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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To Laugh or to Cry?

The past week during Patrick's sheep hunt absence, there were a few moments when I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.

For any of you who have been around Stuey in the past 6 months, you know that he can be a handful. He has an endearing side, but he also has this stubborn, rebellious side that is hard to contend with. He needs super firm boundaries.

He has had a thing with reaching for door handles, buttons, etc on walls in public places. Not sure why he can't control himself, but before I know it, his hands are all over things which he shouldn't be touching. When I've talked to him about it in the past, he says, "I tell my hands, don't do that-but they don't listen to me." I told him he needed to be firmer in conversations with his hands.

Last Friday, he pulled the grand-daddy of levers--a fire alarm. At the Alutiiq museum. I was absolutely horrified. We went down to pick something up and in the foyer stuey pulled the alarm. The alarms went off, everyone evacuated the building. I stood on the sidewalk crying, feeling like a failure of a mom. I put Stuey in the car and he was crying. April came over to me and consoled me and told me that she did it when she was a kid. I felt like such a failure of a mom for that moment--not catching him sooner in the act.

Then on Monday, I dropped him off to his first day of preschool for the year. When I dropped Stuey off, he told the teachers that he was going to go to kindergarten at St. Mary's--and I had to explain that he meant next year--and that Nora is going to St. Mary's and Stuey is excited about it.

When I picked Stuey up in the afternoon, he was in the yellow time out chair in the corner with a mad look on his face. I knew something had gone terribly wrong, as Stuey has never had discipline problems before at preschool. The teacher exused herself from the rest of the group to speak to me and explained the downfalls of Stuey's day.

"The day started off good, but then it went downhill after lunch...Stuey peed in the lawn and laughed while he was doing it, then he raced across the driveway here without listening to us and he hasn't listened well in group this afternoon..." She went on to say that Stuey would say in a strong voice, "I"m going to kindergarten at ST. Mary's". He believed that if he acted bad at preschool, he would get kicked out and sent to St. Mary's. The teachers and I explained that if he has time outs, the teachers at ST. Mary's won't accept him. His eyes got big and I think he got it!!

Since then he has had two days of preschool with no further discipline problems. Thank heavens. He is on a roll now with good preschool behavior once again. His cousin, Z., starts on Monday at the same preschool which will be very exciting for both of them!


Brooks Range Colors

Kodiak May still be pretty green, but in late August it is Fall in the Brooks Range. It dropped below freezing on a few nights while we were up there and all the vegetation has turned some sort of bright color. What's amazing is that there was still pretty much continuous daylight. The sun took forever to set, but it really did not get dark until midnight and then it was light again by 4 AM.

Also FANTASTIC berry picking. And i think the light frosts made all the berries taste a bit sweeter. Patrick

Successful Sheep Hunt

We're Back from our great adventure and I must say everything went perfectly. I also have to add that while Zoya posted a picture of a full curl sheep - it is a Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep, and not a Dall Sheep. Dall Sheep, the kind we were chasing, are white. They have adapted to Alaska's climate and since it is white and snowy most of the year up in the mountains where they live, they have evolved a white fur coat. The top photo is of a Dall Sheep (not furl curl) that wandered into our camp. We think he thought our white tent was another sheep.

Anyway, it was beautiful up in the Brooks Range. Incredibly raw with bare rock mountains and very little vegetation. Yet in the valleys all the plants had turned yellow, purple and red. An amazing number of animals too - we saw lots of caribou, a curious bear, sheep everywhere, a porcupine, ground squirrels, and even wolf tracks. But mostly our hunting trip was all about hiking. We hiked around 30 miles between camps carrying all of our gear, and another 30 miles carrying lighter packs while exploring side valleys from a base camp.

Our daily routine was to wake up at 4:30 and then hike up a side valley at dawn while the cold night air was still draining down valley . Then at the top of the valley we'd cross over into another valley and hike back down to the main valley and to base camp. By around 10 AM the main valley had warmed up and all the warm air would move upslope up the valleys. So going down valley we would again have the wind in our faces. It is always better hunting when your quarry can't smell you coming!

Once back at base camp we'd usually take a nap and then pack up camp and move a few miles carrying all of our gear to another location, and another base camp.

And such Glorious hiking! None of the brush, grass and salmonberries that bar the way when you hike on Kodiak. It was like hiking in a park. Gregg said it reminded him of Glacier national Park on steroids. Anyway - more to come!


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sheep Hunting Husband

Patrick and his friend Gregg are off in the Brooks Range Sheep Hunting. This is Patrick's first hunting/hiking trip to the Interior and he has been looking forward to it for many months. When he arrived, he called and said, "These mountains are HUGE. Its a little intimidating". He talked about how the scenics are absolutely spectacular.

I can tell from his voice that he misses the kids and is so curious about Nora's first week at kindergarten. He went from full on archaeology season to leaving for the sheep hunt, so he hasn't had much down time with the family. I can't wait to see his pictures and hear more of his stories. What an adventure he and Gregg are having in such beautiful country!

Patrick says there are lots of sheep that come through camp, but they aren't "harvestable" (ie shoot-able) because they don't have a complete curl on their horn. That is the extent of my knowledge about sheep hunting...they must have a full curl. He says they have seen lots of caribou as well.

Meanwhile, back at the farm-Nora has been home sick for two days with a rough cold. Tomorrow she'll definitely be headed back to kindergarten. And tomorrow Stuey starts his regular preschool routine. The week after Stuey and Nora begin their dance classes begin and thus begins the official fall routine!

And, No...that isn't a picture Patrick took...just stock images from Google....Sorry to disappoint the blog readers who are into hunting... Can't wait to see Patrick's Brooks Range Pictures!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Nora's 6th

Last weekend we celebrated Nora's 6th birthday...with a little family party on Friday night and a kid party saturday afternoon. Gone are the days where we can get away with just having a few of our own friends over for a laid back dinner and some cake. Nora is at the age now where she requested 1 or 2 games, and a hello kitty theme. So, I went for it. Many kids came over, there was some running around the house and Ella took Stuey to Safeway. As soon as the kids descended upon the house, Stuey turned into a nightmare...being all out unruly. So bless Ella's heart for removing him from the scene for the first 1/2 of the party to Safeway. Evidently he was an angel there--loving his 1:1 Auntie Ella time.

I've been so thrilled that I waited till Nora was 6 to start kindergarten. She is really ready for learning and isn't exhausted at the end of the day. She has been going to sleep much quicker since starting school, which is an indicator that she is a bit more tired, however.

Getting details about school out of Nora is an interesting process. If I say, "tell me about school today" she won't say much. Then at moments throughout the afternoon, she will come out with a random fact such as "there was a girl at lunch who only had chips and a fruit roll up for lunch. I felt bad for her because she didn't have anything to drink or a sandwich". Or she told me that the lady who teaches her music class played music at my wedding. Fun little kindergarten factoids.


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lab Work

The Amak Site dig may be over for the year but the lab work continues. In archaeology the general rule of thumb is that for every hour in the field there is 2 hours in the lab. And if you include writing up the results of the dig into a book or some sort of publication then you better count on even more hours of work out of the field. Lab work and analysis is what I do all winter at the museum. And now it begins.

Not that lab work is all drudgery - some of the most exciting discoveries are made in the lab. In fact, yesterday when we were cleaning the artifacts I was shocked to see what looks like a tiny Arctic Small Tool Tradition end scraper that I never saw in the field because someone just assumed it was a flake. Arctic Small Tool Tradition peoples never made it to Kodiak but we do find the occasional tool. This one is made of basalt, a type of rock not found on Kodiak, and was probably picked or brought from the Alaska Peninsula where Arctic Small Tool Tradition peoples did live.

In the lab, the first task is to clean and catalogue all the artifacts and samples we brought back from the site. Each sample and artifact is in a bag with all of the provinience information written on the outside. Thus we know where the piece came from (KOD 1053 the Amak Site), and more importantly the grid square and level where it was found. We also know the initials of the particular excavator who found it and the date - this latter information is important if I need to refer back to my notes and jog my memory about what was going on that particular day in that particular area of the site. All of this information goes into a catalogue and each artifact is affixed with a tiny paper catalogue number that refers back to the catalogue. For all time all anyone has to do is look up the number in a catalogue and they will know who found it, when and where it was found.

During analysis we can use the catalogue to see if there are activity areas on the site where we found many more of particular types of tools. What activities took place in a particular structure we excavated? Or we can check and see how the types and frequencies of tools changed between levels, or even, how the site compares statistically with other sites around Womens Bay. Do my impressions about what we found during excavation hold up to the cold light of statistical analysis?

Another task that we do right away on getting back from the field is drying out all the samples. We also pick out particular charcoal samples from the features and levels we want to radiocarbon date. We pick out the individual grains and chunks of charcoal and sent them off to a lab in Florida where they do radiocarbon analysis. In a few months they send back the results of their analysis and we know within a few hundred years when the tree or shrub that supplied the charcoal died. We will have a better idea of how old everything is in the site.

The lab work and Analysis begins! Patrick

Friday, August 19, 2011

All Backfilled

The digging part of the Amak Site excavation is over. We finished backfilling yesterday. And for the last 2 days it has rained hard - I am so glad we weren't trying to carefully excavate at the site for the last 2 days. Also, I must add, this is the first year that I can recall that we did not lose a single day to bad weather. So let it rain - we were done digging anyway.

Backfilling the excavation is a VERY important task. It is putting the site to rest for the year. Too often in times long past archaeologists did not backfill and would leave their excavation pits unfilled. Then the walls fall in, it looks terrible and people start to think archaeologists are slobs. I try to leave sites looking like what they did before we started to dig. This is very important to me. Anyway, it was pretty muddy on Thursday. It rained 2 inches but we got her finished. All Done. Now on to the lab work. Patrick

First day of Kindergarten-Done!!

Its over--Nora's first day of kindergarten~

I didn't cry when I dropped her off!! The night before I did a small amount of crying--Patrick didn't understand and asked, "Its a happy thing. Why are you crying?". I sobbed, "Be-e-e-c-cc--ausee she is really growing up now...and on her journey of school." I stammered. It was hard to explain why it was so bittersweet. I think because it is a much anticipated milestone with kids and for it to finally arrive seemed monumental. For her to have a teacher who expects things from her, fellow new friends, a new school. I think I sensed Nora's angst and ran with it.
(And just to note-Patrick just told me he cried on his way to work after dropping Nora off!!! I'm glad he was able to admit that to me...)

The day couldn't have gone better. I asked Nora's teacher if I could pick her up at 2 and the teacher said no problem. Kindergarten runs from 8:40-3, which seems a little long for Nora so I was glad the teacher was fine with me getting her early. After the kids dropped their things off in the classroom, the kids lined up in the gym and it made me realize how small the school was. There were only 80 or so kids in the gym I believe. All the teachers, the new priest, the new principal were there. They all introduced themselves and then said a few prayers.

The kids stood incredibly still and quiet in the lines, even the young ones as they listened to the teachers. One of the teachers read a story from the bible, which took several minutes. After she was done, the principal began asking questions about the story, which kids raised their hands and started answering. Admittedly, I wasn't listening to the story-but rather thinking about my day, etc. Made me feel bad that I hadn't been listening more intently to the details of the story. I liked that the expectation was on the students to be listening to all the details of the story and to be able to recall them.

Shortly after that the kids filed to their class rooms and I left.
When I returned at 2 to get Nora, her teacher remarked that several of the kids had said they were tired, including Nora-so it was a perfect time to get her. The afternoon was fun and Nora and Stuey played with Leo and Zeke. I had anticipated Nora to be more exhausted then she was, but she really had lots of play energy in her. I was glad I picked her up early--before she got completely drained.

All in all, her first day couldn't have gone better. Today is her birthday and we're bringing cookies to her class to share!


Thursday, August 18, 2011

Garden At Full Bore

It's taken a while, but the garden is finally at full bore. The carrots are getting big, there is lots of lettuce, the snow peas are out of control, and the potatoes are lush. We've been eating the new potatoes and it is amazing how they are sweet. You definitely can't buy new potatoes at Safeway. Nor can you buy carrots that taste like ours do right now. In early July I always wonder why I bother with the garden, and come this time of year I know why. The kids love to eat the carrots right out of the garden. Patrick

Amak Stratigraphy

The excavation is nearing completion and we have already bottomed out on our main excavation block. Now is when we draw the profiles showing the different layers in the walls of the excavation. This is when we figure out the site's stratigraphy. Stratigraphy tells us what happened at the site - how each layer of soil is related to the others. Understanding the stratigraphy is probably the most important part of the site's story. Each layer is related to a different chapter of the site's history, and figuring out the stratigraphy is putting all the chapters in the correct order. It's the Table of Contents so to speak.

So here are the chapters as I understand them now. If you look at the 2 profile pictures the top white layer is all volcanic ash dumped on the site during the 1912 Mount Katmai eruption (capped by everything that has happened since 1912 including a 1964 tsunami deposit). Below that is a dark layer with a thin lens of grey silt on top. We called this layer Level 1 and it represents the soil surface for the last 3500 years prior to the 1912 eruption. The grey silt is from all the tsunamis that washed mud up the valley and onto the site. We have noticed in Womens Bay that all the landforms up to 25 feet above sea level have tsunami deposits on them.

Level 1 is also associated with the last occupation of the site 3000 or so years ago. The site was still right on the water but it was probably receding away pretty quickly. It was not a very intense occupation and we found just a few smoke pits and a very few tools associated with it.

The next layer down (Level 2) is a weathered volcanic ash deposited on top of the site around 3800 years ago. We know this because at other sites we have dated stuff both above and below this distinctive ash layer and the stuff below it consistently dates to around 4000 years ago while the stuff on top is around 3500 years old or younger. The layer is a bright orangish brown color and very soft. It is a pretty thick layer and appears to have been 'trampled' by people living on the site after it fell.

At the Amak Site, when we excavated through this soft ash we often uncovered a thin gray silty layer on top of another layer of mixed up ashes/pebbles/till etc. After close examination I believe the gray deposit represents another tsunami deposit from circa 4000 years ago or shortly before the site was buried by the subsequent ash fall. You can see the gray tsunami deposit in the middle of the profile in the second picture down in this post. If you look closely you can see that it is draped over the walls and roof of a structure caught in profile. Perhaps people were living at the site when they were forced to evacuate by the tsunami?

In any case, the mixed up layer capped by the 4000 year-old tsunami deposit represents the most intense occupation of the site. We termed this layer Level 2A, and it is all mixed up because the people living at the site in the Late Ocean Bay era 4000 to 5000 years ago, in addition to hunting a lot of seals, moved A LOT of dirt and sod about the site. We still do not understand exactly why because the structures from this level seem to lack the formal built up walls you'd expect if they were using the sods and dirt to build houses. Most of the artifacts we found came from this layer, and most of the artifacts were bayonets or bayonet fragments like the one Christy is holding up in the third photo.

During the Late Ocean Bay era the people at the site often removed all of the soil and sods down to the underlying glacial till left behind by glaciers over 10,000 years ago. The glacial till marked the bottom of the site and is pictured in the top photo - all pocked with old post holes and the holes left behind when rocks set into the till were removed. But in places where the Late Ocean Bay era peoples did not remove all of the soil we did find older soils and even evidence for a far older occupation of the site. We termed these layers Levels 3 and 4.

If you look closely at the right side of the bottom profile picture you can see these layers. They contain bright orange volcanic ashes and are quite distinctive. This particular part of the site was also disturbed by ground squirrel burrowing in the distant past. If you look really closely at the profile you will see a thin black line between 2 thin white ash lenses. The thin black lens is charcoal stained soil and represents the earliest occupation of the site over 7000 years ago. We know this because elsewhere I have dated the upper volcanic ash to around 7100 years old and the lower one is even older - the black lens is sandwiched between the two and hence dates to the time period between the 2 volcanic eruptions.

We found very few artifacts associated with this layer - just a few blades/microblades and a distinctive chipped stone point - and since the layer is so thin and ephemeral it appears that this site occupation was not very intense at all. Since later occupations disturbed the site so much we found very little of this layer and, at this point, we know very little about what happened at the site during this occupation. Hopefully, we'll uncover more of this layer next year and learn a bit more.

But for this year we are done digging - it's time to finish backfilling! Patrick

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On the Eve of Kindergarten

Nora starts kindergarten tomorrow and I am feeling giddy with excitement for her.

Yesterday I read the book "Twas the night before kindergarten" to her and I started crying at the end of it. The last part of the story is how the parents drop the kids off on the first day and they are standing in the hallway crying...and the kids are saying, "bye mommy, bye daddy-don't cry". Its a very sweet book that my friend Alexis loaned to me in anticipation of Nora starting school tomorrow.

The past few days Nora frequently says, "mom-I'm scared about kindergarten" yet she couldn't quite articulate why. Tonight I told her I would drive her to safeway for groceries and she could pick out special lunch food. She love this idea and on the way there, she said, "mom-i don't want kids to make fun of me". I re-assured her and said, "Nora, kids won't make fun of you." She said, "My heart is just upside down right now." I was so glad she could articulate that to me, because at times this week, my heart has been upside down as well.

Nora starting kindergarten feels way different than when she started preschool. Preschool has always had a drop-in type of feel to it. Kindergarten is their first step into the world- On their own. With a whole school of teachers to guide them. I'm not sure why I'm emotional about it-maybe because I'm tired. And Nora is tired, but ready. She has been losing sleep on and off for weeks and having dreams about going to St. Mary's. I think I've lost a little sleep as well. We're ready for her to do it. She turns 6 the day after kindergarten and I can confidently say, She is READY!


Sunday, August 14, 2011

August-Sun and Fun

August has been a beautiful one in Kodiak. Really, the whole summer has been beautiful. Yesterday at an outdoor wedding I attended, I heard someone say, "This is the nicest summer I remember in 20 years" and I believe it. There has been little rain, little wind and lots of sunshine and "warm" weather. The lack of rain isn't good for the fish, however... but the kids sure love it!

This next week is a big one for our family-Nora starts kindergarten and she turns 6. This weekend we tried on her St. Mary's uniform and she likes it. I am getting excited/nervous/excited/nervous about the start of kindergarten for her.

I know it will all go well--she is very ready this fall, and so I feel good about that. And she will be in a class with one of her good friends, so I don't have to worry about her not knowing anyone the first day. The first day of kindergarten is a big milestone---sending them off on their learn, eat lunch, go to recess.... I think I will be more nervous then her.

Can't believe summer is wrapping down. It has gone so fast. But lots of great times at the beaches, parks, and our yard under the sprinkler.


People or Activities?

The Community Archaeology excavation is nearing completion. We've almost finished the main block and have made good progress on another 3 by 4 meter block where we are uncovering some sort of smoke processing feature from the most recent use of the site - in the Early Kachemak. We continue to find practically nothing but ground slate bayonets. In fact, we've found so many that we often just put them into the artifact bag and don't stop to take photos anymore! Looks like a hunting camp to me.

A recent email from a colleague got me thinking about what it all means. My colleague commented that what we are finding looks like classic Ocean Bay II Tradition material without the chipped stone. His comment helped me recognize a bias on my part. I tend to assume that the artifacts people leave behind reflect their activities at a particular site. And this is true, but artifacts also reflect cultures - ways of making and using objects. Different societies make certain tools with their own particular style and even use different tools from each other. Archaeologists can sometimes examine the tools from a site and say who lived there in addition to what they were doing there.

Living on Kodiak where practically everything we find has been left behind by Alutiiq peoples I tend to focus on the Alutiiq culture, and forget that there may be multiple groups of people represented in the archaeological record. On the Alaska Peninsula, for example, pulses of settlement from nearby areas - the Alutiiq word to the east, the Aleut world to the southwest, the Yup'ik world to the northwest, and the Athapaskan world to the north brought peoples of different cultures into the same environment - at different times and at the same time. Sorting out the histories of different cultures there is difficult with archaeological data. What does this mean for the Amak site? I don't believe that Womens Bay had a distinct Alutiiq culture, or two groups of different people living on its shores at the same time. However, my friend's comment reminded me that the archaeological record is complicated. Not everything we find can be attributed to site function, though that's the way I often see it. Patrick

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A deer for Gregg

Gregg and I braved wasps and salmonberry to climb into the alpine Friday night. For a while there it was raining pretty hard and it did not look good. But come dawn while cloudy and dismal at least it was not raining , nor were we socked in with fog. And best of all the deer were out and about. Not a breath of air and pretty hot out. We think the deer were hanging out on the rocks to stay cool and avoid the bugs. We snuck up this guy and had a deer down by 7 AM. Pretty darn good. I wish it always went that way! Patrick

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Practicing for the Sheep Hunt

Gregg and I leave on our Brooks Range sheep hunt in less than 2 weeks - so what better way to get ready than to go hiking in Kodiak's own mountains and hunt deer? On Friday night Gregg and I pretended we were sheep hunting and put everything we plan on taking on the sheep hunt into our packs - all except 10 days of food and the SAT phone - and headed up into the mountains to go hunting. We cooked our dinner on the woodstove and slept in the teepee. We decided that next time we'll turn the stove around and that the back half of the teepee will be my area while Gregg will get the front. We'll put the kitchen on the right side by the stove. This is important stuff to figure out.

What to keep and what to leave behind? We decided we'll only bring one pair of good binoculars but we will also have a spotting scope with a heavy tripod. The machete will stay behind. Do we need a frying pan?

Anyway, the 'shake down' cruise went well and we even shot a deer - a small 2 point. We had planned on shooting a larger deer, and had initially passed on this guy, but the weather was deteriorating and the deer just did not move as we went to walk past it. He would not run away. It was almost as if he was offering himself to us - and when a deer does that you accept the offer. So we shot him and brought back some tasty deer meat.

And I must say the pack with all the extra camping gear AND the deer meat was very heavy on the trip home. But we will not have to fight the tall grass, salmonberry and alder in the Brooks range, right? Patrick

Supporting Evidence

Archaeology is about creating stories and then testing them to see if they are true. And if you have ever been a part of any of the excavations I've lead you will know that I am constantly coming up with various scenarios to account for what we have found so far. I rarely get the story right the first time, and it changes and evolves as we find new stuff that either supports or contradicts it. This is sometimes confusing to people who think I am being 'wishy washy' - they assume that archaeologists always get it right the first time. But archaeology, just like any science, creates a story or explanation that changes and evolves with the evidence - slowly getting closer and closer to the truth as competing explanations are crossed out one by one.

But this year at the Amak Site everything we have found continues to support my original story that I came up with on day one of the dig - a temporary camp where Alutiiq people hunted seals. In the last 2 weeks we have come up with plenty of evidence to support my original story and nothing to contradict it. This never happens, and I am a little worried that it is too good be true. I keep on waiting for the other shoe to drop and for us to find something that totally contradicts my story.

On Friday we found a flensing knife and 5 finished bayonets - including 2 that had not been broken - and practically nothing else. I made a joke with Jill the museum exhibits coordinator that we could create an exhibit of the dig and have the space to include every single artifact that we have found so far. On the one hand would be a small pile of flakes and on the other there would be a bunch of bayonets for spearing seals and a couple of whetstones and abraders for sharpening the blades and straightening the shafts of the spears. It really does look like Alutiiq men brought tools to the site and worked on their gear while they waited for seals to show, and then successful, butchered the seals and took them back to another camp to be processed.

Still, How do we know they were hunting seals, and are we really sure it was men who were doing it? My point being there are still parts of my story that are based on assumptions and are most definitely subject to change. Also, there are 2 major finds that I still cannot fit into my story for the site. What is the HUGE pile of rocks and why have we found that most of the dirt was removed and then piled up on another part of the site?

The pile of rocks is not a structure (there is no living surface associated with it), and a cache still just does not seem right. April (the museum's language coordinator) mentioned that the elders she works with often talk about building rock blinds to hide behind while duck hunting, and I kind of like this new explanation for the rock pile. Only perhaps it was a blind to hide behind while an Alutiiq hunter tried to lure the seals closer to the beach.

The redeposited dirt and sod is more difficult to explain. Without shovels it represents an enormous amount of labor, and it does not appear to be associated with a house or structure. Perhaps it represents Alutiiq punishment and a bunch of teenagers were instructed to make a pile of dirt? (this is a joke). Anyway, I have a feeling we will figure it out, and I am pretty sure that the explanation will add and amend the story we have so far for the site. Patrick

Photos: Molly and Christy mapping the rock pile. The focus of too many pictures while mapping - Christy smiles (Molly Odell photo). Alana with the ground slate point and flensing knife she found. Jill with her bayonet and the same bayonet in situ where she found it. For a different viewpoint and some more photos check out Molly's blog -