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My Journey Through a Google Time Portal

I tried to keep up with the social media stuff, though my online existence is limited to Facebook, Twitter, and my own website, The Back Road Café. I read that I should google myself from time to time to see what happens. It always seems a bit embarrassing to google one’s own name so I do it late at night when no one is watching. The other night around one in the morning, I closed my study door and went to Google. The result was somewhat distressing.

The first entry for Dale Rominger was:

tDAR: The Digital Archaeological Record A Service of Digital Antiquity
An Archaeological Survey of the Beaverhead National Forest Madison Ranger District
Author(s): Dale H. Rominger
This Resource is Part of the Following Collections: National Archeological Database (NADB).

Well, it was me alright, but Google had opened up time portal and spirited me back to my days in Montana as an aspiring young anthropologists with a specialty in archaeology. I had a very vague memory of driving to some conference with my lead professor, Dr. Dee Taylor, and two other students, both of whom were friends. Actually, Harley and I were roommates, meaning I was living in his house in Missoula as we both hammered away at a M.A. in anthropology. Debra was my on again off again girlfriend, also in the M.A. program. I remember we went with slide projectors and notes and not a little anxiety. Harley’s throat closed up on him and he could barely speak. I rushed out to get him a glass of water. It didn’t help. Debbie did well. I had been off caffeinated coffee for over a year and decided that morning while waiting for my time slot to start again. Not a good move. Nonetheless, it was agreed by all that I had done a great job, casually turning to my slides, abandoning my notes to address the audience more informally. It was my first taste of public speaking. On the way home at the end of the day we kept telling Harley life would go on. He didn’t believe us.

Of course, I had no idea what my talk was about sitting in my Seattle study well past midnight. I scrolled down assuming my address would be below the title only to read: “This resource is a citation record only, the Center for Digital Antiquity does not have a copy of this document.” There was no link to the actual document, but there were links to enable me to share this citation on Facebook, Tweeter, and if I wanted to email a friend. And I could Cite this Record: An Archaeological Survey of the Beaverhead National Forest Madison Ranger District (tDAR id: 239465). Why I would want to share a citation with no content was not explained.

Well, this was more than a little sobering on a cold raining night some forty years after the conference. Why the hell is a reference to a presentation I cannot recall to a small archaeological conference in a Montana town I can’t remember somewhere around 1976 the first item to appear when googling my name? I mean, no wonder I’m not selling any of my books! And to pile on the insults, the actual presentation having something to do with archaeology in Beaverhead National Forest Madison Ranger District was nowhere to be found.

I have kept a few items from this period of antiquity from my own life. I went to a small bookshelf I have in my study closet and found An Archaeological Survey of the Helena National Forest, June 1976, “an archaeological surface reconnaissance of specified portions of the Helena National Forest” conducted July 1 to September 19, 1975. Apparently the purpose of the survey was to “provide an inventory and evaluation of cultural resources in those specified areas where management activities such as timber sales, mining, and development of recreational areas would have potentially disturbing effects.” I say “apparently” because I can’t really remember, but I did write that in the introduction. So, it must be true. What I do remember is getting a hefty per diem (for 1976), staying in a Motel 6 when not in the mountains, and missing my on again off again girlfriend. Why I still have the report on my shelf, having moved it from Missoula, Montana, to Berkeley, California, to Silloth, England, to Newcastle upon Tyne, England, to London, England, to Seattle, Washington is anyone’s guess.

The second document from my Montana anthropology days is entitled High Altitude Aboriginal Occupation in Southwestern Montana. The purpose of this report? To “demonstrate a methodology combining the analysis of inter-site and intra-site data and ethnographic data to deduce cultural behavior” and to “use this methodology to interpret high altitude archaeology in Southwestern Montana”. For this little adventure I stayed in Wisdom, Montana (population 25 way back in 1977) when I wasn’t walking along the Continental Divide. I would go up into the mountains for two or three week periods during which I never met another human being. I would then come down to Wisdom for three or four days. I learned that when returning to Wisdom it was best not to shower before going to the small restaurant for dinner. And it was also best to keep wearing my cowboy hat, though I found this more difficult.

Believe it or not, Wisdom had a second hand bookstore (Wisdom was surrounded by Montana farms, so while the town had a population of 25 people, the area had a lot of people, relatively speaking). In the bookstore I found A Brief History of the United States, published 1871. Inside the book were folded aging brown pieces of paper, I think written by Edna Cardwell. One piece of a paper has the name Edna Cardwell at the top and then begins: “On Queen St. in Portsmouth at a tavern door about one hundred years ago there lived a woman by the name of Mistress Stavis.” There is also a report on Nathaniel Hawthorne, and a paper with the words “They have a lovely dance room” at the top and “I was into Earnest’s room yesterday” at the bottom.  

I remember a few things from those Wisdom days. In the small restaurant I sat at the counter. I was reading a small copy of War and Peace with paper not unlike that in a Bible. The rather attractive woman who was always there behind the counter and served me each time I came in, asked me one day why I read the Bible so much. I showed her the book was War and Peace, but it didn’t make much of an impression on her. When I finally left Wisdom at the end of the summer the woman gave me the coffee cup I used each morning. I was quite moved one day when I stood on the very top of the Continental Divide, one foot in the East and one in the West. At night along the Divide, the Milky Way was as big and bright as life itself. I remember on one particularly beautiful day walking up a creek, which became a stream, which became a trickle, which became a moist patch near the top of the Divide. I sat there looking at that patch of wet for some time, in my mind retracing the flow in reverse, imagining the river down below that now I knew started as a wet patch at high altitudes. I had found the source. One day at dusk I sat on a high bluff looking down on a huge stretch of lowlands. I watched a couple of wolves run down a deer. The smell of sage was ever present. As I sat there, watching the wildlife, the sun disappearing, I felt organically connected to the earth, to Earth, and took a handful of soil in my hand and watched the stars appear in the sky. It was one of those experiences that are not easily articulated, an experience that probably necessitated me being alone. Later that night it rained like there would be no tomorrow. I remember that being away from human beings for most of three months was probably very good for me.

None of this has anything to do with my Archaeological Survey of the Beaverhead National Forest Madison Ranger District. I am pretty confident that that presentation is lost to history, more invisible than Edna Cardwell’s story about Mistress Stavis. As it should be.

Copyright © 2016 Dale Rominger

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