Getting Jangled in the Jungle

Disclaimer: I am appreciative for the life I live, and I love that so many are interested in what I do and what I accomplish. With that being said, please be mindful that I *cannot* share all the excruciating details of what I do, the things I do/don’t find, where I do/don’t find them, or speculate on their history until final reports are published, which can take several months, if I ever even hear at all. So, TIA for your understanding!

I think the most fascinating thing about humanity is our lack of posterity, with most nearly everything except our emotional selves.

We are consumed with someone remembering us,
rather our livelihoods.

As an archaeologist, I find that generations past rarely, if at all, considered that someday things may be wildly different and no one would know when, how, or why. (Guess that’s why our job is so fun??)

Okinawa has a deep military history, and as Americans in Okinawa, we are aware of that. I think that what gets lost in translation is just how deeply Okinawa has been affected by military presence–Japanese, American, etc.–including how many records, all for some areas, were destroyed during the war. Their recorded history is simply gone.

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Though lands are gradually returned to local governments (slow progress is still progress, nonetheless), WWII left hectares upon hectares fenced off, with many indigenous families losing access to their farms, their tombs, their shrines… their homes. But the really, reaaaaaaally cool thing is that the Department of Defense has this code where lands are required to be surveyed for cultural significance before they can be altered in any way.

So even though stuff gets lost, we get to find it.

I’ve spent the last two months rifling through dense Okinawan jungle with an amazing group of people, a slightly-sharper-than-useless machete, and a pair of spiked boots. The scenery, wildlife, and hidden treasures were plentiful, and the work was intense and challenging. But in all, I must say, it was successful, and I learned more about myself than I could have ever anticipated.

Imagine your teammates having to haul your carcass back up that 70-degree incline…because you choked on a spider.

Day 1 started off with no expectations because, let’s be honest here–I was the n00b. I had never surveyed, and I had never been in the jungle (aside from a few family hikes on established trails), so I had definitely never surveyed a jungle for cultural properties. When one of my Japanese partners brought me a machete, I assumed it was a proactive, in-case-of-emergency gesture for fighting off boars (crying now at my initial assessment; bah, what an ignorant young gun).

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Our morning meeting began parked on a grassy flatland, surrounded by jungle with a valley in the center. As they browsed the map laid into the GPS units for a start point, talking about “dropping in here,” or “dropping in there,” I didn’t know that in the next 35 seconds we would literally be DROPPING into a valley, down a 70-degree slope, hopping from tree trunk to tree trunk. It really ain’t so bad if you have two free hands, but that’s the fun part. One hand is grabbing a tree for stability, and the other is wielding your machete in front of you to cut branches for visibility, oh, and spider webs, too, so you don’t accidentally inhale one and die. (Let’s be very real here; the greatest fear is dying out there and your teammates having to haul your carcass out, up that 70-degree incline… because you choked on a spider.)

Their recorded history is simply gone.

The days don’t get easier, you get stronger. Expert Waterfall Climber will definitely be tacked on my resume for the rest of life. As a woman with lower-body strength that could roll a car, I found myself continually impressed by the work my upper-body was able to put in. Heart attacks happen when you’re scaling a rock wall, over a river, with zero footholds, clutching to tree roots and wishing you hadn’t skipped lifting weights for the last ten years (I’m really sorry, Mr. Burns!).

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But the coolest thing ever, is looking back and seeing that you made it. In typical surveys, enough vegetation must be cleared to expose a feature for proper recording. Should the local Board of Education become interested in further investigation of the area, more in-depth discovery/recovery would occur. Trees, ferns, vines, branches, and hiking to the tops of mountains to do it? It’s no wonder we were burning 4200 calories every day.

The views were breathtaking. The adventure was thrilling, and we even made a few buddies along the way (smol gecko boi). I have experienced several new things, but among them was a new perspective. I will certainly carry it with me for the rest of my life. We aren’t just hiking, digging, clearing, and recording. We are helping rewrite what was once–bringing vindication to oral accounts through discovery.

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It is among my greatest accomplishments to say that I have been able to aid in the journey to uncovering Okinawa’s natural history.

また !

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