(The following is from an informal talk in mid-September to the Mining in Women Network in Toronto. The author describes what bush life can be like for people in the exploration business, based on her own experiences in Newfoundland and northern Manitoba during the 1980s. She assures us that all incidents are true. MaryAnn has gamely allowed us to reproduce her speech here. – editor)
You wake at sunrise as the sun streams though the tent, to a surprise – a blanket of snow has covered the tents, and it’s July 10th. The winds coming off the Atlantic Ocean over the icebergs have caused this freakish weather.
Getting up you don your T-shirt and long-sleeved shirt (two shirts, harder for the bugs to get through), heavy duty work pants (khaki, as dark colours attract bugs), wool socks, work boots with laces (you never know when you may need them for emergency surgery, human or otherwise), and your field vest (including compass, notebook, identification, matches, two or three bottles of bug dope, pocket knife, pencils and pens, magnet, magnifying glass). Toilet paper, lunch, sample bags, extra bug stuff, emergency blanket, matches, flagging tape and permanent markers are stuffed into your backpack and a picture of your special ones.
The wailing coming out of your two-year-old’s tent is an indication of potential trouble. Not to worry, the nanny will get him. After an extended period of wailing you come to figure out that your nanny has run off with a lumberjack!!!
The team gets ready for the field and loads supplies into the truck backpacks, air photos, rock hammers, sledge hammers, shovels, rock pails, sample bags and diapers. Off to town to find a Mother Teresa! Someone willing to look after ‘Precious’ 12 hours a day, seven days a week for the next two months. That done off to the field, you think.
In the truck your summer assistant, a rough and rugged, handsome third-year geology student, informs you that he has crabs and wants YOU to go to the nearest drugstore and get him some medication!!!
All incidents are true!
You jump into the amphibian – an all-terrain vehicle that travels over land, swamp and water – for your day’s traverse, but 10 km along you break a shear pin in the middle of a swampy creek. You get out, standing in putrid water up to your knees and realize that you cannot fix the machine and must walk out. It’s just too bad it’s raining off and on and almost the whole way back is swamp, as you are following a ‘winter road’.
The trip back to the truck will take about four hours of heavy slogging. And to counter the thick flies, rain and swamp you reflect on the calories you are burning (who needs a stepper) and play ‘Black Fly Counts’ (where you snap your 4 x 6-inch notebook closed, and count the number of carcasses on the page). You have reached a new high of 13!!!
On the way back you are delayed as what seems like a never-ending line of caribou crosses your path, and you marvel at the animals and nature.
Back into the field after this unfortunate delay you hop into Canova (inflatable) boats to run down the North Knife, a raging torrent with beautiful sections over 15 metres high. To pass Dead Man’s Corner you must cross the river just at the crest of the hairpin corner with a sheer cliff wall. You head out. The water is pulling the boat and you fight to keep it steady. But the motor fails, and you drift down in a time warp thinking, “This is it. The end has come,” when the boat gets hung up on a rock in the middle of the river. The Canova is teetering, rocking dangerously back and forth, and you try frantically to restart the motor, one, two, three, four timesyou are really starting to PANICfinally it sputters and starts!
On the way back to camp you notice an ominous cloud ahead, and you can smell smoke. You realize that a massive forest fire will be engulfing your base camp in minutes. You throw everything together and head into town, where you spend the time watching the fire ravage the forest around, and you drink beer.
The day is over and you take a few minutes to freshen up in the crystal clear, FREEZING cold lake. Smelling good (but not too good as everyone knows bugs love perfume), you hop into the chopper for a well deserved evening of R&R with the neighbouring exploration camp. On the way the pilot pushes his luck and flies the machine like a ball in a pinball machine! You rollercoaster downwards in a death drop just in time to ensure you blow over the neighbours’ outhouse.
There you meet some impressively talented colleagues, including one who is willing to demonstrate his perfected art of drinking a whole bottle of beer while standing on his head and not throwing up!!
At sunset you stand on the edge of the lake with the loons calling out and reflect that this must be heaven on earth. You head for bed in awe of the great and beautiful world you are a part of, reflecting you must be the luckiest person in the world for the chance to be here.
That night, for the first time in the whole summer, you have a visitor. You are awakened by heavy breathing, you feel the massive hairy chest and broad shoulders and look into the biggest, largest brown eyes you’ve ever seen. Weighing in at 1,000 pounds Yogi Bear has love in his eyes or is it lunch?
Eventually you fall asleep, dreaming of the next day and the treasures to be discovered.
MaryAnn Mihychuk, MSc, PGeo, is director of regulatory affairs for the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada in Toronto. She can be reached at email@example.com.