Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Knocking Down the Overburden

The first official day of work started with an early wake up not long after sunrise. I had slept well the night before because of travel fatigue, but the previous night was quite cold and the constant body temperature fluctuation woke me several times. A healthy serving of oatmeal and nuts were for breakfast. I never cared much for oatmeal and this may have been my first whole bowl of oatmeal I have ever consumed, but the wilderness was not the place to be picky. The air was still cool, but I could already feel the heat from the sun beating down from above, toasting everything, or better yet everyone in its path. I packed my lunch, filled up my canteen, and followed the others down the trail leading to the quarry.

Everyone else had arrived at the park the previous day, so I had the fortune of missing the process of digging out the fossil site from the rubble piled on last summer. However, there was still not enough cleared space to install the shelter. Luckily, cool temperatures and a strong breeze prevailed throughout the day to keep us from misery. The others taught me how to use a hammer and an awl to chisel out the overburden, the layer of rock presiding over the fossil layer we were trying to get to. The work quickly became tiresome, as my arms grew tired from swinging the hammer repeatedly and it was a constant struggle to get into comfortable positions. As Alan outlined the portion of the quarry that needed to be knocked down, I realized that a great challenge lay ahead of me. For the next couple of days, I essentially knocked down a rock wall with a hammer and an awl. By the second day, my right hand and arm ached and I could no longer forcely strike the awl for more than a few times without resting to recover from the burning sensation throughout my right limb. Throughout this time, I watched in awe as Norman, the 74 year old former English professor from Australia, removed large chunk after large chunk of rock with ease. I soon found out people called him the rock whisperer, as his ability to find just the right crack to hit to be uncanny. In addition to that, he spent a couple hours each day going out into the hot sun and prospecting for new dig sites. He was by far one of the most interesting people I had ever met, always sharing stories about his adventures in Europe and the other digs he participated in throughout the year.

By day three, the tarp shelter was up, the temperature was on the rise, and the overburden was no more. I felt accomplished having removed such a mass of rock. But as I expressed my satisfaction of never having to pound my hammer at large stone chunks again, Alan warned me that after I start to work on the more delicate fossil layer, I'll be begging to mindlessly hammer at rock once more.

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