even longer if I wished to, but that comes to the fact that my partner and I are talking about having children, and I wish to spend more times with my nephews and nieces while they are still young enough to appreciate their eccentric uncle, which means a more stable weekly schedule, which, in turn, means less field work.  So, even though the next step may be a few years off, I have no desire to hold it off any longer than necessary, and may even be looking for ways to make it happen sooner. 

So, the loss of fieldwork is still a ways off, and I am not gloomy over the eventual loss of field work as a regular part of my life.  But, I will admit, I will be a little sad to see it go.

This was not always the case, however.  Back in early 2007, I had worked for companies that had large local clients, and therefore field work consisted of going out for the day, and coming back home at night.  I rarely had to stay overnight anywhere, and then never for more than a four-night stint.  I then went to work for a company based in Santa Cruz (the town in which I had wished, and still do wish now that I have left it, to settle).  This company had very little local work, and so we spent at least 30% of our time away from home (the rest of that time was spent writing reports, preparing for field work, doing lab work, and handling our few local projects).  And so I was thrust into the much more common world of the field archaeologist - travel and hotels. 

I didn't like it.  I have long been a creature of habit, and I had developed a life for myself where I had my daily and weekly routines in which I reveled.  I liked my weekly gaming group, my nightly walks, and the three to four nights a week that I walked down to the local coffee shop to either write or read (in fact, most of the blog entries on this site dating to before December 2008 were written in the Coffee Cat in Scotts Valley, CA).  I did not like having my habits interrupted, and being sent out for field work felt like an interruption.  I disliked being sent away, and the entire time I was out, I longed for my return home.

But then some things happened.

The first is that I began to realize that fieldwork, even at its most miserable, tended to provide fodder for great stories that I could tell later.  When my friends in the tech industry would talk about difficult situations at work, I could always contribute a story about nearly being stampeded by cattle, or driving on a road that appeared to be in danger of collapsing into a canyon, or having to learn how to stop a pack of dogs using nothing but chutzpah.  I found that I rather enjoyed being the "guy who has the best stories", never having to embellish the stories. 

I also began to get a bit into the spirit of adventure that was inherent in the work.  Archaeology is an infinitely more sedate field than movies would lead one to believe, but there is always the possibility that some strange thing will happen (as evidence by many of the stories on this blog), and even if it doesn't, you spend time going to enough different types of places that nobody else has quite the same breadth of experience as you do.  There are stretches of boredom, and even longer stretches of basic routine work, but these are punctuated by weird occurrences, funny events, and exciting discoveries.  I am not risking life and limb on a regular basis (provided that I follow my safety plan), but I still get to see and do some exciting things.

Later, my partner Kaylia and I moved in together.  I very much liked this, but co-existing with someone else meant everything was shared (space, money, time, etc.), which was a bit difficult for me as I had lived as a single man into my 30s, never having cohabitated.  In truth, Kaylia was encouraging of me maintaining my own hobbies, habits, etc., but it took me time to understand this, and so I found that fieldwork allowed me time and space of my own in which I could think, work out my own issues, and sometimes just engage in my own hobbies or habits without having to worry about upsetting someone else.  I would look forward to returning home at the end of the job, but I nonetheless enjoyed my time away as well.

And so, while I preferred being at home to being on the road, I did develop a bit of a taste for traveling to fieldwork.  In fact, when I hadn't gone out recently enough, I would sometimes begin to get a little stir crazy, waiting for the next expedition out of the office. 
At the same time, when I was out of the office, I usually counted the days until I returned home, as I did prefer home to the field, even when fieldwork was at its best.  What's more, even some of the events that provided me with great stories could become more grief than they were in any way worth - spending seven months of 2009 in Taft with a hostile and imbecilic client who expected me to work 16-hour days and who was sufficiently dim to not look up our contract to see what the actual amount allocated to our work actually was (hence she constantly claimed that I had gone "well over budget" when I wasn't even 25% of the way through our budget) was enough to make me seriously consider going back into the tech industry. 

And so, I find myself pondering a future in which my fieldwork will eventually start to become more limited, eventually vanishing.  It's not a bad future at all, the pay will eventually go up, my time at home will allow my relationship with Kaylia to improve (and it's already pretty good), if we have children, then I will no doubt want to spend more time with them. 

At the same time, there is a bit of melancholy in knowing that my wild and wacky adventuring days will eventually be over.  Still, it will be better if they are over when I still enjoy them than for them to continue into a future where I start to go a bit nuts, like some of the older field techs that I have worked with.

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