Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Falling Porcupines and Other Semi-True Tales of Northern Wisconsin - Julia Harper

The setting for my new book, HOT, is northern Wisconsin, despite the fact that I neither grew up in nor live in Wisconsin. I did, however, once have The Summer Job from Hell in Wisconsin.

It was the summer after I graduated from college with a degree in archaeology—an undergraduate degree which is almost completely useless, by the way. I got a job at the State Historical Society doing archaeological field survey. The job title sounds sort of sexy, but in truth I was doing the archaeological equivalent of digging ditches. Armed merely with a shovel, a sharpened triangular mason’s trowel and a small, hand-held dirt sifter, I and a band of similarly armed summer employees did shovel tests along a highway expansion project in northern Wisconsin.

What exactly is a shovel test, you may wonder? Picture being in the middle of the woods in a line of people fifty feet apart. You walk fifty feet forward, dig a hole and sift the dirt looking for things like projectile points (arrow heads) and charcoal and anything else that might signal that people lived here long ago. Then you do it again. You do it all day long, stopping only for lunch or to drive to a new site or to dodge any falling porcupines. (This actually happened to a co-worker: he was nearly taken out by a porcupine falling from a branch above.) You might also stop if you got heat prostration, but not always.

Did I mention the heat wave? This was the summer of 1988 and the Midwest was suffering through a combo drought and heat wave, the worst in living memory. Roofers were falling off roofs because they were fainting in the heat. Did we stop when the temperature rose to over a hundred degrees by noon? Oh, heck no. We just slapped on more DEET and waded into those tick-infested woods. I was the only person crazy enough to wear a long-sleeved shirt and jeans tucked into socks. I was also the only person on that crew who didn’t get Lyme’s Disease, despite all the DEET we drenched ourselves with. I achieve the title of Tick Queen for having the most ticks on my body at any one time—thirty-seven.

So there you have it, one of the worse jobs (among many terrible jobs) that I ever had. At least I got a book from it.

Julia will be giving away a copy of HOT to one lucky winner today chosen from everyone who leaves a comment on this post!
***Julia picked RobinL as the winner of her autogrpahed copy of HOT!! Congrats, Robin! Please email Julia at with your mailing address. Thanks!


Estella said...

Ugh! Ticks are so disgusting. How did you manage?

Totebag Guest said...

LOL! By that point in the summer I was pretty much immune to the little beasts, estella. I remember one lunch at a small sandwich shop where a tick started crawling up the face of the co-worker opposite me. Didn't put me off my sandwich at all.

--Elizabeth Hoyt

Wendy said...

Haha! I can just imagine the porpucine part! I keep singing "porcupines keep falling on my head.." *g*

And ew, ticks! those little buggers are hard to get off!

Stacy S said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stacy S said...

I hate ticks! I can't imagine having that many on me at once..

Unknown said...

ack im terrified of ticks, my cousin, when we was small got tick fever
, my poor kids scream if they get one on them ,just craw;ing up pants legs

robynl said...

count me among the group who hate ticks; when visiting some family years ago we encountered a tick on the pillow in our bed. That visit was not pleasurable for me because they lived in a wooded area and we had been told there were ticks.

Unknown said...

This summer was bad for everyone. Very dry and hot. I hate ticks I don't want them on me at all. I was raised in the country and had ticks on me all of my life when I was a kid. Now I don't want any part of them on me. Thing just don't bother you when your young.

Anne McAllister said...

Totally understand about the long-sleeve shirt, boots and jeans, Julia! Sometimes it seems like it's a choice between ticks and heat prostration though (it's hot in Iowa, too). But the worst I had to deal with was cleaning an armadillo infest graveyard in Texas in the middle of July. At least we could SEE the armadillos. The 112 chigger bites on one of my legs and the 153 chigger bits on the other (and yes, I was wearing long sleeves, jeans and shoes and socks!) were worse. Didn't even know they were there until I took my socks off that night. Yikes!

Wolfy said...

Okay not sure what ticks are or if we even have them here, but probably do, either way they sound utterly disgusting. This sounds like a really, really bad job, but certainly good fodder for your book. Ummmm Julia I think I would pass on the Tick Queen

Pam P said...

I don't think I could calmly sit and eat a sandwich with ticks crawling around and diggin in, yuk! I'd freak if I had that many on me.

Diana Holquist said...

Hi Julia!

As much as I'm dying to discuss ticks, I have to politely change the subject to say that I LOVED loved loved Hot.

The first chapter of this book could be a textbook for wannabe writers on how to write a first chapter. In fact, you don't even have to go as far as the first chapter--how 'bout the first line of the first chapter: "In Turner Hastings' opinion, the bank robbery didn't go truly bad until Yoda shot out the skylight."

Your ticks would be proud!


Lois said...

You know something, it still sounds better than my job from hell. . . it's your typical fast food joint in the mall (although it was a health food fast food joint. . . with hot dogs, but still) and I was one of a few they seemed to fire after a short amount of time because they just don't think it was working out. And I finally found my niche too. Oh well.

Okay, so it really doesn't exactly sound worse, but looking back on it, it seems like it to me. Oh yeah, the place did have it's mascot that I just remembered. Forget it's name, but they had a teeny tiny cockroach problem. . . just remembered it because I had to block it out while I was there. LOL

Lois, who's starting to really hate this look back at history. . . ;)

Nathalie said...

What a horrible job!

I don't have any of those horrible moments... I guess I used to chose well my summer jobs ;)

Jane said...

Ahh, keep the ticks away from me. I'm grateful that I live in the city and not near any wooded areas.

Lily said...

The ticks must be horrible... I am also glad to work in the city!!

robynl said...

thanks so much Lee and Julia. I sent Julia an e-mail.