Monday, August 15, 2011

Stranger than Fiction Monday



I believe it was Mark Twain (AKA Samuel Clemens) who said fiction had to be believable, but fact has no such constraints—paraphrased, obviously. And honestly, moments in my life definitely qualify. So here I present Stranger than fiction Monday. No I don’t know if this’ll be something I do regularly, I mean really, I don’t know if I’m getting paid next month, why would I have my blog nailed down when I can’t even keep my real life together?

Assuming I do manage to get this up and running on a regular basis, people can feel free to ask whatever questions they like, and I’ll do my best to answer them (sorry, I missed your question about the size of a road runner, Jen, but they’re basically land bound, overgrown pigeons with cool plumage). When I don’t have questions, I’ll regale everyone with strange stories from my myriad odysseys (and yes, that is the right way to describe most of my stories).

Without further ado: Stranger than Fiction.

You know how most people have stories that start out with “My friends and I were at the bar”? Well, I don’t have stories like that. I can actually count the number of times I’ve been in a bar on my fingers (and even those only happen at conferences and airports). No, all of my crazy stories go more like “So, I was out in the field.”

I was on a field trip with the people at UCSB, it was a tour of Death Valley (pretty awesome place really), and it was May. I mention what time of year it was because, you know, Death Valley is really hot. No, I don’t mean like a little bit hot, I mean like make tea in your water bottle hot (then burn your lips when you try to take a drink). I got a nosebleed the second I stepped out of the van (yes, for all my bluff and bravado, I am the nosebleed person, damnit). I was also deemed one of the more responsible people, so they let me drive one of the 14 passenger vans—their first mistake. Well, it had been a really long, hot day, and considering that we had a permit from BLM, we decided we’d call it an evening at seven o’clock. It was still 100 degrees (Fahrenheit, of course, I’m in the US here). One of the professors knew of a really great place to camp, a nice wash with a soft sandy bed that practically never had water in it. So we four wheeled it in our giant Econoline vans, through the creosote bushes to the sandy (read car eating) wash.

Now, I don’t know how many of you have had much experience with the desert, but a creosote bush is a plant that has a characteristic scent. In fact the scent is creosote (hence the name) but it smells of rotting flesh when you bruise it.

Seriously, this bush smells like rotting garbage.

And we drove through it.

Yeah, really smart.

But wait, there’s more. I should have stopped following directions much earlier in this particular trip, and now that I think about, they may have been directing me into things for the fun of it, but I hit a big old rock. Ugh. Econoline spins out in sand, I’m stuck. And it smells like someone exhumed a recent grave nearby. At this point, it’s starting to look like the beginning of a horror flick… the college kids trapped in the desert with the rising undead, will they make it through the night?

One of the burly undergrads who still had something to prove, comes over and looks at the scene. He decides to roll the giant rock out of the way (I’d only just barely hit it, but there was only so much room between it and a boulder that would have actually capsized the van). Oh, yeah, did I mention I was the lead van driver? Yeah, that’s me, holding up the other three because I hit a rock.

Well, burly guy one bends over and pulls and pulls and pulls. Nothing. He calls over some of the others, and they rig up a lever, and with these guys pushing on this rock they finally turn it away from the van. The face that had been facing the van pulls up into full view of the sun, and it says “R.I.P. 1492.”

The burly guys drop the rock while screaming like little girls. I mean, I can hardly blame them, it does smell like rotting flesh, I can see how they might have thought for just a second or two that there was a body nearby (one that I might have actually been driving over), but they manned up and finished the job so the rest of the vans could get to the chosen campsite. (The chosen campsite possibly ringed by the resting places of the undead!)

By some strange, silent agreement, none of the guys who touched the rock said anything about it, but there were plenty of witness (including yours truly), and that night around the campfire we told stories. We started out with Bundy and his gang (one of his known hideouts was very near death valley) and of course, when talking about mass murderers, we got into ghost stories.

Well, what better fodder for ghost stories than the one about the vengeful spirit of the disturbed tomb on the edge of camp.

I let them go on for a bit, trading stories about how one time his aunt had heard/felt/seen something that was just like this time. And then the time his brother had went into a cave and found a bone then couldn’t sleep for weeks. Then one guy with dilated pupils, and a t-shirt with a pot leaf on it said, “But aren’t you the least bit worried that the ghost of that corpse is going to haunt you?”

I blinked. Everyone at the campfire turned their eyes to me. I am a girl after all, I’m supposed to say something like “Oh, I’m so scared, maybe someone should sleep close to my tent tonight, just in case.” But really, I’d been driving all day long, with enough nosebleeds and dehydration to tax the patience of a saint, and well, I’m not a saint. I’m a scientist.

I sighed the long suffering sigh of someone speaking with the mentally impaired (okay, that was probably rude, but I’d had enough egging on at that point), but if I could have rolled my eyes any farther, they’d have come up the bottom. “And you think I’m going to be haunted by the English speaking native American who died in 1492? Prior to the conquistadors? Seriously? Did you remember to pack your brain when you came on this trip? 1492, puhleeze.”

Everyone laughed, even the girly screaming burly boys laughed—in no small part relief, I’m sure.

But seriously, who’s lucky enough to hit the only freakin fake tombstone in Death Valley? Me. That’s who.

Oh, and no, I was not haunted by Native American (nor cowboy, nor conquistador) as a result of my dances with tombstones.

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