How to Pack for an Archaeological Dig

How to Pack for an Archaeological Dig

So, you’re a college student or a person looking for adventure and you sign up to go on a dig. Getting ready to go off into the unknown can be terrifying, especially if your site is half way across¬†the world. As I prepare to head off to Slocan BC (British Columbia) on my next quest – this time to be a teaching assistant in an archaeology field course I attended two summers ago- I thought I’d¬†record my packing process for those who might need some tips on what to bring to an archaeology dig or field course. You really don’t have to stress (as much as you are currently stressing as you read this) but in the hopes of making you feel more prepared I’ve mapped out to the smallest details what I pack for a dig.¬†Though this is still only my second trip to work on an archaeology site,¬†I think that I can still give some good advice as I continue¬†trying to figure things out and improve my own choices as I go.

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Don’t be a worry-wart like me! If you forget something it’s usually not the end of the world!

My packing will of course apply to my specific site, but I’ll try to add some more general tips and things to consider. Keep in mind that not all field schools or archaeological digs are the same. Also keep in mind that though I’m working on it, I have a tendency to… overpack. This will also be specific to archaeology fieldwork, but will probably still provide good tips for other scientific field courses or research trips.

My¬†specific dig is located in the enchanting temperate rainforests of BC and is the location of Hamilton College’s archaeology field course. Two years ago I was a student on said field course and my experience there led me to decide to major in archaeology (along with my already determined creative writing major). Now I return to this incredible place, but this time as a (paid!) teaching assistant!

Anyways, the first things to think about when packing are as follows:

Will you be flying¬†to your site? If so, are you willing to pay overweight luggage fees? This will really help you pack what you really¬†need because flying with a ton of extra stuff is no fun for anyone. I can personally attest to this… but usually I’ve just sucked it up and accepted that gear for 7 weeks in the field is heavy.

Where is this dig in relation to towns or cities? Is it in the middle of nowhere (aka at least an hour from the nearest human settlement)? Is it near a tiny town that at least has the equivalent of a CVS? Is it right outside a large town or city? Is it inside a city? Is it in a country that may not have the medication you need or usually take? Is it in a country that may not have your favorite Oreo flavor for instance? Will you be going into human civilization/given transport into human civilization regularly?

This will help you determine how much of everything you need to bring. My site is a couple minutes from a wee town and 45 minutes from a nice small city/town that has a Walmart, a CVS, a mall, a grocery store etc. etc. Later you will see that this allows me to bring much fewer toiletries and basic necessities like Oreos and shampoo because I can simply pick them up on our weekly trip into Nelson, BC.

What is the climate? Be smart and do your research. Does this place have a rainy season? What season (winter vs summer etc) will it be when you are working there?

This is a no-brainer. Pack¬†smart for whatever climate you’re heading into. I can give advice for what to pack for summer BC weather, but make sure you do some googling and calling around to make sure you know what to bring for your own location. The last point will also help with this part of prepping: Can you buy clothes when you’re there if you want to?

Where will you be living? If you’re living in tents then you will be packing tent gear, sleeping bag, etc. etc. You’ll also need some kind of lantern¬†so you can function without having to wear a headlamp all the time when getting stuff in your tent at night.

What will your excavation leader be providing? Some professors¬†and excavation leaders will be providing a significant amount of equipment for you (this often includes food). You may prefer to bring your own trowel and “dig kit” but those will guarantee to add a good amount of weight to your luggage. Figure out what you are expected to bring and what your site will be giving you. Sites will always¬†have their own first aid kit as well, and if they don’t then someone needs to tell them about basic camp safety.

How long will you be on site? And how often will you have access to a washing-machine or body of water in which to wash your garments? Another no-brainer. Figure out how long you will be there. Figure out how long between clothes washing sessions you will have. Make some calculations. Do some soul searching and really think about how many times you are willing to wear the same shirt or pants in a row.

What are you personally comfortable and familiar with? This applies to gear and clothing. Don’t try something new if you don’t need to. Make sure you have your broken in boots, a trowel you’ve used before, etc. etc. If it’s worked in the past then you know it’ll work for you in the future. Comfort and familiarity is key!

Many more questions must be asked before you are really all packed and ready, but here is the place to start. The big balance to think about it not overpacking (this is always my struggle) while also not being underprepared when you get there.

Toiletries

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Most of this stuff you can usually purchase when you get there, but if there are products that you can’t live without or simply prefer to use (above: the hair tie, the tampons, the biodegradable floss, and the heat-wraps fall into this category), then pack those. ¬†The things that you should definitely bring at least in your carry-on are the toothbrush and toothpaste, the wipes (if you’re going to be on an airplane), deodorant, and your retainer/specific dental care stuff¬†if you use one. Also I highly recommend, especially if you’re going to be living in the woods near a river like me, Dr. Brunner’s soap. It’s perfect for river baths, environmentally friendly so you don’t have to worry about contaminating any bodies of water you want to bathe in. I’ll also be packing those wee bottles to put some shampoo, lotion, and conditioner in to tide me over until I can buy bottles in Nelson.

Not Pictured: razor and extra razor blades, fast-drying towel, and hairbrush,

Note: I won’t be bringing that whole box of tampons, or the whole box of heart wraps (period cramps in the field are a bitch) but they looked better in the boxes when I was photographing them…

Medicine

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Again, the key is to figure out what you can purchase when you get there. Also think about what diseases you may be susceptible to if you are going somewhere with a very different environment to your own (Examples: malaria pills, pepto-bismol, diarrhea medication, etc. etc.) The most important items to pack that are pictured above are your¬†personal¬†prescription¬†medications.¬†The other items I’ll list left to right row by row, but again, they will probably be available in pharmacies in Nelson – these are mostly for emergencies/to tide me over/are medicines I prefer.

Row 1: Medicinal tea (“don’t need but want” category), numbing medicine for cold sores, Zicam nose spray for congestion, cough drops, bug spray. Row 2: Bag to carry all this in and keep organized, Abreva paste for cold blisters, Emergen-C packets for immune system and dehydration, prescription medications, preferred sunblock. Row 3: Benadryl anti-itch cream, antibiotic wipes, prescription medication, burn cream, antacid, ibuprofen. A lot of these¬†are just-in-case things to pack. You really don’t need to bring these if you will have a CVS or a camp first-aid kit nearby in case of injury or bad common colds.¬†

Gear

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These are all things that I think are pretty important to bring with you. However, I’ll still organize these items in categories below.

Most Important: Flashlight (I’m bringing three¬†just in case someone on my site forgets to pack one), sewing kit, pocket knife, headlamp.

Comforts/Damn Useful Things: Power bank for phone, rope (as Sam Gamgee always says, rope is¬†something you shouldn’t travel without), lanterns (I have two to light my tent, one if solar powered and one runs on batteries), solar panel USB charger (one of my favorite things-so helpful when you’re out and about or at your tent away from electricity).

More Damn Useful Things: mosquito head-net (a new addition to my gear provided by my mother, will let you know how well it works), emergency tin (has a bunch of survival gear in it, just in case), extra poncho (the green thing- good for shielding notes or yourself if you’ve been an idiot and left your raincoat at camp), whistle.

Not Pictured: My tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and camp chair. Let me know if you are interested in learning what types/brands I use for this important part of field gear. Comment below! Also¬†my water bottle¬†somehow didn’t make it into the photo. WATER IS SO IMPORTANT bring a good bottle or two!!!

Dig Kit

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Your excavation leader may provide some of these materials for you, especially if you are a first time excavator, but this is my kit. My dad made the case for me out of an old tool kit and I can roll it up and wrap a bungie cord around it to keep it closed. It works perfectly for me in the field. However, you can buy kits made especially for archaeology.

Most Important: Brushes, trowel, ruler, level, compass, pens and pencils and highlighters, gloves.

Optional: Colored pencils (I like to organize and color-code).

The inReach little radio-looking thing is the way I contact my family in the field when I am out of cell service. Comment below if you want to know more.

Clothing

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Layers! Sun protection! Rain protection! – These are all must-haves for somewhere like Slocan. The one thing I could probably live without is the green light jacket, but I like to pack a lot of things just-in-case – not recommended to do if you have limited space.

From left to right row 1: Warm fleece, light jacket, light fleece, sweatshirt (Hamilton College pride), sunglasses, Indiana Jones hat (he wears it for a reason, people, these hats are the best for rain and sun). Row 2: Long underwear pants/leggings, raincoat, kafiya (amazing for sun protection, wiping sweat off your face, rain protection, wind protection, etc. etc. I highly recommend).

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Pants depend on the climate, but I found that having two pairs of Carhartt¬†work pants¬†and a pair of lighter cargo pants were perfect for the temperature and the kneeling in the dirt that happens in Slocan. Two pairs of shorts because sometimes you get those really hot days. The jean shorts can double as “normal human clothes” when you go on errand runs into town (so can your work/dig pants, but you know what I mean).

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For those bra-wearers out there, I personally mostly wear sports bras when digging, but normal (padded/underwire) bras work fine too (they sometimes get more sweaty though). I bring three just because I get really sweaty and I only get laundry once a week. I’ll also bring a normal padded bra. Sport shorts can be dig shorts, running shorts, or sleep shorts but are not super necessary. I pack a pair of flannel pj pants and a pair of pj shorts because there are both cold and warm nights in Slocan.

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Shirts! I have way more shirts than you really need because I prefer not having to re-wear things too many times¬†before washing. However, you can probably split the number of shirts in half if you too have access to washing once a week. The types of shirts and pants you bring are completely up to you and depend on climate and comfort. I am most comfortable digging in tank tops and they don’t take up much space. I’m also going to bring a couple t-shirts that double as sleep shirts.

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Numbers of socks and underwear (underwear not pictured because some things have to stay private, right?) depend on climate, comfort, and laundry access. I am packing three different types of socks: ankle socks, normal-height (over ankle) socks, and warm socks. Socks also depend on what shoes you’ll be wearing. I tend to overpack socks because re-wearing dirty socks starts to become a stinky ordeal, and as Dumbledore says, one can never have too many socks. Pack enough underwear for at least a week. A couple extra is a good idea too. Avoid the fancy lacy stuff, it can chaff and get sweat stains… yuck. Go with practical and comfy.

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The above clothes are totally unnecessary but nice to have. We started calling said articles our “town clothes” because they were normal human clothes that were not dirt-covered and we wore them on our trips to Nelson every Saturday.

Shoes

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Think about what is comfortable. Don’t bring something that will give you blisters, make you overheat, be too big on you, etc. etc. I bring a pair of work shoes (boots or old sneakers), a pair of waterproof shoes (for walking back from camp after swimming), and an extra pair of shoes that I can technically wear to work or town (beat up converse).

Carry-On

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Finally, some last items: Travel jacket with lots of pockets, tote bag to put snacks and any airport purchases/overflow carry-on items in, laptop (make sure you’re allowed to bring a laptop to your field school, some students are told they don’t need to), books (limit yourself to the books you bring from home, people – they’re heavy and a pain to fly with despite how much you love them), camera, Cow-Cow (guys, don’t be ashamed to bring your comfort stuffed-animal to camp, if if helps you sleep and be less homesick who cares if you get judged a little bit? You’re a strong independent woman or man or non-binary person and you can bring a stuffed animal if you want to!)

Remember to bring your prescriptions and dental equipment in your carry-on in case your checked baggage is temporarily misplaced (this is pretty rare, but it’s even more rare for checked baggage to get permanently lost these days, so scratch that off you’re worry list). Also always pack your cameras and laptops in your carry-on because it’s safer for them. Do NOT pack your pocket knife in your carry-on accidentally! All that gear should go in your checked luggage – sharp pointy things are not for carry-on.

What to pack it all in

As I said before, I still overpack (even though I’ve learned a lot and have gotten much better at being efficient and smart about packing choices). Thus, I needed a pretty big duffle, and if you get one like this you should definitely¬†get one on wheels. If you want more details about this particular bag, let me know. I also have a carry-on backpack for the plane (below¬†left) and a site backpack (below right – something I can squish down and use to carry my dig kit, sunblock, water bottle, etc. to the site every day).

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Well that is a very in depth look at my gear and packing process. I hope it was helpful to those of you who are heading off on your¬†own field school. It’s an amazing experience and definitely worth being a bit less stressed about as you head out.

Please comment below for any specific brands or questions you have about gear!

Follow me for more field advice and stories about my British Columbia work and studies.

Nighttime ride with the huskies

Nighttime ride with the huskies

Bj√∂rkliden, Sweden –¬†North of the Arctic Cirle

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We stood in the snow, flakes speckling our faces with moisture, and absorbed the howling yelps of the sled dogs. Most were still in their cages when our van pulled into the yard. Empty leads lay neatly in the snow, stretching out from the wooden sleds like red and purple vines. Noses peaked from the dog trailers,¬†puffing out steam in the cold air, and the dogs’ yowling grew louder as they sensed their future passengers approaching. We watched, bundled completely and still unused to the extra space we were taking up in our massive snowsuits. We‚Äôd brush up against each other by accident, or get thrown off by how our ankles kept knocking into each other due to the thickness of the Velcro bottoms of the legs.

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We absorbed the smell of the dogs. Most of it was their breath and fur, filling the air with earthiness, sharp and sweet. Later you could smell their waste as they relieved themselves before the trip, but it was all quickly swept away by the wind and snow. A line of dogs was already out of the trailers, stakes down in their leads so they couldn’t run off with the sled, passengerless.

As soon as we‚Äôd been told that we could indeed give the dogs as much love as we wanted, we‚Äôd all fallen to our knees to obey. I tore off my mittens and sunk my fingers into the furry chests, after offering my hand, palm up under panting noses, to smell. They were all friendly, all desperate to run but also longing to rub their heads into human chests and hands. Nudging faces pushed up to be scratched on the forehead. I could sense when one of them longed to get closer and would move my face to be licked and nuzzled. Pure joy filled me, with a nagging drop of homesickness and longing for my Keeta, my Gaffer, my Diesel. Peace was the one I spent more time with, and she loved the ‚Äúrubbies‚ÄĚ ‚Äď scrubbing her head into my nails and licking my face frantically.

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One of the men working there had begun to pull more dogs from their trailer homes and brought them, straining at their harnesses, to their place on the sled leads. The dogs bucked and kicked like racehorses, so eager to run it seemed like they’d strain so much that their muscles would burst out of their skins and furs and go running off without them. They howled.

As the man headed back to the trailer for more dogs, he spotted me waiting with my fellow student travelers and said, ‚ÄúYou‚Äôre going to help me, come with me.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúSure!‚ÄĚ I said, and followed without questions.

In the suit I felt invincible. The cold that was writhing around me in the wind did not so much as brush my ribs. My boots were sturdy and thick, gripping the snow with confidence. I had a hat, a buff, and a scarf keeping me warm, and thick tough mittens. I was overwhelmed with the knowledge that yes, sure, I could do anything he needed me to. I was used to dogs. I was used to working in snow. Dragging hay off of a tractor. Hacking ice apart with an axe. Dragging a sick sheep to her feet. In that moment I was full of cockiness and pride at my experience. And looking back at it, I don’t blame myself for that. If you can’t be proud of roots like that, and if you can’t be thrilled to use that experience for something else, what’s the point?

‚ÄúYou‚Äôre going to help me bring out one of the dogs. He‚Äôs a strong one, and likes to twist. Don‚Äôt let go of him.‚ÄĚ

He pulled the gray and white beast, about half the size of my Keeta, out of the trailer and pulled his wiry forelegs through the harness. The dog panted, chest heaving with excitement and sound pouring from between his canines like drool. I hung onto the dog, feeling him pull against me. I’d rooted myself, as if I was walking Keeta and realized she’d seen some potential prey scuttling through the trees. He tried to pull me towards his companions already howling ahead of us on the road, but I stayed grounded. He twisted around, as I’d been warned, but I didn’t let go even when his harness pulled my mitten into a knot and crushed my fingers. I ended up having to spin myself around, not wanting to risk trying to transfer the harness loop from the twisted mitten to my free one.

After only a minute or so, the guide had harnessed another dog and we walked together up to the sled that was second from the front. The man held a dog in each hand and walked quickly up the slight slope, not being dragged, but not pulling back on them either. I slid and stumbled several times as my beastie pulled and tried to gallop off to his spot on the line. It was hard, and I worried I’d face plant before we got there. But we got the three of them hooked up without problems and then turned to get more. At that moment the man who would be my sled driver in the adventure to follow asked if I could hold the lead dogs while they go the rest of the team. Otherwise, he explained, they‚Äôll turn around and tangle the harnesses.

The sound was incredible, standing between the two leaders, holding the connecting strap with a mitten hand. They screamed their pleasure and excitement. Every so often one of them would jump up, and scramble up my stomach and side, begging me to release her. The suit meant that I didn’t feel her claws, just the pressure of her big snow-shoe paws. At one point of the lead dogs jumped over the other, triggering a deep growl that is always a cue for any human around to remove any appendages from interfering with the power struggle that was to come. However, these were well-behaved workers. They each wanted the same thing, each were willing to forgive the other for invading their personal space. As long as they could run.

I waited there in the howling darkness. I was blinded every so often by the glare of the guides‚Äô headlamps. Looking back towards the vans and trailers I could see my friends waiting to the side, lit up by the headlights of a truck idling in the snow. More dogs were brought to their sleds. I was warm from having wrestled¬†the bucking dog from before. I‚Äôd taken off my hat and buff and one of my mittens, trying not to overheat, but still I felt sweat beginning to form on my sides. Not a good sign. Sweat freezes and then you’re in trouble.

Finally the dogs were all in place, and the students were too Рstacked together four to a sled. Everyone quivered with excitement. I was relieved from my post and was waved forward to the leading sled where I squeezed myself in at the back, my knees up around the hips of the person in front of me, my boots pressed into the wooden runners. I could feel the sled at my back, nudging gently at my spine. I was already beaming even before we set off, so stupidly happy at being chosen to help. We sat in thrilled silence, as there was no point to try to talk over the tirade of sound coming from the dogs all around us. I thought we could probably leave then and be happy, just from having doted on the dogs for half an hour or so. I had re-bundled, and later would be thankful that I’d thought to bring my buff with me to the north.

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Look at these low light photography skills…¬†

I felt my heart would literally burst when finally our guide stepped onto the back of the sled and gave the okay to his team.

Sudden silence. Every dog had stopped barking at once. Every dog had leapt forward and as one power sped us along the snow and into the trails that spread out through the woods. Our team was at the front, so nothing was ahead of us except the stain of light cast by our driver’s headlamp, and snowy forest. I peered around the backs of my friends and saw the dogs running ahead as if we weighted nothing.

The ride was smooth and silent. The padding of the paws ahead of us, the whoosh of the wind and snow of the blizzard that had just begun, and the occasional scrape of the metal break of the sled were the only noises besides our occasional questions and chatter with our driver. The only thing I can compare that feeling to is sailing. There was no jolting or bumping, aside from a couple humps in the trail that the dogs skillfully. It felt like going over the wake of a motorboat in my smooth sweet sailboat back in Maine. At the same time as the ride felt relaxing and meditative, it was also just so so so fun. Not fast enough to be scary, not slow enough to be boring, but a speed that made our hearts race with pleasure and utter contentment. I could feel the joy radiating from my companions through their blue and red suits, flying back to me in the air, mixed with the snow. We could breathe easy.

We stopped a couple times as our guide looked back to see if the four other sleds were still behind us. Responsibility came with leading. We took the moment to look around even more, through the hills and trees of the arctic landscape. Our driver said he’d often see moose walking through the woods, and often got spooked by the huge beasts. At one point we saw a sparkling reflector through the trees, and he thought that it could be light blinking from the large brown eye of a moose. We didn’t see another living thing, but we saw the tracks and there was no sense of emptiness as one might have thought. I could feel that the woods were full of energies, full of creatures besides our furry companions. The dogs could smell them, but none of us could see them.

Our driver announced the halfway point and I breathed in relief, knowing that it wasn’t going to be over too quickly. Nothing is worse than the sinking disappointment of an adventure cut off too soon.

I tried to take a video, but eventually put my camera back in the baggy chest of the suit, and let it sit against my ribs for the rest of the ride. I wanted to consume every second of this. Plus my camera skills on a moving dogsled were nonexistent, right along with my nonexistent low-light photography skills…

The snow looked like the animated trails of white dots that appeared in Christmas specials. The blizzard pushed against our sides and faces and was illuminated by the headlamps. My face stayed warm under my scarf and buff, but my eyes occasionally had to blink away a stinking snowflake that had pelted through my eyelashes to freeze my irises. What a thrill to be our on a dog sled as the wind rose and the snow got thicker.

 

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Doesn’t matter if you get the right sized snowsuit, as long as you’re warm

It still ended too soon. We weren’t ready to leave, and were relieved when our driver said we could thank the dogs after we dismounted. We collapsed once more at their panting feet. This time they were quiet, exhausted with the thrill of the run and the fatigue that pulling us up the slopes of the trail had caused. They were affectionate still, but let it be more one sided this time. We planted kisses on their heads. We rubbed the folds of skin between their shoulders and necks. We worshipped them for the magic they’d provided us.

I thanked our driver and then found the man that had let me help at the beginning. He had his own team of students working for him now, and they staggered with their own dogs to bring them back to the kennel trailer. We shook hands and he said to have a good stay. He called me “farmer girl” and I beamed.

Photos by myself – The banner photo is me messing up the shutter speed while taking a photo of a snowmobile

Sami National Day at Skansen

Sami National Day at Skansen

February 6th is Sami National Day in Sweden, and as I happened to take a solo afternoon trip to Skansen on February 5th, I stumbled upon some of the celebrations.

A word about Skansen in general, before I describe my experience. This “museum” is a¬†must see if you are living in or visiting Stockholm. It is a unique and immersive journey through Sweden’s past. You walk along cobble-stone roads past preserved houses from hundreds of years ago. You can walk into the shops and old houses of wealthy merchants or rugged farmers. For those of you who have been to Connecticut, it is very reminiscent of Mystic Seaport¬†– though while Mystic has captured the maritime culture of New England, Skansen focuses more on the farming culture in Sweden I would say, though it’s hard to simplify it that much. There is even¬†a section of this massive outdoor museum that is a small zoo of Scandinavian animals. You can try to spot¬†the wolves, watch the wolverines play and compete, and see the lynx jump for proffered meat.

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It. is. amazing. And it is not an option to miss it if you have the time.

I went to Skansen that day knowing I wouldn’t be able to see everything in only one afternoon. So I took my time and dedicated myself to the animals. I particularly wanted to listen to a talk about the reindeer that would be in English. I wandered through the place, getting turned around a couple times, and slowly began to get chilly. It was a cold, harsh day, but walking made it bearable, and I was happily distracted by what was around me.

The best part was that it had started to snow. Not a snow that was impeding. It wasn’t even sticking or¬†building up to grab at my boots. It was simply there, landing on my lashes occasionally and lulling me into pure contentment as I walked through the past. Just as it is meditative for me to look down through thick ice and count the cracks, it is also a lesson in calm to look up into a snowy sky and try to follow individual snowflakes.

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The deer were wandering around their paddock when I got there, and they all crowded the woman who came to feed them. I listened to the woman but watched the deer eat the lichen that she had brought them. Her talk was interesting, but I didn’t learn anything new (that’s what happens when you grow up with a biologist for a dad). No matter, I could watch and learn from the deer themselves. As they walked, I listened for the clicking sounds their ankles made. I tried to imagine how they could possibly tell one set of clicking ankles from another. Somehow they do, and that is how calves can find their mothers again if they get lost, or how a lone reindeer can find its way through a blizzard back to the herd.

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As the talk was ending, a voice suddenly range out from over the ridge to our left. Someone was singing, or playing music very loudly, and all of our attention was caught by it. The woman informed us that this was Sami music, which was timed perfectly to follow her description of how the Sami people had tamed reindeer long ago and were the only ones allow to hunt them in Sweden.

I thanked her quickly and strode ahead of the rest of the crowd to get to the crest of the hill. There I found the celebration. A couple dozen people were gathered around the traditional Sami dwellings that are part of Skansen. A booth of food and some merchandise was set up and the air smelled like reindeer meat, mushrooms, and lingonberry. It was absolute heaven. But at first I didn’t see this – I wanted to see the singer and approached the performance with my camera filming.

I will need to find her name as soon as I finish writing, because for the life of me I can’t remember it right now. The type of singing she performed is Sami traditional yoik and it was impossibly beautiful. You will have to watch the video I took, though the quality is quite low (a new camera is coming soon!), to really understand. Here it is.

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When she finished singing her¬†“Peace song” I turned to see what they were selling at this booth. It was covered in bright fabric and reindeer skins and the smells was literally mouthwateringly good. I bought one of each of the meals being sold so that I could try both. I was not disappointed. The singer’s songs continued for ten more minutes or so and we all gathered to eat and watch, some of us standing, some of us perched on random boulders. We were absolutely mesmerized and could ignore the persistent pressure of the cold on our toes.

After I finished eating I ducked into the laavu and joined a woman who was talking to a group of teenage girls about traditional Sami folklore. I let her know I was American, again imposing my language on others, but I was desperate to learn. They didn’t seem to mind. We listened and leaned closer to the fire in the stove between us. We breathed in the scent of the balsam fir and reindeer hide we sat on. Slowly our hands began to thaw, but others wanted to see what it was like inside, and there was only so much scooting closer to each other that we could do in the space. I left to give my patch of reindeer fur to a father and daughter.

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Before leaving the area of celebration, I thanked the singer. She smiled warmly and was glad to talk with me for a few minutes. I was disappointed to learn she didn’t yet have a CD, but hopefully one day she will make one.

I think I will come back to this post and add more later, because¬†for some reason that afternoon seems to be escaping me now. Maybe it is because today was so blue and warm. It’s started to smell like spring through the February cold and I don’t know how to feel about that. There was so much more to that afternoon than I can seem to express. But hopefully the pictures will bring you a bit closer to what I saw.

I hope that you are warm and content inside and out wherever you all are.

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Sturdy Ice – Wobbly Legs

Sturdy Ice – Wobbly Legs

In Sweden, a usual family activity for those living in Stockholm or the suburbs is to go lake skating. The lakes in the archipelago are usually thicker and safer than the edge of the sea, and many families, couples, and solo skaters spend time flying across these bodies of water.

My host family took me skating last weekend. The place looked like cold. Thick and reassuring, the ice stretched from one side of this narrow lake to the other. White lines, flat perfect planes of crystal, stretched down through the gray ice. They looked like veins of a crystal. Staring at the ice beneath my feet was like getting hypnotized by a crackling fire. It was almost a meditation to stare down there as I hobbled along. There were no ice sounds here, as there would have been if we were skating on the ocean, and everything was muffled through the hat I wore under my padded helmet.

But my attention wasn’t held by the ice for very long. I hadn’t skated since I was maybe¬†ten years old, and even then I had only skated maybe twice. Now I was in a whole new world, with long lake skates on my feet that felt like mini skis and a lake that wasn’t much like the¬†smooth groomed surface of a skating rink. Maybe the Bambi metaphor is over-used, but I really did feel like a baby deer out there. My ankles felt like twigs, my knees shook, and all my muscles clenched to keep balance.

I ended up doing pretty well I think. Well, I was at least able to slide along using the poles. Didn’t quite master the strokes of actually moving my feet to push me along – you know, actual skating- but I was going places. The wind was so strong along that lake that we could actually sail with our bodies and fly downwind. However, Anna wisely fetched us back before we went too¬†far. Getting back upwind at that rate would have proven¬†to be a nightmare. She was right. It was like trying to push myself through mud. My whole body felt weak and it was far more of a struggle than I’d expected.

When I finally ¬†sat down to take a break, one of my legs started shaking so much it was jumping up and down on the ice. We all laughed at my exhausted muscles and I contented myself to sitting with my thermos of tea while the others did a couple loops around the lake. My fingers were red as I fumbled with my phone to take pictures. My host family¬†really looked like they were flying. They used the ice as an engine, and sped anywhere they wanted to go. I thought to myself that maybe, just maybe, I’ll eventually be able to do that, if I really put the effort into learning.

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img_9871My feet and hands began to get cold. The pulsing burn that is the feeling when ones toes start to freeze is a very interesting kind of pain. It’s quite bearable if you don’t think about it too much. It becomes simply a pressure on your feet that isn’t usually there – if you distract yourself, the pain disappears. Later I paid attention as my feet thawed slowly. My big toe was the last to get warm, and it was so so nice to get the feeling back.

We had a picnic on the other side of the lake. We all sat on a dock out of the wind and had hot chocolate and egg sandwiches. It was so delicious after what had been for me and exhausting¬†morning. Eating food after such a morning is always the best- anything tastes good because you feel you’ve earned it. As you can see below, my family¬†was impossible to get a photo of without someone blinking or moving! Oh I love them so much.

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When we headed home, I wasn’t feeling the best. My whole body ached and I was surprised that my muscles were that sensitive to a new activity. I hadn’t fallen once while on the ice, and there didn’t seem to be reason for certain muscles to be paining me now. Well, if you have read my last post, you’ll know why I was feeling so wiped out and cruddy. I had the flu… But somehow, it didn’t manage to ruin such a magical experience. I can’t wait to go back with healthy strong legs and skate down that lake with birches leaning over it like nursemaids. The ice like quartz crystal. The wind a power to be harnessed and used to fly on tiny splinters of metal. I’ll be back.

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Yes, I know how stylish I look. The orange things around my neck were spikes that I could pull out if I fell in, and use to pull myself out of the water. I was also equipped with a helmet and knee pads. Thankfully I didn’t end up needing¬†to use any of these things. Photo credit to Elias (my host brother).

 

 

One Wallander Novel, Two Stuffed Animals, and Three Days with the Flu

One Wallander Novel, Two Stuffed Animals, and Three Days with the Flu

So, not everything about traveling abroad is exciting and glamorous and fills your Instagram with artsy photos.

Like the flu.

For the past three days I’ve been at home in bed, battling aches, a on again off again fever, a cough, and now a ridiculously runny nose. But as dull as this sounds I’m going to write about it anyway.

While I’ve obviously been trying to stay on top of the work I’ve been missing at class, and at the same time as rescheduling several meetings, there’s only so much you can do when you have chills and are blowing your nose every five seconds. Because of this, I have gotten to know Swedish Netflix intimately, and have almost finished (almost!¬†No spoilers!)¬†my second Swedish Crime novel of the semester: Henning Mankell’s¬†Faceless Killers.¬†However, I must admit that as charming as Wallander can be, Mankell’s character really is a bit of a downer. Thus, I’ve mostly been focusing on the number of my favorite kids movies that Swedish Netflix has that (I believe) the US Netflix does not: Strange Magic, all the Shrek movies, Mirror Mirror, Matilda, Quest for Camelot, etc.¬†strange-magic-official-poster

But to be honest, I’ve mostly just been¬†sleeping. Or trying to fall asleep to a Harry Potter audiobook (I finished The Prisoner of Azkaban for the one hundredth time).

You may be thinking, oh poor you, all alone in Sweden and down with the flu for what looks like it’s going to be a whole week. However, I can tell you that it would be a whole lot worse if I wasn’t living with my amazing host family. Instead of being alone in an apartment with limited groceries and tissue boxes, I instead have all the love and care of two host parents and two host siblings. They have been so wonderful, popping their heads in every so often to see what I was watching and if I needed anything. I don’t have to struggle to the nearest Apotek for medicine, I don’t have to trust my dizzy head with working the stove, and I’ve have their assurances every day that “No you’re right, you shouldn’t go to class you look so sick go back to bed.”

Thus here you have a side of studying abroad that maybe you don’t get to hear about as much. I currently am lying in bed in my chunky wool sweater, surrounded by blankets and the two stuffed animals I brought from home (my “Cow Cow” and my sky bison Cabbages), flanked by packets of tissues and a whole grocery bag filled with used ones. Yuck, I know. But illness happens, even when you’re abroad, sometimes¬†especially¬†when you’re abroad, and sometimes you can only wait it out and try not to let it get you down. It’s okay to be a bit of a kid again in these situations. Sometimes it can’t be helped.

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Oh, and I’ve also been told two places in Stockholm that I can get boxed mac and cheese. Thank you fellow Americans studying abroad.

Sometime tomorrow I’ll write a post about iceskating – but for now… I think it’s time to move on to The Goblet of Fire.

Audiobook cover from here. Movie cover from here.

The Women’s March – Stockholm

The Women’s March – Stockholm

If you haven’t heard of the Women’s March, then please do a little bit of googling to fill yourself in. Start here¬†and then¬†move on to the hundreds of articles and photos posted about this event.

My sister and many¬†of my friends joined this march of solidarity and resistance in New York City, and many dear friends of mine were also at “the” march in Washington D.C.

However, these weren’t the only two marches¬†on January 21st. Women all over the world were marching in their cities and towns, and I marched in Stockholm.

As a couple of my program-mates and I got off of the metro after having a beautiful brunch at one of their apartments, we ran into a protest just outside the station. They evidently were beginning there to later join the larger march at 2. Immediately I felt a warm emptiness to see how many people, american or no, were being affected by this election. The entire world has been thrown into a whirlwind of confusion and fear.

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We arrived at the main square to see that a couple thousand people had gathered there. People of all genders were standing with signs, babies, backpacks, coffee, pink hats, all talking to each other and trying to figure out the world, together. I stood with my friends, and later my amazing roommate from Hamilton (also in Sweden for semester), with my back to a restaurant in this square. We were stuck behind a large evergreen tree which blocked the view of the stage, but eventually I made my way through the mush of people to see through the branches.

The speakers, I assume, were incredible. There was just one tiny problem. The speeches, of course, were all in Swedish. I had had exactly two one hour lessons in swedish before that. I could hear the passion and love and power in each of these women’s voices. I could tell that they were eloquent speakers, by the silence in the audience and the speed and fluidity of their words. I could feel the rush of emotion and agreement every time the speaker was interrupted with a cheer, and I did my best to join in with the screaming love every time. But it was hard. I so wanted to hear the perspective the women of this country have on the recent events. I wanted words of comfort and advice and power. I was able to catch the meanings of random words: abortion, Trump, misogyny, racism, Trump, transgender, etc.

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I felt part of this but also apart. However, when we all started moving, it was a different story. We spread out to form this long line, and I looked behind me to see just how many people there were. I couldn’t see the end of the line as it curled around the block and who knows how far. We walked along the beautiful waterfront. I could see the island of museums, Djurg√•rden I believe, in the distance across the water. The lane where we walked was lined with old trees. The water was half ice. My fingers were cold but my face was flushed with pride to be among these people. The art of resistance all around me.

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The march ended outside the US Embassy. Soon after movement stopped my friends and I, tired and chilly, wandered away. We went exploring to clear our heads and warm up, but many many many people stayed. Though we couldn’t quite join in on the chanting, as most of it was in Swedish, we could still hear it as we left the line of people behind. We could have stayed there all night I suppose. Maybe some people did. But it was past four and food was much needed.

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I could not help reporting my marching as often as I could after that. Almost bragging. I was so filled with pride, especially reading about the marches all over the world. Seeing the signs. The pussy hats. The passion and love and bravery of every person who identifies as woman and who wants¬†equality. I hope these photos inspire you. Even if you couldn’t march, that doesn’t mean you did nothing. There is still so much more to be done, so much to resist. So do it.

First photo from Pontus Lundahl/TT NEWS AGENCY via Associated Press, the others are my own, the last three are by artist Shepard Fairey.

A Warm Winter

A Warm Winter

The line of ice that used to stretch like a speed bump right in front of our¬†driveway has slowly dwindled over this past week. Now only a thin line of it¬†clings to the pavement, and the snow in the garden is completely gone. I suppose it’s been a warm winter across the globe (which makes sense because climate change is in fact real)¬†but seeing photos from up north in Sweden makes me want to follow the cold. It’s not that I like being cold, it’s more that everything seems better and closer and calmer when there is snow. However, the warmth means that walking around Stockholm is a little easier, and my nose doesn’t get runny quite as quickly. I’ve stopped putting on blush though, because there is still enough crispness in the air to make my cheeks pink.

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On my walk to school – you can see some rare early morning blue up there

It still however, is unmistakably Scandinavian winter. The sun rises at around 8:10 these days, and that’s only when it begins to rise. It’s not all that different from home in the evening, or so it seems to me… But somehow the morning seems so vastly different. Every time my alarm goes off I think of those times when I was little that my family had to catch an early plane at the airport, so we all had to get up at 5am. But this time there is no sleeping in the car. I have to be up and showered in time to get to the train, even if in the end I get to school a little early. That’s the price of my amazing peaceful suburban home: trains leave every 25 minutes or so, and that could potentially make me late to class. (I might add that our professor of Swedish makes us sing to the whole class if we are late…)

Today I got out of class at 10 in the morning, my only class of the day, and took a metro right to Gamla Stan for some solo exploring. I wrote this little paragraph while I was there:

I am sitting in¬†tiny caf√© down a thin alley in Gamla Stan. The place is cramped and small but still has five big¬†flags pointing out where it is. The ceiling is rounded like a hobbit hole, and one wall is all brick. A set of armor, probably fake, stands guard there in the corner, and an old-fashioned radio plays dreadful top 20 music. It is so full of static that I thought maybe the coffee grinder was just on all the time. But no, it was just that ancient radio next to the empty knight near the wall. I ordered a cup of hot chocolate before sitting down to write, and it came to me in a small tea cup and cost 50 krona! For those americans out there, that’s more than 5 US dollars… And it was tiny! Plus¬†it came out of a machine like it does in my college dining hall. But no matter. I honestly like any and all¬†hot chocolate, so I was content. The white noise of the static-y radio and people chatting in the sweet language that is Swedish serve as a good¬†background for my writing. My typewriter keyboard adds to the atmosphere I think, blends in, even. I’ve gotten several compliments today, the Swedes seem to like my¬†hipster writing set-up. I just hope the tapping of the keys doesn’t annoy anyone, because I know people would be too polite to tell me. I’m not sure if I will come back here. I need a cheaper cup of cocoa, but now that I’m here I can make it my writing space just fine.

The whole morning and afternoon was spent wandering. I found that caf√© and another lovely art caf√© ¬†(I will post a link once I remember the name) in which I mistakingly ordered four swedish pancakes instead of two… I ate them all anyway, they were heaven. I definitely recommend swedish pancakes (a breakfast food I actually grew up with) with powdered sugar and cloudberry jam. Absolute heaven I tell you.¬†¬†

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Yes… those are indeed multiple shelves of Terry Pratchett’s books… In english!

And then I spent too much money at both a strangely wonderful clothing store, and my favorite book shop in the world (besides R.J, Julia of course): Science Fiction Bokhandeln. It is a magical place full of temptation… I’ve already bought three comic books there… Imagine a beautiful, organized bookstore, but it doesn’t feel like a chain of any kind, and it’s literally ALL science fiction and fantasy books. Plus all the nerdy tv shows ever. Plus comic books. Plus tons of fantasy-sci-fi merchandise. Plus all the gaming (board and cards, not so much video games) supplies one could ever hope for. Let’s just say I got a frequent shopper card from them right away.

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A little boutique I bought post cards in
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Amazing whimsical clothing…
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The bookstore of all bookstores

So yes, the freedom of being near a city and having many fewer hours of class than usual is beginning to set in. I realized I could spend as much time in that place as I wanted, and it was quite overwhelming. I wrote 2000 (ish) words of my book… And that too started to overwhelm me. I felt the edge of writer’s block begin to surface when¬†I sat in that little caf√©. So, I left, and headed back to the train. I’m home now, but now have the knowledge that it takes only about 10 minutes to get to Gamla Stan from my school. I have a feeling my book is going to have a complete draft by the end of this semester. If I start to fade from that goal, promise that you folks reading this (family and friends, I love you for reading this) will leave some comments yelling at me to get back on track.

Photos by me, and the top one is of the Tintin section of a wonderful stationary store… I love Tintin… Though I’ve written many a discussion/criticism of the¬†racist and disgusting themes that show it’s the product of its time… But I won’t get into that here.