Where in the hell am I?

October 24, 2010

The Naked Flag Lady Story, part 2

(click here for part 1)

Note: in the original version of this post, I used a descriptor for the woman in this story that could be considered sexist and ageist (although not as bad as the outdated colloquialism that I thought that I had used). I have edited it out, as it was not appropriate terminology, irrelevant to the story, and I want this blog to be welcoming to all readers. I apologize for my poor choice of words in an attempt at “color”, and I thought it was important to acknowledge that this specific edit was made.

The idea of “The Naked Flag Lady” sounds like a fantasy from a 1980s teen sex comedy b-movie, but trust me, this was not the case. 

By this time, maybe 10-12 minutes had passed from the time we first noticed her. My boss had finally joined us, after being filled in by the field techs. He stepped between us and the Naked Flag Lady, and told her that he was who she should be talking to. Once again, she yelled “Who said you could be on this property?, to which Ken replied, “the right-of-way agent.”

She did not like this answer either, and she went off, yelling semi-coherently about “That sounds like a private company!” and “It sounds like you think you’re the government!” and “This is why people hate the government because they think they can just go where they want on people’s private property!”

Ken told her that we weren’t with the government, that we were working for a company building a pipeline, and that they had told us that we were clear to access this property.

Of course, she was way beyond reason at this point, so she turned her attention back to Suzanne and myself. She said, “These motherfuckers ignored me”, and we apologized again. Then she looked at me, “And this motherfucker was disrespectful,” for which I once again apologized.

She wasn’t done though. Next she glares at us and growls, “What are your names?”, to which Suzanne replied, “Suzanne.” Naked Flag Lady gets a new level of crazy in her eye and growls even more deeply, “Don’t fucking talk to me like I’m a fucking kindergarten teacher, I want your full name, motherfucker!”

We both complied, as did Ken, who then told her that he was the one in charge and to direct her questions to him. She turned her head and yelled, “Larry” back towards the house several time. Then she turned back to us and snarled, “Call 911!” I took out my phone and began to dial, but then Naked Flag Lady said, “Never mind.”

Note: this would have been my best chance to take a photo of her, and I was kicking myself later! At the time, of course, I was trying my hardest not to look at her and hoping she didn’t get so mad she lost hold of the flag…(edit: In retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t, as this would be a clear violation of privacy).

She then ordered us to follow her back to the house. Ken told us to stay put. She repeated herself, and Ken told her clearly that he would be the only one going with her. So she told us to “Stay there!” and turned to walk back to the house with Ken.

It turns out that the poorly wrapped flag didn’t quite reach all the way around her! Her ass was almost totally hanging out. Worst of all, she kept looking back to make sure that we weren’t going anywhere, so we were afraid to look away!

We looked at our watches and realized that all of this had taken no more than 15 minutes. We waited at the fence for another 10 minutes, and finally saw Ken leaving the house (and breathed a sigh of relief!), so we finally were able to get off her property.

When Ken finally gets back to the truck, he fills us in on the rest of the story. Apparently, she was in the shower when the dogs started barking as we were leaving, so she grabbed the first thing she could find to put in, which was one of a number of flags drying in the living room. She went in to a bedroom to get dressed, and Larry started chatting with Ken. Naked Flag Lady  yelled through the door, “Larry, stop talking to him!”, after which Larry shut up with an apologetic look in his eyes.

When she came out, she pointed to a different flag, made of a sheer blue material, and said “I almost grabbed that one, then y’all would have gotten quite a show!”

As it turns out, we actually were trespassing! Her right-of-entry agreement included a 24-hour notification clause, and no one had called her. On top of that, we were the third crew for this project who had been out there in the past week or so, and she hadn’t been called at all!

So we were the straw that broke the camel’s back. But don’t feel too bad for her, she did try and sic her dogs on us several times when we were standing there cooperatively!

We would later find out from the wetlands survey crew that Naked Flag Lady had come out to yell at them earlier in the week, but then she calmed down and actually had them in for tea!

We would also find out that the client, who was the person who actually told us that we were good to go, had never even checked the form to see the 24-hour notice clause. So we couldn’t even yell at someone about it!

Well, that’s the Naked Flag Lady story. It was both a little funny and a lot scary at the time. And if you ever want me to tell you in person, just go ahead and ask!

October 22, 2010

The Naked Flag Lady Story, part 1

I realized today, after my post yesterday complaining about not having interesting stories, that I have never told perhaps the craziest field story I’ve got! This happened almost nine months ago, and at the time I said I wanted to tell it in person a few times before writing it down. Well, I have, so here we go. It’s long so I’m breaking it into two parts…

We were surveying for a pipeline in deep East Texas, including working on weekends. This particular Saturday was a little chilly, but a nice sunny day otherwise. The plan was to walk in from the county road along a fence line, then start our survey, crossing a named creek and continuing on to a vehicle parked on the other side. Simple enough. Note also that this fence line is staked, and is the proposed centerline for our project. Also note that we were being very careful to stay within our APE (edit: Area of Potential Effects, basically the proposed right-of-way) to avoid trespassing.

We walk out, and hear some dogs barking, which is nothing unusual. We start our survey in a wooded area and get to the creek, and it’s impassable. We have no choice but to head back the way we came in and drive around to the other side to do the rest.

We start walking back, and as we get near to the large yard along the fence line we can hear the dogs again, sounding a little more agitated. They were off in the distance, by a house on top of a small hill (the yard was for this house). As we enter the yard, I look up and see a woman by the house. I figured maybe she wanted to see what the dogs were barking out, or maybe to calm them down.

She starts yelling, and I look again and she’s holding her arms in a way that looked like she might be cradling a rifle or shotgun. She starts walking down the hill towards us, still yelling, so me and the other crew chief tell everyone to hurry a little. Soon, she was close enough that the yells were audible, alternating “Get off my property!” with “Stop!”. We were still in the staked right-of-way, and we had been told that morning that we had right of entry to the property. Still, I told everyone to keep hurrying, since she was yelling at us to get off her property. I assumed that the “stop” command was for the dogs, who were still barking and running a little ahead of her.

We keep going, and as we get to the fence by the road, she yells, “Stop, I’m talking to you!” She’s also close enough now that I could see that she was not holding a gun.


Needless to say, we were a little scared and a lot confused. We told the crew to keep going, while the other crew chief Suzanne and I stayed behind to talk to her. This pissed her off more, and she started yelling for everyone to come back; we told them not to. I yelled across the road to our field director to come and help us out.

At this point, the Naked Flag Lady was maybe 15 feet away, and I was trying very hard not to look at her. She yelled at us, “Who told you you could be on this property?!” I honestly didn’t know who the land agent was, so I told her as calmly as I could, “I don’t know, but I’ll try and find out.” She yelled the question several more times, and I either repeated my first answer or “My boss is on the way to talk to you, and he knows.”

So she told the dogs to “Sic ’em”! The doberman pinscher made a half-hearted move towards Suzanne, who fended it off partly with her clipboard and partly to telling it to “stay.” She repeated the “sic” command two or three times, while we pleaded with her to stop, and that we were trying to answer her!

Finally, I said in an exasperated and slightly agitated tone (remember she is siccing her dogs on us!), “I told you that I don’t know but I’m trying to find out!”

This set her off even more, and she growled, “Don’t take that tone with me, motherfucker. I’m the landowner and you’re on my property.” I immediately apologized.

Tune in tomorrow for part 2 of the Naked Flag Lady story, including why she was naked wrapped in an American flag!

September 18, 2011

Temporary project blog started

Filed under: archaeology, archeology, Texas — Tags: , , , , , — John @ 8:35 pm

I’m going to be leading a survey next week. We’ll be doing some metal detecting near the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. It’s similar to what I did a couple of months back at the Fannin Battleground State Historic site, only not within the park boundaries (actually, around a mile or so away).

A friend of mine, who teaches fourth grade in Austin, teaches about this battle. Having not grown up in Texas myself, I’ve never taken Texas history, but I assume (knowing my adopted home state) they teach about it often. She mentioned that her students would be interested in my work, and I (of course) said, “Well, I can blog about it!” Then, I realized that this blog isn’t always 100% safe for work, and probably not appropriate for younger readers, particularly in a classroom environment. I’d hate to get my friend in trouble for her students clicking back to the Naked Flag Lady!

So, I started a new blog about the project, for a general audience (no cussing, no attitude). The title is Surveying San Jacinto (click for the link) and it should be temporary. In addition to documenting the actual fieldwork, I’ll try and add information from previous surveys in the area and anything else I can find related to archaeology and the battle. I’ll mention the logistical work, and if I’m involved also the post-field lab and reporting work.

If you’ve stuck with this blog for a while, you know I sometimes make promises and don’t follow through very well. But this time, it’s for the kids!


March 21, 2011

More on public archaeology

(stick with me, there’s a pretty nice little story at the end)

I wrote earlier about how this current survey project I’m on has added stress because it’s pretty controversial, with a lot of recalcitrant landowners and at least one major lawsuit. This is a particular challenge of public archaeology, which I don’t know that a lot of archaeologists have to deal with: pissed-off people. Actually, I think that having to deal with multiple landowners in general is more a product of cultural resources management (CRM aka salvage archaeology aka professional archaeology). Most (if not all) academic, grant-sponsored, or educational projects are conducted in cooperation with the landowners, often public entities. The goal of these projects is to enhance knowledge, train people, and educate; when the project is finished, the holes are usually filled in and life goes on.

Not so much for what I do. The end result of my archaeological work might be a road, a pipeline, a power line, a housing subdivision, or a wind turbine (among others). It almost always involves taking a portion of someone’s land, which they are usually receiving some sort of compensation for, and which they may have limited access to after. We’re not some prestigious scientific endeavour that they’re hosting, we’re just a part of the process that may or may not end in a way that they prefer.

This leads to interesting situations, which are of course influenced by the personality of the landowners involved. It’s also a bit self-selective, as the people most adamantly opposed won’t let you on their land to begin with (like the guy who sat on his porch with a shotgun on his lap whenever our truck was anywhere near his land). You’ll occasionally run into your naked flag ladys, but you’ll also get to ride around in a vintage WWII jeep with a retired rodeo cowboy (seriously, this was the best day in the field EVER that didn’t involve an amazing site).

So I’ve been a bit reluctant on this project to talk to the landowners, which is a definite demerit against me as a public archaeologist (although to be fair I’m not the crew leader). But for the most part, those we’ve encountered have been nice folks, even if they’re not excited about the project as a whole.

One gentleman on Saturday hung around us for quite a while and was very friendly, as well as provided some information about the history of the immediate area (useful for the architectural historians). He sat in his golf cart and we chatted while I was digging a shovel test. He thought I was digging a hole to test the soil for a tower location, which he was concerned about because that a tower in that spot would have blocked a really nice view from his house (and if it were up to me, I’d make sure there wasn’t a tower there). I explained how we conduct our surveys, inspecting the ground surface and digging shovel tests in a systematic fashion, so that the actual holes weren’t indicative of anything besides a location within the overall area of impacts. I talked about how only certain types of sites would be an issue for the project, and he joked that he could call some Indian friends of his to make that kind of site if it meant not having a tower blocking his view. He mentioned that his grandkids had picked up some arrowheads around the property, and that he had seen some other areas that just had some “chips” and “chunks”, and told us where they were. Sure enough, there was a nice surficial lithic procurement area in the spot with chips and chunks. He offered his opinion that it was probably just a hunting party area, because there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff and it was too far from water; he was pretty much right about everything except perhaps the hunting party.

He told us that he was originally from Port Lavaca, and had worked at the Alcoa factory there for 35 years,and retired and moved to the Hill Country a few years back. He had six kids, and had put five of them through college, including four at UT, and that his daughter still lived in Austin.

There’s one more element to the story, but I want to save it for a separate blog post that I hope will initiate some debate. I would, of course, love comments on this as well.

February 10, 2010

A visual challenge

Filed under: archaeology, archeology, East Texas, survey, Texas — Tags: , , , , , — John @ 9:11 pm

I’m still holding on to the naked lady wrapped in the American flag story for now, sorry!

Obviously, my job involves a lot of looking at the ground. Sometimes, you see something like this lithic scatter near Buffalo Gap, or this hearth near Tarpley, or this hearth near Glen Rose (although, to be fair, with the hearths you kinda have to know what you’re looking for). Other times, you see something like this:

I’ve made it easy, since the pencil is pointing right at a potsherd. And if you look at the photo on Flickr, I’ve even pointed out a small quartzite flake as well! As you can see, there’s a lot of background noise as well. Some of the leaves look a lot like flakes. There’s all sorts of small tabular sandstone fragments that look like potsherds. There’s also some natural small chert and petrified wood gravels mixed in there too.

We actually walked over this site back in January. Some of it is in an existing buried pipeline corridor, which has disturbed the site. It’s also caused a lot of erosion, which has exposed artifacts. The first time we surveyed the area, I noticed some small pieces of petrified wood, and even picked one up. This time, I decided to look more closely at the gravels in the erosional washes, and started noticing a few flakes mixed in. Eventually, we found 20+ flakes, 4 potsherds, and two dart points!

I’m debating naming the site the Walkover site, since we walked over it without seeing it the first time. Also, because I walked over a point that our field director then noticed. Normally, I’m the one who sees the artifacts that others walked over! But, since we found the site on Super Bowl Sunday and there’s probably a dozen “Walkover” sites already, I’m working on a name related to the New Orleans Saints. Maybe the Gono site?

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