Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hamilton County, September 2006 (Part IV)

It’s hard to remain focused on blogging when one is busy making a mess out of one’s life. Or maybe I’m just letting it become a mess. Sometimes the mess is quite glorious and other times kinda scary. In any case, despite my best stated intentions, postings will be sporadic and probably weird for awhile. With that in mind, I’m going to switch to some real-time entries from the Cumberland Plateau. This first one took place at the same Hamilton County location as the previous entry, but a couple months later. It’s dated September 5, 2006, to be exact:

“The most bizarre and, in some ways, harrowing field day of the season. About 3:30 PM we were finishing surveying a vegetation plot and preparing to move onto the next when I distinctly heard a voice. At first it did not sink in as those things which are utterly improbable may not immediately pierce our perception. A second later I realized that I did hear a voice (or voices) and that such a thing could not be good. I began to consider the potential ramifications of this just as the voice became a scream. My initial reaction was that someone was being murdered. Carl and I looked at each other as these things flashed through my mind: Was there anything we could use as a weapon? (Soil corer.) Should I try my phone? (How would I describe our location/situation?) Could this person be armed? (We certainly did not have a gun.) If there was a murder in progress we both felt we would have no option except to get involved. But no sooner had we begun to discuss what to do next when the voice began to repeat a phrase. The phrase, however, did not sound like any language I’ve ever heard. Over and over the strange "words" were yelled in a tone of what could’ve been anger or fear but was so chilling as to be nothing less than genuine emotional disturbance. Not knowing whether to pack up our gear and get out or go and see what was going on we did nothing. The screaming lasted for several minutes and then began to fade. Whoever it was was leaving. The incantation died away.

We decided it would be futile/useless/dangerous to continue working, so we hid our equipment and started back slowly down the bluff. I had the soil corer in my hand and Carl had a hammer and rock. Not the best weapons for a fight if the other side has a firearm. As we started, Carl said, “If I have to kill someone with this hammer, I’m quitting.” After that we didn’t speak but crept carefully along as fog rolled in. We saw no evidence of anyone except for details that I had already noticed earlier in the day: Someone had been using the path up the second set of bluffs and there was a new path beside the waterfall. Someone had been going up regularly.

On the way in we came across an abandoned camp on the trail. There were pillows strewn in the dirt, a hat, a cooler, and a chair thrown down the hill. On the way out we looked much closer. Who had been here? These items had to have been brought in from the parking lot, but why, then, were they left behind? The fire pit had been cold for at least a couple of days.

I called our contact in the field and left a message telling him what we had heard. Perhaps he will call and tell us not to go back. There could be drugs. There could be insanity. We wouldn’t fight him to return.

Then, this evening, while watching TV, I felt something on my arm. I turned in time to see that a spider was on my shirt. I got up slowly, but removed my shirt as carefully as I could. The spider looked like a brown recluse. We’ve taken pictures and will try to verify. I don’t even know what to say about that or this day altogether. Ridiculous.”

The first photo is out the back of our check-in station home. Not a bad view, eh? The second shot is a mysterious tire garden in the middle of nowhere. No idea how they got trucks back here, although we found some rusted hulks next to what was probably an old still. The final shot is…the spider.

By the way, anyone wanna give me a job?


Anonymous said...

hmm, what's the scoop mr j? you've been quiet for some time and the mess comment doesn't make me feel like everything is fantastic. chicago has its drawbacks, but maybe t & g will do a 26th anniversary?

SD said...

Groovy story. Was the spider the dreaded Brown Recluse? About the job, I'm not sure what it is you do exactly, but I might know people who know people. You have email.

Anonymous said...

Hey -Somehow I just surfed into City of Dust and stuck around to read many of your posts. Great site, lots of interesting accounts of your field work and travels. Can relate somewhat to your work. Spent over 20 years doing similar work, but as a shovelbum, in TN, SC, the south west and AK. The first 10 years were spent going from one project to another project. Pretty marginal lifestyle, but interesting. For the last 11 years of this period I lucked out signing on for a summer job in AK that somehow lasted 11 years with regular paychecks. I now have a regular 9-5 boring-ass job in IT. By the time the AK jig ended I was solidly in the middle-class world with a mortgage, kids and had to get a real job to support everything and everyone. Don't regret giving it up, but sure miss living the lifestyle of a shovelbum. Wish you luck. -Joe

Jmhouse said...

Hey Joe,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate it! It's funny how marginal lifestyles can be the most interesting. It's probably not best to live that way for too long, but if you want to get some stories get a low-paying job outdoors that forces you to move around a lot. I'd never heard the term "shovelbum" before. Is it a reference to, er, an itinerant digger?!

Thanks again!


Anonymous said...


A shovelbum is an itinerant archeologist. The best job you can have with your pants on.


Jmhouse said...

An itinerant archeologist? I had no idea such a job existed. Sounds pretty cool. Maybe I'll give it a try. Do I need to know anything about archeology? I can identify a shovel.

Doug Sterling said...

This spider looks to be a Carolina Wolf Spider. I'm no expert, but I'm judging this based on the design on its abdomen, the shape of the cephalothorax (I had to look that term up to make sure I was using it correctly), and the length of the front legs.

jmhouse said...

Doug, I believe you are correct! This spider was eventually identified and I'm pretty positive it was indeed a Carolina wolf spider. Hey, I was never in danger! Nice ID!