I let the little dogs out and heard an elk bugling in the distance. At first I thought “This is too early.” but as the sound continued, my mind went back over 30 years, to the finest week of work I have ever enjoyed.
It was in the late 80’s, and I was working for Cadastral – and the task was to relocate and mark the survey monuments on the mining claims in the ten lakes basin. It was a simple job, with notes from 75 years before (or more) copied, ready to be retraced with a hand-held compass – mining claims are small, a bit over 20 acres, and you don’t need super-precise equipment to find the old corners.
It was a fine September – much like this one – in a place where I will not return. One monument was a post, just over the divide, overlooking the Tobacco Plains and Koocanusa. The location was carved, scribed onto the post, and I restacked the rocks around it . . . rocks my predecessor had left stacked that had been moved during 80 seasons of snow, wind and ice. The next guy may have to replace the post – I was happy just to put things as they were originally.
Along one of the trails, I found the hole chiseled into rock that marked the corner – filled with needles and dust from the preceding 80 years. I painted the rock around the hole with red paint, then moved to a nearby rock face and established a point, a distance and bearing that will let the man or woman who follows a half-century from now find the point easier. For now, hikers walk by the corner and the notes on the rock face undisturbed and uncaring. Someday, another surveyor will find the points and think, as I did, “Those old guys did good work.”
The challenges of making coffee and oatmeal with a small morning fire, with only the light pot and bowl that fit in the backpack. It isn’t a place or task that I shall return to – the feet don’t allow it anymore. But I was there, hearing the elk bugle as I worked that week, enjoying the coffee, blessing the ease that instant oatmeal made in cooking breakfast. The memories are enough – and I appreciate the bull elk’s bugling to bring them back in detail.