Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rain on the windshield, heading West

We seem to go from dead stop, to dead run these days. From cold as hell to cooking hot, bored stiff to overwhelmed.

The weather has been pretty much crap, as usual.

A couple of days of sunshine thrown in just so no one ends up in the garage swinging on an extension cord, but for the most part, its been cold and rainy. The Jetstream, I'm told, in these parts isn't behaving as it usually does. Apparently, it would normally move well north of us this late in summer.

I believe that theory, as the cold arctic air over most of extreme northern Canada shrinks in the summer due to being slowly heated by the longer summer days and more direct sunlight. Looking at the weather map though, it looks like it comes across the prairies nicely, keeping the cold air well north and the hotter air and milder weather below it. Right around the Saskatchewan border though, the jetstream takes a hard right and heads well south into the USA. Once its safely past me, ensuring I get stuck with the cold arctic air and whatever moist weather systems it kicks up along the border between these air masses, it decides to head back into Canada, right around Toronto.

We did have a couple days of sun though, as I mentioned. My co-worker was off on vacation and we had little or no flying to do as well. So, long days on the deck with the shorts on and shirt off. Tore through a few books as well.

I read one book in particular that I found quite interesting. Its called “ My Jihad “ by Aukai Collins. I won't turn this into a book review, but I do recommend this book if you are interested in seeing things from a different point of view. Just so you know, it doesn't try to justify or glorify terrorism in any way, although the writer is a Mujahadeen and a devout muslim, taking up arms in Eastern Europe. We've heard what CNN has to say about the matter, there's precious few other voices out there that aren't equally as shrill or laughably “un-partially “ reporting the news these days, on more than just one side of the issues...

The rest of the time was odd jobs around base, including sand-bagging...ugh.

It could have been worse actually. We had been watching the lake level since over the last few weeks the unceasing rain had finally completely saturated what little overburden we get out here, over the hard impermeable pan of the underlying rock of he Canadian Shield.

Since we basically sit on top of a solid sheet or rock thousands of kilometres in diameter, the only soil on top is that which has been created since the last ice age retreated from the area and let the vegetation get started on turning air, water and minerals into ....dirt. I don't know the numbers in years ( read: arg. I'm not looking it up,..you have the internet...you do it... ) but it hasn't been all that long. Unlike our prairies, which sat at the bottom of an ocean during that time, collecting all manner of organic material to get the dirt pile started, we just have rocks and maybe a couple of feet of dirt. That's part of the reason we have all these lakes the sportsmen flock to as well. The water really has nowhere to go. The land isn't tilted dramatically enough to move it in any hurry, nor is it able to soak it up and send it hundreds of feet underground.

I digress.... all of the rain we had had finally saturated the ground. It couldn't hold anymore...since the rains haven't stopped, its been steadily raising the level of the lakes. In particular the lake in front of our base has been getting very close to its banks. Last week, it finally started lapping at the tops of the shoring we have along our shore and securing our floating dock to the shoreline.

We've also got AvGas storage tanks and fuel lines and pumps to worry about.

The boss saw how close it was to all this stuff, and the fact that it was slowly starting to wash some gravel away from parts of the shoreline that we use...and decided it was time to bite the bullet and start sandbagging so we weren't caught totally off guard if it kept going.

I was dreading this, as sandbagging, in a word, sucks. Two people have to work in tandem, one holding the bag open and the other scooping sand in. We didn't have very many bags, so after burning through them, the boss called the local city works yard to see where they were getting theirs as he had seen them putting up a few sandbag barriers in town.

“ oh, we're filling them here and have them available to pick up. “

“ oh.... how much per bag? We need quite a few. “

“ they're free. '

“ we're on our way. “ click.

That was so sweet. I don't care how many loads of them we have to pick up or stack, as long as I don't have to fill anymore. Seems the local works yard had put a troop of Ministry Forest Firefighters to work filling bags as all the rain had made them temporarily redundant.

Thanks guys! and girls too, I saw more then one female out there doing the heavy work with the guys.

Work successfully dodged, we carried on with the tanning and reading drills till my coworker returned from his holiday.

Once he got back, the sky clouded over again, signalling that it was time to go back to work.

This time, we were booked to go up on one of the flights and get dropped off at a camp, do some end-of-season work and start getting it ready to winterize and shut down. After that, we would get picked up by the plane on its last run of the day, relocated to another camp, and do the same thing there. After we were done, we could take the rest of the day and do some fishing and then spend the night at the cabin, to be picked up the next day.

The only wrinkle in this plan, which otherwise, would have been a nice break from the usual routine, was that my holiday was due to start the morning we were to be picked up and in fact, I had to hit the highway that morning to make my afternoon flight out of nearest-big-city-ville which was a six hour drive away.

We got all the work done as quickly as possible and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves finally getting a chance to do some of the world-class fishing that our guests keep raving about.

A nice fish-fry dinner ( which, I am happy to say I am starting to kick ass at. ), a few beers and a great sleep in the quiet of the wilderness.

Unfortunately, the next day brought low clouds, drizzle and even a bit of mist.

The pickup time of 0730 came and went without the sound of a radial on the horizon. I think I might have sprained an eardrum listening for it.

I counted down towards my drop-dead time, after which, I wouldn't be able to make the drive in time to catch my flight and get home for my holiday time off. That time came and went.

Broke out the satellite phone and called the base for an update. Hard as hell to get decent service on our sat phones, you get enough time to shout a sentence off and wait for the reply, if you're lucky, before the call drops. Took me three or four calls to find out the weather was crap at their end too and they were just waiting for the first break to send the plane.

We spent most of the day just being ready to go and sitting on our thumbs, ready to race out and get the hell out of camp if the plane showed up. Finally, around four o'clock in the afternoon it looked like there was no chance, so we went out fishing again. Partly for something to do, partly to get something for dinner.

Being end of season, most of our cabins are actually pretty well stocked with food. As guests come and go during the year, they bring all kinds of food that they end up leaving behind. Mostly non-perishable staple stuff. Boxes of pancake mix, canned foods of all varieties, pasta, condiments, spices, you name it. Occasionally a half-bottle of booze or a couple beers can be found as well. We weren't going to starve, but with a lake full of delicious walleye, who wants to eat a neglected can of spaghetti-o's?

Out we went in the boat and sure enough, we get set up and our lines in the water, turn our heads and theres the plane, already touching down on the water. We didn't even hear him come in over the sound of our own boat motor. In a mad panic, we raced for the dock, to beat him there. Jumping out of the boat and running out to the end of dock to catch the plane, just in time, and we get the bad news.

Sorry boys, get her tied up and covered up, we're not going anywhere in this weather.

They had picked up a load of guys that were due to be brought out of camp that day and taken back to base, but hadn't got very far before the weather that had hindered departures from base all day, had finally moved north and precluded their ( and our ) trip south.

We offloaded the disappointed guests and their gear and then went back out to resume the fishing. We had a few extra mouths to feed now.

A phone call was made out to the base and everyones wives, employers, etc, would have to be contacted and notified of the delay so no one would panic. In my case, my plans were pretty much shot to hell.

To make matters worse, my family had a memorial service planned for my father, who passed away last year, for all of us to be together for the ashes-scattering. I wasn't going to make it, and my family is so scattered that it was probably not going to be an option to reschedule the ceremony. I was more than a little disappointed in the fact that I wasn't going to be able to make it. Its frustrating when you know, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it either.

In hindsight, I think the decision to send us up north, particularly overnight and in the face of approaching weather, was a poor one on my employers part. I'll take my share of the blame as I didn't see the incoming weather as being nearly as bad as it was, or perhaps I would have protested the decision. However, they knew I had to be back or else. The risk was all mine and the reward was all theirs.

It wasn't a life or death decision, but it was a decision that was made for me, by someone else. I think it was a poor decision, either through a lack of foresight or a lack of consideration for the consequences to me. Either way, its not one that makes me feel confidence in how I might be treated in other situations.

They always talk about multiple causes and the " swiss-cheese " model of accident causes. Its not one thing that takes down an airplane or causes any other such disasters, but a " lining up " of a lot of different factors or causes, all adding up to the end result.

This particular incident has set off a little bit of an alarm bell for me. Just a quick momentary whiff of something burning. Something in the back of mind sits up and takes notice that there are people on whom I depend on making good decisions for my life and my livelihood, and they are only human.

Its not like I've condemned them over this one incident, but you can be sure I will be watching closely to see if it was simply a misjudgment or if there is something I need to be concerned about. I haven't spoken with anyone since it happened, so perhaps there is some form of acknowledgment forthcoming.

In any case, there we were. Luckily, these guests had over-packed on food as well, so there was tons of fresh food and meat for us to make a nice dinner out of. They even had a case of beer left over. Very important if your stranded in the bush for a night.

Fish caught and cleaned, beer chilled and rationed out, we had a nice supper with these guys and turned in for the night.

The next morning, the ceiling had come down even further and we could hardly see the other side of the lake through the mist. Those that woke up as early as I did, around 0500, simply took one look outside, groaned and went back to bed.

I ended up staying up with one of the " dudes " ( as guests invariably get called )and we chatted for awhile.

He was from the midwest and bemoaned the fact that his life was relatively boring for him. Living from one paycheque to the next, house, kids, clothes ,vacation, repeat. I told him the wife and I had lived overseas before and were considering ways to make it happen again. He was jealous and said he wished he had my life.

We talked about this for awhile, and I pointed out that there is always a price for living like that. We went away before and came back to seeing our friends and family moving into their new house, popping out kids left and right and generally proceeding along an orderly path, forward, with their life. We picked up right where we left off, or even slightly behind. The time away was time spent not " progressing ". I'm okay with that, but you have to know that you are making that choice.

I've met lots of folks who wanted to do something out of the norm, and found themselves knee deep in a place they did not want to be.

Plane finally arrived and we made it back to base. The Lovely Wife had been dancing with the airline for the last two days, so she picked up the hot-line they had installed for her and once again booked me on a flight home. This time I was able to jump in the car and book it for six hours to make the flight.

Went through a lot of rain on the drive over as well, so all that weather is heading towards base. I'm thinking they will be making a few more trips for sandbags before I get home in a weeks time.

So, now I'm out on the gloriously sunny west coast. Enjoying some time with The Lovely Wife, but unfoirtunately, no time with my family, there having been scattered back to the four corners of the earth from whence they came.

I knew it was too good to be true that we would all be in one place at one time.

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