Beating around the bush
Freya Wasteneys / columnist
My first bush job was working for my dad in a geology exploration camp in northern BC. Coming from the confines of a café position, I was amazed that I could get paid to hike around mountains. Every day, the helicopter dropped us off in a new, remote location and I would skip off with my partner for the day, with my rock hammer swinging. Given my role as “assistant”, my job mostly consisted of carrying samples, marking waypoints on my GPS, standing ready for first aid emergencies (almost causing a few myself) and enthusiastically hitting rocks that looked prospective. For the geologists, it probably felt like babysitting a five-year-old, but for me it was the first time I realized that work could be fun.
Halfway through the summer, however, a geophysics crew came to camp. They brought boxes of wire, electrical transmitters and receivers, as well as long metal rods. As we unloaded the equipment, I was reminded of torture apparatuses, but instead of interrogating people, they were there to interrogate the ground – conducting an induced polarization (IP) survey, measuring the electrical chargeability and resistivity of subsurface material. They also happened to be short a crew member. As the boss’s daughter, I drew the short end of the metal rod, and was promptly enlisted.
The first day we headed into the field was in the middle of a thunderstorm, which, as you can imagine, is not the very best time to deal with electrical currents. Our first order of business was to set up the lines, which involved hacking our way through bushes with machetes, and running kilometers of wire through buckbrush and talus slopes. Once the line was in place, each member of the crew was spaced out at 100-metre intervals. At each station, I hammered metal rods into the ground, attached them to the wire, and waited for a current to be sent through before pulling out the rods and running to the next station. Sometimes we moved after a minute, and sometimes I sat miserably in the rain for hours while someone ran down the line to find the break in the wire – often because an animal had walked through it.
After being told all the ways I could kill myself through electrocution, I was a bundle of anxiety. It also didn’t help that my radio continually shorted out, and I kept missing the “current on”, “current off” and “moving” cues. Because I couldn’t hear the discourse, I had to touch the exposed wire with one hand to check if it was on before removing the rods with both hands, which would cause much more damage than just a little shock. The result was several instances of mild electrocution, and many stealthy tears throughout the day.
After my first field day, I jumped to the hasty conclusion that there was nothing I hated more than the unpredictability of geophysics work, and I begged someone to take my place. But, at this point I had already learned the basics, and it would take more time to train someone new. Stuck in my new role, I was sent out again, this time at least with a fully charged, working radio.
As the week wore on however, I began to get the hang of things, and started to understand my role in the grand scheme of things. I also managed to relish the moments of alone time rather than dreading them. One day, while I waited for the line to move, I succeeded in eating an entire sloppy joe above a mountain tarn while listening to Pavarotti and contemplating philosophical questions like “would this sandwich be better with a pickle?”
And, when the last day finally came, I wrapped wire with the agility of a seasoned veteran, running the talus slopes like a mountain goat. As we returned to camp, the geophysicists came huffing behind me. Impressed by my horse-to-the-barn-door efficiency, they deemed me “Super Girl” and told me to call them if I ever needed a job.
Having started out with a hatred for geophysics, I was surprised my change in attitude throughout the week. Being thrown into a position where I had to learn quickly was challenging, unpredictable and at times frightening, but I also felt prouder of myself because of it. While following geologists around was enjoyable, being given my own responsibilities was rewarding. I had forgotten what it felt like to be given trust and respect in a job, and in many ways, it was the challenges of that week that I learned from the most even though it wasn’t always the most “fun”.
The next summer, I found myself doing it all again, and this time I only cried when it was over.