Katelyn and Richie, what led you to Playa?

Two of our mentors did residencies at PLAYA and both recall their experiences with palpable adoration. Because of those accounts, we have daydreamed about coming to PLAYA for years but did not anticipate having the opportunity until much later in our careers. When a chance for a joint residency was presented due to a recommendation from one of our mentors, we were ecstatic and did not hesitate in applying. One of the main reasons we are especially drawn to PLAYA is because it is nestled squarely within our research area. We’ve been doing archaeological fieldwork in this region for nearly eight years and love it dearly. At PLAYA, we could quite literally see one of the oldest archaeological sites in North America, the Paisley Caves, from the deck of our cabin. It is difficult to imagine a more ideal place for two Great Basin archaeologists to contemplate the past.

Katelyn: My experience working at Paisley Caves is what lit the fuse to my archeological career. Being at PLAYA gave us a chance to ponder life in the Summer Lake Basin 13,000 years ago during each second of our residency.

Did you come to work on a specific project? If so, did you make progress on it?

Our primary goal was to synthesize data and begin crafting a manuscript on our excavations at the Connley Caves, an Ice Age archeological site located less than 50 miles from PLAYA. We are part of an interdisciplinary research team (directed by PLAYA alumnus Dr. Dennis Jenkins) that has worked at the Connley Caves for the past six years. We’ve amassed a wealth of data from the botanical, faunal, sedimentological, and archaeological remains recovered from the site. Bringing each line of evidence together to build the larger picture of human lifeways is a fun but challenging task. Both of us have work responsibilities outside of the Connley Caves, so this research is typically confined to evenings and weekends. We seldom get the opportunity to work together on it for any length of time. At PLAYA we were able to spend hours talking through the patterns and discussing our interpretations; this was enlightening and incredibly productive. After one week spent in our cozy lakeside cabin, a manuscript that once felt overwhelming and distant had taken a tangible form. By the end of week two, we were elated to have all our datasets finalized, several figures made, and a solid start to the manuscript typed up. This article will become the first major publication on the site, and our time at PLAYA played a critical role in its fruition. In addition to the Connley Caves work, we completed revisions on our first co-authored journal article, began a new book chapter, and completed a research proposal.

How do you think the land and waterscapes here affected your work? Did the other residents and their creativity change your own approach?

Understanding the landscape, hydrologic systems, and ecology of central Oregon is foundational to our work. When we look out at the modern playa, our eyes are drawn to the ancient beach ridges as we imagine the pluvial lakes that once filled these basins 14,000 years ago. We have spent many summers here, but this was our first November in the Great Basin. Our research concerns the seasonal availability of resources and how that relates to human mobility, so getting to experience the landscape in winter provided a new perspective. We spent much time imagining people traveling across Summer Lake to the Connley Caves 13,000 years ago. We saw one of the first snows on Winter Rim during our visit and couldn’t help but imagine how the coming cold would force you somewhere else. The land-, water-, and sky-scapes created an atmosphere that was profoundly peaceful yet stimulating for our work.

Katelyn on the open playa during her residency in November 2019.

Katelyn on the open playa during her residency in November 2019. Photograph courtesy of Katelyn and Richie.

Interacting with the other residents was a very important part of our PLAYA experience. Becca and Chelsea welcomed all of us with the utmost friendliness, setting a tone of warmth and encouragement that carried throughout the entire stay. We all arrived with different backgrounds and goals but were immediately united by a shared sense of reverence for PLAYA’s offerings. Each meal together revealed new parallels, especially within the interests of environment and ecology. It was so cool to see everyone light up as they detached from the requirements and distractions of everyday life. Some of the residents arrived without a specific project to complete, allowing their intuition to guide their work, while others dug deep into previously conceived ventures. Hearing about the unexpected turns in our cohort’s work helped us embrace unforeseen twists in our own.

It was wonderful to interact with such a diverse group of individuals who we’d likely never have met otherwise. Within our cohort we felt the intersection of science and art. While we had different end-products, our processes and goals were convergent. Other residents in our cohort were attempting to distill vast amounts of feeling or ideas into a small physical product that would then portray those ideas or feelings to others. Our scientific approach to archaeological data does precisely the same thing. Moreover, our goals to portray those kinds of information are rooted in the same sorts of meaningfulness and drive to those of the cohort. Being with others with such similar goals in different mediums provided a new, fresh perspective on not only our own work, but our also our lives.

Describe a typical day at PLAYA.

Every day began with a sunrise. We’d wake in the dark to brew coffee and sip our cups on the patio as the first light shone across Summer Lake. Warmly insulated in our layers, we’d look across the playa and consider what mornings were like for the humans who awoke in the Paisley Caves during the Ice Age. Did they have rabbit-skin blankets to keep them warm? What were their morning rituals? Sunrise coffee was followed by writing, with a break for breakfast a bit later in the morning. Following lunch, we’d go for a walk on the playa or on the slopes of Winter Rim. These outings always seemed to invigorate us, and we’d return to the cabin ready to pick up where we left off. Evenings were more variable. Sometimes we would visit the Summer Lake Hot Springs, others we would relax with a glass of wine on the patio, but most often we would continue working into the late evening. No matter what, we’d pause to take in the colors of sunset. Mondays and Thursdays were always an extra treat. Group meals meant good conversation with the cohort amidst Shawna’s culinary delights (we’re still talking about her sesame-tahini cookies).

What were some highlights for you?

Richie: The community and solitude both. What a balance of having our own space overlooking Summer Lake with the freedom to pursue whatever we wanted but also being able to see the wonderful human beings who were sharing the same experiences a few cabins away.

Katelyn: Waking to sunrises and knowing that I had a full day to work uninterruptedly on my research felt like such an incredible gift. The open space and natural light of the cabin was energizing, the landscape endlessly inspiring, and our cohort enlightening. Each aspect of PLAYA contributed something meaningful to make the residency a truly unique experience. My time there was materially productive (e.g. words on paper), but also mentally fortifying. I left feeling recharged, motivated, and grateful.

Richie in his natural habitat: sifting through sediment at the Connley Caves.

Richie in his natural habitat: sifting through sediment at the Connley Caves. Photograph courtesy of Katelyn and Richie.

Edge effects in ecological science are the “influences of border communities upon each other” (Brittanica.com). PLAYA alumni, friends, guests, and neighbors are invited to submit blog posts that explore the diverse influences experienced here or because of time spent with us—whether the effects are among disciplines, environments, relationships, or communities. Email PLAYA’s Executive Director to join this conversation.