A Familiar Feeling

Greetings from Le Clos de la Tour, in Frejus, France. It’s safe to say I’m not in Italy anymore (I know, I’ve been in France for more than a week but go with it). My mini-vacation in Nice was absolutely enjoyable, despite catching a sinus infection, which I only get when I’m living in groups, stressed, or not resting (foreshadowing!). After meeting with some friends from last year’s season at the Apolline Project, Jean-Antoine, the director of the excavation at Sainte-Candie, picked us up from Nice and brought us to Frejus.

It was around the time we pulled up to our campsite that I got a very familiar feeling: a mix of anxiety, a lack of confidence, and my internal monologue returning to the same line, “Should I really even be here?” The feeling got stronger as we were told to set up the tents where we’d be sleeping…outside. Let’s simply say this was a first. The arrangement of communal chores was broken down to us; essentially a rotation of 4-6 people were placed in charge of cooking, cleaning, and processing artifacts each weeknight. By this point, I was really starting to get that gut feeling. I like my fellow dig participants, but mandatorily cooking for roughly 20 of you once a week, clean your nasty little dishes another time, then trust you all to do the same to a standard we both find acceptable? Phew, that’s going to be a tough one, folks. 

The next day came, and we split the group into trench teams, me being given four people and an area a short hike from the entrance up the hill slope. My trench? Two piles of rocks hidden to the side of a hiking trail behind thick shrubs and trees resembling those used in buildings and fortifications in the area.

Barely visible: the two piles of rocks in dense forest cover.

We set to work doing something I know all too well from the Apolline Project: opening the trench. Here, that meant removing all of the fallen leaves and pine needles and raking away the layer of floor cover (Jean-Antoine calls it humus). Then a quick plan drawing to highlight the areas of interest, justifying our opening of the trench.

A recurring theme in my archeological life, perpectually drawing.

The final product was a thing of some beauty, although I was hard pressed to see the underlying archaeological significance (and likely you will be too).

A shot of the trench after cleaning.

Following a lively morning and early afternoon, Jean-Antoine invited us to a hike up to the summit to close out our first day in the field.

"Sure, why not?" were the words that Matt, an Australian friend and former digmate from Apolline, probably said gingerly.

And so we all started our trek. Up and up we went. Did I mention that I’ve never really gone hiking? Well, I was certainly reminded of the fact with another twinge of that gut feeling…”Should I be here?”

Not pictured, multiple moments of fear for our lives as we ascended steep rock faces and scrambled through thorn bushes.
A view of one of the summits we'd visit that day through the nearly indomitable tangles of shrubbery.
I found myself asking how did the Late-Antique people not only climb up here, but also build walls and fortifications here?!

It also came into my mind after about an hour of climbing that a fortified “hilltop” settlement was a complete misnomer. This was a mountain. We were climbing a mountain…


I was really starting to doubt my place here, and seriously question the process of Jean-Antoine and his colleagues. Their methods were different from what I’d learned from two degrees and six previous excavations; I’m in a country where I don’t speak the language, living in a setting I’ve very consciously never chosen to live in before; and my daily life won’t be anything like what I’ve previously experienced in the field. Seriously, what did I get myself into?!

After exhaustedly flopping down onto my air mattress in my rickety tent with barely enough room for me, I’d seriously reflected on that. Then, it came to me. This experience, or more aptly, this feeling, is nothing new. I’ve felt this way before about big changes. Specifically, I think to the first semester I was traveling as a consultant for my Fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi.

Yes, I am a Fraternity man. I joined as a sophomore in college and I’ll summarize my experience by saying that I spent some of the best times of my life with some of the best friends I’ll ever have working hard to not only have fun, but grow into exemplary students and men on campus and in life. These experiences positioned me to take on the role of Educational Chapter Consultant for Phi Psi at the national level. I was hired to travel from chapter to chapter across the country and work with undergraduates to assess the performance of their organization and give them tools to improve as well as praise for their successes.

The job wasn’t easy. It was my first out of college and I was expected to maintain a level of professionalism with people who I would have previously considered social peers. I had to live in an apartment in the national headquarters, Laurel Hall and not long after moving in, I was traveling to be a representative of everything our letters stood for. That was hugely different from the good times and easy schedule I had at Lycoming College (don’t worry, I still worked very hard in undergrad). My gut was wrenching at the idea of change and conforming to a new normal. I wrote about Transitions a couple of weeks ago, and this was exactly that lesson in practice. I kicked and screamed against the tried-and-true process of my supervisors at the time, Mark Lipka and Ron Ransom; I grappled with my fellow consultants who’d each had their own unique fraternity experiences and approached the job differently; I literally broke into a cold sweat at the thought of even calling my chapter presidents to plan visits. Then I stopped and considered the bigger operation, and what my place was in making it all work. My job was to act as a liaison to the undergraduates and represent the very best of what Phi Kappa Psi stood for and the experiences it had to offer, working to bring those ideals to each place I visited. Contesting that role and the methods to achieve its purpose was counterintuitive. Questioning my capabilities when I was chosen who to fill this position was questioning the judgment of those that chose me and disabling myself. It took time, but my experiences on the road showed me that, while yes, change incurs anxiety and uncertainty, it doesn’t warrant fear, weakness, or inaction towards one’s responsibilities. I got to see the very best in what Phi Kappa Psi was doing all around the country, and I got to play an active, positive part in that grand organization!

There’s literally nothing different between then and now. I need to trust the process and the people who accepted me into their operation. When I do, I’ll see the very best of what not only this site has to offer, but what Archaeology has in store for me and the people I intend to teach about the past.

So that mountain climbing adventure we had on our first day? Yeah, we kept pushing and were rewarded with this:



Not a bad place to dig for a couple of months, even if there’s some bumps and scrapes along the way…

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