All posts by Austin Lorynski

A New Perspective

At last our journey has come to an end. I must admit that I felt a bit odd when I first woke up this morning. I’ve grown accustomed to the fast-paced routine we had in Texas. It was an intense work week where it sometimes seemed that we didn’t have a moment to take a breath. The physical and mental toll it took on my body was draining and unlike anything I have experienced before. That being said, I can’t wait to go again.

I must admit that I was a bit unsure about how our team dynamic was going to play out. The other more experienced members of my team have known each other for a whole year before I joined the Human Biology program. I can now say that I am glad to have shared this experience with them. Izzy, Jordan, and Olivia are incredible scientists and professionals who I’ve seen persevere and grow throughout this trip. I believe we have grown closer as colleagues and friends. There were many laughs and lighthearted times as well as times spent looking out for each others’ well being. Being the new guy on board, I learned a lot from them and look forward to working with each of them in the future, in whatever form that may take.



This trip was also very enlightening for me. My entire perspective about the humanitarian crisis at the border has changed. With every step through the treacherous terrain and every heavy sigh I grew more and more appreciative of the life I live. I could not imagine being in a predicament where one is essentially forced to make this journey. To say that someone has merely “crossed the border” is such an understatement of the sacrifices these migrants make. I understand that the topic of immigration is such a complicated issue oftentimes far beyond my political understanding. However, I can’t deny that these people deserve better. My heart breaks for the families of the deceased and missing. I hope they find peace. Although our team did not find what we were searching for at each coordinate location associated with a missing person, I can rest easy knowing that we did everything we possibly could to best serve the families and the migrants themselves.


I can’t end the last of my blog posts without mentioning Don and Ray of the Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery team. They made the journey with us to not only search for missing persons, but to keep us safe and healthy. Their efforts are the reason why we could participate in this trip in the first place. They are admirable men who aim to serve humanity out of the kindness of their hearts.



I also want to thank Dr. Latham for choosing me to be a part of this trip and for teaching me more about how to perform and execute my skills in the field. I am honored by her confidence in my abilities to serve the team.


During this trip I learned what the core principle of forensic anthropology is all about: community service. Solving cases and identifying individuals is about serving humanity and honoring the deceased. This trip showed me just how important it is to provide closure to families of loved ones whom they may never be reunited with. My family means everything to me and thanks to this experience, I now know just how important our work is.

Austin

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Knocked Down, But Ready For Round Two

Ready to Go

Today was by far the most grueling work day so far. We definitely made up for the work we missed yesterday. Although we had a great time at the cookout last night, we lost a few hours of much needed rest. Nevertheless, we were up and ready to go by 7 am…well actually by “we” I mean just the girls. I had to fight to get out of bed and was barely awake for the car ride to the search location. Fortunately, I haven’t felt any muscle soreness, but my legs felt incredibly weak. On top of that I skipped my morning coffee, so I was already priming myself for a rough day. The only thing keeping me going is constantly reminding myself why we are here and the difference our team is making in Brooks County.

All Smiles

The day started off with team breakfast as usual. It’s been years since I’ve had frosted flakes. A good sugar rush definitely helped wake me up a bit. After that we were out on the road again, traveling to new GPS coordinates suggesting the last known location of a missing individual. The ride was short and we parked Sandy outside the entrance to the ranch (we weren’t going to risk her off-road capabilities again). The drive in was fun though. Me, Izzy, Olivia, and Jordan hopped in the back of Ray’s truck for a VERY bumpy ride. We spotted some deer and a herd of wild pigs that I just managed to miss snapping a pic of.

Oh Dear


The terrain on this ranch was extremely difficult to navigate. There was so much dead, overgrown grass that completely covered the dirt below. This made our searches extremely difficult and walking very taxing. I think I speak for the rest of the group when I say that this search really beat us up. Today was my new record for how much water I consumed on the job. I drank two full camelbacks (4 liters total), a full 32 oz travel bottle, as well as a 20 oz regular plastic bottle. Needless to say, I was thirsty.

A Break in the Brush

Despite the difficult terrain, this search was probably our most successful in terms of finding evidence of human travel. We found plenty of water bottles, trash bags, and food wrappers. More importantly though, We found a blue backpack and a sweatshirt that seemed to be in new condition, suggesting that these items were recently discarded. This may not seem like much, however, the photos of these items can be used to potentially help identify who was traveling along the route we searched, if they can be recognized by the family of the individual from the GPS coordinates. We have to remember that sometimes our progress is all about perspective. We don’t know if the individual is still out there. They could have moved on or may still be missing. But that small finding could mean a world of difference to the family that has no idea what happened to their loved one. Sometimes all we can do is contribute just a small part of the story, but at least it has the potential to make a difference in the perspective of the family of the missing.

Recent Clothes


Our day ended not long after reaching a new search location on the same ranch. By this time it had already been our longest day in the field this trip, with the temperature reaching 97 degrees fahrenheit (with the high humidity the “feels like” temperature was well over 100) while we were out in the field. Unfortunately, the heat got the best of us. Progress on the search was made, but not long before the team had to get benched with the search getting called off. All of the students had elevated heart rates. Thankfully, we had Ray and Don to take care of us and remind us that although we are on a mission, our safety is a priority as well. What I like about this team is that we all want to push ourselves to our limits and care for one another like a good team should. However, today was a friendly reminder to listen to our own bodies and protect our own health too. We decided that it would be most efficient to quit now and resume the search in the morning when we are well rested and ready to tackle the task head on. In about an hour we were all fine and healthy.

Whatever it Takes


The work day concluded with a much needed shower/nap combo. We went to Strickland’s for dinner where I ended my meal with a refreshing hot coffee. I haven’t had hot coffee in a week and I didn’t realize just how much I missed it. Love me a steaming hot cup o’ joe that just instantly reminds me of home.

To Walk A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes


This work is extremely tough on the body. Everyday I try to put myself in the shoes of the people who make this excruciating journey in search for a better life. With little resources and everything against you, it is proof of how one’s willpower and determination can push you to incredible lengths. Our week is quickly coming to an end with our last day in the field tomorrow. One thing is for sure though, I do not have to hope for a good outcome. I have faith in my team that we will finish out our week strong.

Austin

Day 5 Complete!

Ray’s Little Buddy

I Don’t Even Know What to Say Here…Izzy With an Animal Pelvis

Decomposition

Happy Don

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Dry, Dirty, But Not Dehydrated

It has begun! The long anticipated first day of searching the remote wildlands has finally come. The day started with a cacophony of alarms going off in the hotel room. We frantically scrambled to get all of our gear packed in time to meet Deputy Sheriff Don and Dr. Latham for breakfast where we discussed our plan for the day. I made sure to eat some Activia yogurt (you can ask Izzy, Jordan, and Olivia why). Once we were finished, we squeezed into the minivan where we relished in the last chance to feel cool air conditioning for several hours. The saying is true, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.


When we got to the search location, we started our line search right away. We used the caliche road as the landmark our anchor would walk next to in order to orient ourselves. Because the road we followed led us north, we spread out our team towards the west and continued north to cover as much ground as possible without getting lost. The landscape was different than I had anticipated. The ground was covered in thick grass and weeds which made our search difficult. At first, we all did a really good job staying together as we traveled through the desert, checking under trees and in the thick brush. We managed to find some faint footprints, old water bottles, a distressed lunchbox and backpack, and a pair of pants. The pants were fairly new, however, nothing suggested the items were from recent activity.


We walked for nearly a mile north before we regrouped and headed back to the car for lunch. Luckily I wasn’t as thirsty as I anticipated. I have my team to thank for this because they suggested that I buy a “camelback” backpack: a bag you wear on your back that contains a pouch than can hold several liters of water. While you are walking, you can simply grab the attached hose for a quick drink. Personally, it makes me feel like a gerbil, but it is truly a life-saver and I recommend it for anyone who works outside in the heat. We kept annoying each other to keep drinking water because, well, we care. Food was much needed, however a comfy seat in the van with a full belly made it difficult to resume our search.


The second time around was much more challenging. We searched the other side of the road, however our path led us each astray from one another deeper and deeper into the brush. We checked under trees, avoiding so many thorn-covered branches. I’m not a botanist, but in my opinion there is no need for every tree in Texas to have that many thorns. It’s a bit ridiculous and unnecessary if you ask me.


We didn’t get very far before we needed to take another break. The constant ducking under branches and crawling through the shrubs tired us out real quick, not to mention the 98 degree heat. During our rest, I got a chance to sit down and talk to Don about what he does and how his career led him to where he is today. He is a very welcoming and down-to-earth individual. I admire his sense of compassion and dedication to save lives. We are so fortunate to have him with our team this year, and I look forward to working with him within the next week.

  
Our last search was conducted a few minutes north at the site of a windmill surrounded by fences to contain livestock. We suspected this would be a good location to find evidence of migrant activity because of the landmark and the water. Dr. Latham was a little nervous about taking the minivan further out on the dirt road where it might lose traction in the sand. We then agreed that if the car made it out successfully she would officially be granted the long awaited name: Sandy. We searched the area and in the surrounding woods but found nothing. We gathered back at the van and Izzy brought back an animal skull for us to see. Thanks to Dr. Nawrocki’s comparative osteology class, I was able to recognize it as some sort of pig skull. Fortunately Sandy got us home in one piece.


Although our search did not lead us to find anything substantial today, the thought of not discovering anything gives me some hope that the individuals we were searching for are still alive to see another day. Being out there today really gave me some perspective of just how treacherous the journey is. There are so many elements of nature against you out there. I am just glad to know that there are people out there like Don and the rest of our team that can be available to help them when needed. Today was a very humbling experience.

Austin

Day 1 Complete!

“I enjoy long walks by the dirt roads”

Grasshopper

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Dr. Latham

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