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I was up at 5:30 this morning. I'd planned to do some yard work…

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I was up at 5:30 this morning. I'd planned to do some yard work before the heat of the day. It started raining before I could get started.

This has been an unusually wet spring, and I've barely had time to mow the yard between the rains. The area around our new row of blueberry bushes, planted last summer, was a duck pond most of the spring. I've kept it pumped out, hoping to get the area dry enough to allow me to finish the bed by putting in a bit of french drain and some edging. We had a break in the rain cycle last week, and the duck pond was just right for working this morning. Then it rained.

It's a nice gentle rain. I'm enjoying it, but it's a bit frustrating. Usually, by this time in June the metaphorical switch is thrown and Oklahoma becomes hot and dry.

Kathy just told me that the radar view on the television shows a single cloud in the state, the one directly over us, and the one that is the reason for the flash flood warning. Oh well. No yard work for me, today.



In the last post, I talked about parking our trucks in the field near the trailer park across the river from Montreal. The trucks were always a major concern, partly because of the sheer bulk of them and partly because of their high value. Our entourage included ten-wheeled vibrator trucks, each weighing around 50,000 pounds. The number of vibrator trucks varied, but there were usually at least eight, but no more than twelve. We had five pickup trucks to transport our seismic sensors and a recording truck to collect the data. Add to this personal vehicles for the crew, another pickup for the surveyors, one for the party chief, and one for me, the observer.

We were a vibroseis crew mapping the geophysical structures underlying selected parts of the land south of the St. Lawrence River. The crew consisted of a party chief who had overall responsibility and who handled crew logistics, a land man for arranging right-of-way, and smoothing ruffled feathers along the right of way, two surveyors who located and marked the data collection area, typically a straight line course running several miles along country roads, an observer with responsibility for managing the crew in the field, collecting the data, and keeping the digital recording hardware in working order, one or two junior observers to help the observer, a driver for each vibroseis truck, and 8-10 workers who laid out the sensor arrays and picked them up. At various times, there were observer and driver trainees around too. All told, the crew averaged about 30 people.

In addition to the one near Montreal, we stayed in trailer parks in Trois-Riviere, Riviere-Du-Loup, and Rimouski and worked in the surrounding areas south of the river. I recall one survey that went through the outskirts of a small town and others through farmlands, but the most enjoyable ones went through sparsely-settled pulp-wood forests in the hills.

The St. Laurence River was formed eons ago by a system of faults that created a rift valley. The river runs through the valley which is wide in places, narrow in others and bracketed on either side by heavily eroded scarfs of exposed rock layers that jut out to form a series of terraces. Forested since the last ice age, the terraces slowly filled with rich thick layers of composted vegetation or peat. The streams in the hills follow tortuous paths through the terraces creating many pools with small waterfalls. When I was there, the trees were thickly grown and the area, sparsely populated. Looking at the area today with Google Earth, there appears to be considerably less trees and considerably more people.

It was in Trois-Riviere where I received a serious lesson on driving under the influence. During the week, we worked long hours with little time off. Weekends were party times. A favorite place in Trois-Riviere was a German beer garden, the site of furious beer-drinking and equally furious dancing. The only country and western song the band knew was Home on the Range. Fortunately, it excelled at rock and roll. The place had a custom which added to the fun and likely the business too, As the evening progressed, the band leader would select someone to chug his drink. One night he seemed to be selecting me more frequently than usual. It's possible I was spending too much time dancing with his lady friend. After the place closed, a co-worker and I started driving to the trailer park which was several miles away. I suppose I was driving too fast for the road; certainly, I was driving too fast for my mental condition. I lost it on a curve. The car slid backwards for several hundred feet, over a street sign, between an electric pole and a large tree to end in a residential front yard. If I'd caught the tree or pole, I would have had serious problems. Or if I'd slid sideways or had a blowout, the car would have likely rolled. The car was a 1967 Corvette, low and heavy in the front with a 427 cubic-inch engine and almost new tires. I was lucky. Once the car stopped, I killed the lights, restarted the engine. I'd turned it off during the long (it seemed) backward slide. The car started and I was able to drive it to the trailer park, albeit with a bit of clatter from a bent and crushed laker tail pipe and other loose appendages. I didn't drive the car for a week, and then I took it on a car-trading trip to Vermont. I exchanged the dinged-up dark-green Corvette for a 1968 four-door sand-pebble-beige Plymouth Fury III. I'd like to say I'd learned enough to end my days of driving while drinking, but that would come a year or so later. Sometimes, I could be really stupid.

Except for the wreck, the summer in Quebec was magical. Things were going my way. I was working in the long days of sunlight and being paid a lot of money. The short nights often were lit by spectacular displays of aurora almost as good as that I'd seen in Antarctica. In my spare time, I was having fun with the opposite gender and, after the accident, drinking less beer. I was smoking too much. I'm not sure how much, likely more than two or three packs a day. If I was having crew or equipment problems, the stress was high, but since I had plenty of help, most days, I'd get the crew started, then leave in my truck to explore the woods. The recording truck repeatedly transmitted a synchronizing radio signal to the vibrator trucks. As long as I stayed within radio range and could hear the signal, I knew everything was OK. One warm day I was a good distance away when the signal went silent mid-afternoon. Full of anxiety and fearing an equipment breakdown, I rushed back to find the crew had decided to take a break next to a waterfall. Above the fall was a nice cool pool of water. The pool had its share of bare butts.

My French heritage from a Huguenot ancestor who emigrated to the States about 1740 didn't help me understand the language most often spoken in Quebec. The bi-lingual signs helped some, but they were almost non-existent in the rural areas. I believe most people understood English, but not well enough to speak it. I was in a small restaurant, stumbled through the menu, thought I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich, and was surprised with a one containing cold head-cheese. Another time, I was stopped by a man who wanted to comment on my driving style. He was well into a tirade when I let him know I didn't understand his language. He paused, started up in halting English, hesitated, started again, then threw up his hands and stalked off muttering to himself. He was right. I was taking up more than my share of the road. I blame lack of sleep, a too large truck on a too narrow road. I don't believe they had the eminent domain laws we had here in the States. The country roads had zero right-of-way. Many times, I noticed the blacktop edged the front step of a house. Quebec, at that time, had more than it's share of crazy drivers. While there, I saw many cars run off the road.

I ended my seismic prospecting career with the end of summer. I was lonely. My life wasn't going anywhere productive, I was making (and spending) good money, but was drinking and smoking too much. During that summer an old friend died of emphysema; that weighed on my mind. I'd heard, by rumor, the company had plans to send me to Banks Island for the winter. Another winter above the Arctic Circle didn't appeal to me. I gave my notice August 1 and returned to the States on September 1, the same day I quit smoking. I really quit drinking too, because it was less fun without the cigarettes.


Because of many interruptions, this post took several days to finish instead of just a morning. I close with another favorite song of mine, also popular about the time I was in Quebec. Melanie Safka wrote it. She has written several good songs. The version I heard first and like the best is done by the New Seekers.
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