Land of Whipping Willows and Spiders

The early morning trips out to site have been quite fantastic lately. The nights are getting increasingly cooler which makes for some lovely fog in the mornings.

We fixed up the argo once a new belt was retrieved from town, the old belt had nicely wedged itself into the machinery so it was not quite the 5 min. fix we thought it would be. And yes, he told me that was the most effective position to be in to remove the damaged belt…

We’ve moved onto our next project, the swamp lands are all done for now. Instead we now must contend with the land of whipping willows and spiders. No matter what speed we drive at the willows seem to know exactly how to whip us in the most painful of places – usually the face. It’s a rather constant onslaught as we try to explore the lease area. We also quickly discovered that once we had escaped the willows and were in the safety of the less-whippy trees, we had ventured into some sort of spider paradise. They were everywhere, in all colors and sizes, and they got everywhere – your clothes, your hair, under your clothes…We were all covered in spiderwebs continually. You would think with this many spiders in the area they would have eaten everything else that was tiny and insect-like.

Thankfully our helicopter pilot rescues us every day at noon and whisks us off to magical places for lunch that are free of spiders. Sometimes we go to the bridge, sometimes it is the little island in the middle of the river, others times it’s a nice spot on the riverside with a good fishing spot. He’s got a collapsible rod he’ll bring out it the spot looks good. These are the moments when you have to remind yourself that you’re being paid. Of course then you return to spiderland and feeling like you’re not paid enough…





At least this lease looks like there will be plenty of area for us to test, in fact a bit too much area perhaps. Best case scenario we’ll have to dig 100 test pits a day and pray that there are no rain days.

It’ll also be lots of walking since there are only a couple of access roads and the areas are quite big. At least I hope we’ll stay warm with all the moving around!

Fall is here!


Argo Killer

We finished up in the land of swamps, but not before I had soundly killed the argo once again. I’m not sure it was entirely my fault since is was only the belt that broke and it was the argo company who neglected to put a replacement one in the hidden tool compartment like they normally do. However, I was nicely taking all the really wet, muskey areas when the argo died, and of course none of us had our rubber boots, or waders….

Our helicopter pilot said he could lift it out to some dry ground but that still meant we had to get the straps under it as it slowly sank lower in the muskeg. In the end we had to winch it onto some slightly higher muskeg then crawl around under it to get the straps on. We were a very smelly lot on the flight home I fear.

We did manage to find a site (it was me, all me!!), although we did put in over 220 test pits, so we were bound to find something eventually. It isn’t terribly glorious but it will do for now – a bit of quartzite that has been hacked out. It does feel a bit like finding a needle in a haystack some days.

Our GPS has decided that it hates us, the area, the trees, life in general…we’re not quite sure which it is but we are having an impossible time laying out a decent grid for the test pits. While standing still it tells you that you’re suddenly 4m from where you started, or that you have walked in a giant circle when you have not. Thus we have been forced to map it out using tape measures and a compass. I would like to say that this is much easier to do on the prairie than in the forest, and it really helps when you have a 20m measuring tape when laying out 20m lines, instead of one that is 5m. Thankfully we have Sarah: she’s a ninja in the forest and a master of the tape measures, so it went remarkably well.

The Return to the North

They promised me the bugs would be gone by now. They lied. Granted it is much better than it was last time I was up here but I am still fighting off mosquitos that I wish would hurry up and freeze.

We did another couple of days in the Birch Mountains as an extension of the project we were working on before. We did a fair amount of walking through the forest which was rough going with all of the deadfall – my shins are delightfully black and blue from that. the next day we attempted to use the argo more; however, this time our argo did not fair quite so well either – I suppose that’s what we get for letting my boss drive. He pointed the argo at the forest and decided to drive over everything between us and the well pad site – this generally consisted of trees, a lot of trees, big trees. Not surprisingly we got the argo stuck very deep in the middle of a heavily wooded area with no hope of getting it moving again on our own.  In the end we had to hike the 2km back to the helicopter, holding our helmets in shame.

We had to hike in the next day with saws and clear an area around the argo large enough that the helicopter could lift it out for us. Thankfully we were able to get a replacement argo in rather quickly.

We’ve begun a new project up here now, it is south of the Birch Mountains and is much more low-lying – this means that it is obscenely wet everywhere on the lease area. I’m pretty sure the entire area is straight muskeg. We surveyed 35 well pad sites and only 2 of them look like they will have enough dry ground for us to actually do shovel tests on.

This area has a lot more wildlife though which is a nice change, we’ve seen a lot more birds in the area, as well as small things like mice, squirrels, rabbits and a coyote. There is definitely a bear or two in the area but they have been steering clear of us which is just fine by me.

I’ve been working on my navigation skills the last couple of days. Generally I get lost going everywhere, apparently this is not a desirable trait when in the forest. I seem to be doing better with a gps and a map now, just needed to get the hang of it. No one will give me a straight answer though on how many days of good navigation will earn me my orienteering badge.

We’ve gotten the argo stuck in the muskeg/lakes twice now and had to use the winch to pull ourselves out – this is a tricky feat when all the trees in the area are brittle and dead. The muskeg creates this floating mass of moss and roots over the standing water and you never quite know how deep the smelly black water will be. In some areas the muskeg covers over entire lakes – cool. The first time we got stuck it was very deep and lake-like indeed. We ended up sitting so low in the water that the treads couldn’t grip onto the muskeg enough to get back up onto it. The second time we got stuck we were attempting to cross what turned out to be a bit of a lake when we became hung up on some deadfall hiding under the surface. Thank goodness for winches and tall gum boots.

What’s getting a bit high…

Trust me, it’s deeper than it looks








He gets to hook up the winch because he’s got the waders


The black smelly water





Tenting hobo no more!

It’s been awhile, my apologies I am the queen of good intentions.

I am pleased to say that I think I am done living like a hobo in a tent outside of Calgary while working in the city. The timing on this is good considering that the nights were getting awfully chilly at the end there.I should be doing fieldwork now until the snow flies and it generally becomes too miserable for us to be out. While out camping though I made some lovely new friends at the swamp nearby (what else was I supposed to do?). I chased around some ducks and befriended some very curious muskrats. I must say that we have some fantastic sunrises and sunsets around here as well, I am thoroughly enjoying them lately.

I was losing my mind in the office a bit though, feeling rather inadequate at my job. I’m sure that’s normal for a new job – the overwhelming feeling that you know nothing but I must admit that it was starting to wear me down for sure. So much to learn all at once. Not only do I have to learn the whole government/paperwork side of things, but I also still feel like I know so little about the history and archaeology of the areas that we’re dealing with. There just never seems to be enough time to read and learn everything I want to about everything – archaeology, geology, bones, geography, plants, animals, etc.