Archaeology

By Rob Carney

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Old Roads, New Stories: A Literary Series

 
Who knew the badgers of Utah were so advanced? Not you. It’s no use pretending you did. No, the only people who knew this were Mike Noel and I. I’ll tell you about my own credentials in a minute, but here are his: He’s the state representative from Kanab; he’s opposed to designating more national monuments; and back in June, during interim meetings of the legislature, he said something more interesting than I ever hear in faculty meetings. It had to do with the proposed Bears Ears National Monument, which is a longer story than I want to catch you up on except to say that Brian Maffly of The Salt Lake Tribune has got you covered if you really want to know.

The short version goes like this: “More than 700 archaeologists have signed a petition urging [President] Obama to designate a Bears Ears monument, citing a documented upswing of looting,” and what Representative Noel had to say about their petition was pretty great. He said, “There is no immediate threat. It’s a scam. [. . .] There’s no fresh digging. All we can see today are badger holes. We have got to get a handle on these badgers because those little suckers are going down and digging up artifacts and sticking them in their holes.”

Badger antiquities thieves! Oh man, hallelujah!

And from the photo evidence in this article, these badgers are fluent in English and carrying guns.

Now, my own credentials aren’t political. Me, I just collect odd details, and then dust them off and display them the best that I can. My brother Colin, for instance, had some good ones after driving buses in Alaska. He came home awestruck that tourists could be so dumb. When I wondered what he meant by that, he told me some of the things they asked him. Then I went away with a pen and came back with a scrap of brotherly sympathy. I know it’s no Grecian Urn, but it made him laugh:

If You Ask a Stupid Question in Alaska . . .

 
Day 1

“Hey, is this the same moon I see in Iowa?”
“No.”

Day 2

“Are these the same stars as Illinois?”
“Not quite. See, up here the Big Dipper’s a saucepan to simmer the
Northern Lights. And the moon above Denali is solid iron; we can pan the
air for gold.

Day 3

“Do polar bears eat people?”
“Not if they’re full.”
“Well, what about a moose?”
“Of course. Them too. Amazing hunters. Whenever tourists vanish, it’s a
safe bet a well-fed moose is contentedly asleep, snoring like a river,
dreaming like a lake.”
“Are you pullin’ my leg?”
“Do you want to see my scars?”

Day 4

“So what’s the elevation of Anchorage?”
“Probably four; it’s right on the water.”
“Ha ha, now I know you’re lyin’. We’re too far north.”

Day 5

“Hey, what do you call all these trees?”
“We call them the woods. Legends say the bark makes you smarter. Give
one a lick.”

 

This Utah badger detail reminds me of that. And it explains so many things succinctly. For instance, there’s a high-rise going up where there used to be a toy store. It blocks—which hardly seems possible—our neighborhood view of the Wasatch Mountains. This is just the latest makeover/burial of a once unique area called Sugarhouse, and throughout this whole construction blitz there’s been a moratorium on mitigation funds. Why? Good question, but I’m afraid there isn’t a good answer. No, the money that builders normally pay for improvements to parks, road maintenance, and increased fire and police protection to go along with thousands more cars and residents, and so on, is instead just money that the builders get to keep. It’s been decades since I took algebra, but the equation looks something like this:

Call builders x and long-time residents and businesses y,
where x = $$ and y = *@!?*!

Yes, it’s a lot to put up with, but it helps to know that our former mayor, Ralph Becker, made this decision while hypnotized by badgers.

What else?

Badgers have pick-axed common sense and pirated it away. That’s why doctors need insurance but gun owners don’t. One is in case of malpractice; I get it. But shouldn’t we call getting shot malpractice with a gun?

What else?

You’re a football fan, and the referees are terrible. Tell me their uniforms don’t look a lot like badgers.

What else?

Say you can’t find joy. Or reason. Or an adequate, merited pay raise. Grab yourself a flashlight and crawl inside a badger hole. They’re probably there beside some artifacts, clawed a bit but still valuable, brushed off and lined up on badger shelves. Take it from me and Mike Noel.

 

 

Rob Carney’s fourth book, 88 Maps, was published by Lost Horse Press (distribution by University of Washington Press). Previous books and chapbooks include Story Problems and Weather Report, both from Somondoco Press.
 
Read poetry by Rob Carney appearing in Terrain.org: 6th Annual Contest Finalist, 4th Annual Contest Winner, and Issue 30. And listen to a new radio interview with Rob Carney, and here’s an older radio interview.

Photo of Ancient Puebloan pottery shards found near Tsankawi by Thomas Shahan, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Terrain.org is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, artwork, case studies, and more since 1997.