March/April 2008

Student Life

All in a day’s work

By M. Render

It is 6:00 a.m. and I am doing one last check to make sure I have everything I need for my day out in the field. I’ve got my compass, digital camera, GPS, sledge hammer, chisel, scriber, magnet, IPAQ (handheld computer), bear mace, ruler, pens, pencils, markers, sample bags, radio, batteries and my vest. I hope this is everything. Not to lose anything is the next step.

Now it is 6:30 a.m. and my boss should be pulling up to the motel any second with the truck to head out to breakfast. I wonder which of the three truck stops we’ll eat at today in Nipigon, this small, isolated town of 2,000 people in northern Ontario, whether I should order my regular oatmeal or splurge and have bacon and eggs.

I pile into the truck along with four other students and our boss, the geologist who is leading our crew. At breakfast, I throw caution to the wind and have the bacon and eggs and consume three cups of coffee, we load up our gear and set off for the one-hour drive to our property. Three students sleep in the back while the one riding shotgun gets to choose the music.

The dirt road into the property is a long and winding logging road. After a downpour, the road has massive bogs that our Yukon four-wheel drive can plow through with ease; you can’t help but feel cool when you drive back to town in a mud-covered truck. Typically, we see some type of wildlife every morning — black bears, moose and on the rare occasion, wolves. Having our radios turned on is pivotal for our safety because it allows us to alert passing truckers of our location on the road.

It’s about 8:30 a.m. and we are just arriving at the property to prospect a new area. We have been divvied into groups of two; everyday we are paired up with someone different. Each day we learn something new about the people we work with and I always look forward to the random and often hilarious conversations that are had when one becomes starved for conversation. Five hours with one other individual in the field and you never know what might come up! We grab our gear out of the trucks, get suited up, take out our maps and head for the bush.

In a perfect world, we’d find ourselves walking through a lush, old growth forest with tall trees, little underbrush and nicely exposed outcrops with lots of fractures that allow for the easy collection of samples. Instead, every day we pray that the traverse does not intersect with a swamp, massive flowing river, thick bush or bush filled with deadfall. Alas, in northern Ontario this is almost inevitable. Still, even after completing the most challenging of traverses, there is no better feeling. Much of the time you find yourself in the most beautiful of places, where it feels more like you are on a nice relaxing hike than putting in a day’s work.

Prior to starting the field season, we were specially trained in the commodity at hand, as well as in geology of the area, to be able to identify terrain that may hold the most promise. This is when the job feels more like detective work, while in the field we use our training to identify rock samples that appear to host what we are looking for. In regions where there is little bedrock exposure we set soil lines and sample the soil every so often in hopes of identifying mineralization indicative of the bedrock below.

At the end of the day, we radio and coordinate our plans — hoping that everyone is at the same stage — and arrange to meet back at the trucks. We haul our promising rock samples out and load everything back into the trucks and head for our motel.

Once back at our motel, the place we now call home, we organize our samples, get them ready to send off to the labs, upload our data and decide which of the restaurants we want to eat at that night. In a small town, there is no hiding that we are not from there and it’s always fun to answer questions from locals. I cannot recall the number of times we’ve been asked whether we are tree planters, what we are looking for (whether it be gold or diamonds), or if we could come to their property and take a look at rocks they’d collected in hopes that they were valuable.

At the end of a day like this, we’re beat. Sometimes we hang out for a while but, more often then not, we pass out before the sun sets. I’d like to say that we’re roughing it, but honestly, one of my favourite parts of the day is crawling into my queen size bed and falling asleep to whatever trashy TV show my roommate and I can find.

I’m sure going to miss this place. It’s been a great summer job doing exploration work for Vale Inco. As I fall off to sleep, I wonder what part of the world I might find myself in next.

Melissa Render is a fourth year earth science student at Dalhousie University.

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