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A Day In The Bush


“I want you to locate the drill casing from a deep hole drilled twenty years ago about a mile east of the shaft” the chief geologist informed me one morning. “OK,” I said “No problem! But what’s the interest in the old drill hole?” “Well,” he shot back “the 16th level drift is about 200 feet from where we think that hole may be, and if we hit it we’ll have the whole damn tailings pond draining into the lower levels!” A bit of a dilemma to say the least. “Oh yes,” he threw at me as an afterthought “Take John with you!” Finding the casing of a drill hole under a tailings pond would be a major challenge; having John as an assistant could only add to that challenge.


John, in his late 30’s, had immigrated to Canada from Poland some three or four years previously. He was a really nice guy, with a very outgoing and positive personality and appeared to have come from something of an upper middle class background. He had been hired as an underground geologist, and while he had the appropriate credentials on paper, he lacked any related mining experience. During his early days at the mine he had been assigned to underground work but his difficulty both speaking and understanding English, and a number of near misses in respect to serious accidents had quickly relegated John to the office.


Our intent this particular morning was to search out some old claim lines and recut them back to their intersection, or as close as we could get to their intersection, for it was at that location the sought after drill casing was situated. We set off early from the highway with the axes and other tools needed for the day’s work. One of the highlights of that morning was walking down the old tote road with John bringing up the rear, singing in an earthy baritone and at the top of his voice in Polish, “Hi ho! Hi ho! Its off to work we go!”. He was just so glad to get out of the office!


We finally reached the tailings pond and found enough meager evidence of the 30 year old claim lines we were seeking to be able to move on with the task. Now it had been a dry summer and wasp nests appeared to be more common than normal. In the morning we had come across one on the claim line but managed to avoid it before doing it any harm. Shortly after lunch I came upon a second nest near the ground, pointed out its location to John, and warned him not to cut over it. Not five minutes later I heard a scream, and as I turned I saw John’s axe go one way and John the other. I had never seen a man propel himself so quickly up hill through a stand of wire birch before, nor have I since. John had obviously forgotten about my warning of the nest, and to top it off must have disturbed it for a few minutes before he realized what he had done. The wasps apparently went up his pant legs!


John made his way to a relatively bald outcrop, screaming something in Polish that I couldn’t translate directly, but “Pain” appeared to capture the essence of the event! By this time he had his pants down around his knees and was swatting every part of his body he could reach with his hat. Occasionally he’d trip, fall down, scramble back up, yell and swat some more, try to run, and trip again. He must have repeated the whole performance at least three times.


Your chronicler, during this time, was watching the performance from a safe distance, tears in his eyes and sides aching from laughing. That outcrop performance is one of those vignettes of life indelibly imprinted in my memory.


As the danger from the wasps subsided, we got John organized again, out of the bush, and to the clinic at the mine. He had suffered about a dozen stings and some damage to his ego, but by the next afternoon he was back as his comfortable drafting table, his thirst for outdoor adventure more than fully satisfied!


And as for the drill hole? Using the lines we cut it was located by a diver under the ice the following winter and securely grouted before it was intersected by the drift on the 16 level.