Dear Joan, Devil’s Club and Jello

“If I fall into that lot I’ll get badly hurt”, I warned myself, as I came to and looked down from the top of the cliff into the tangle of evil Devil’s Club lurking pointedly below.  

In the spring of 1972 I needed work and left Toronto for Vancouver. I had been in the bush all winter. I suppose now, more kindly, I should have stayed in Toronto and played with Joan B~ who loved me and had missed me while I was gone. But I was restless, selfish; adventurous; oh-so-mature going on 24.

I quickly found a job with the Vancouver office of Scintrex, the geophysics consulting firm I had worked with in the Arctic, Labrador and northern bush of Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan in 1969 and 1970. I spent several hot days learning and running Induced Polarization surveys and dodging rattlesnakes in the Kamloops area. Over the few weeks I was in and out of Vancouver,  I grew to like it and the bits of British Columbia I saw.  I did not miss Toronto. I guiltily did not miss Joan.  But she missed me a lot.

At a party I met a beautiful, quirky, slender blond woman, Barbara C~. Hopping up and down, boogieing to an insistent rock beat, my pick up line, was “Can I induce, reduce, produce or seduce you into the next dance?“. Barbara roared with laughter, slapping her knees in mock joviality. She thought me silly.

The next day I fell in love with her. She thought me sillier still. But charming.

And the morning after that, I mailed a “Dear Joan” letter while en route to my next project. I put a check for $1000 in the envelope and told Joan to take advantage of an offer that had come her way to tour Europe for 3 months on an old London bus, giving charity theatrical performances.

I sent flowers to Barbara.

The project I travelled  to was an EM (electromagnetics) geophysics survey on mineral claims within forest lands  way up in the Coast range mountains northeast of Vancouver. It rained the whole day it took for us to drive to the logging camp base for the project. “Us” was myself and a young man I had taken on as an assistant. I think I found him in the street; or else in the cheap hostel I was staying at. He had engaged me with his restless vigor and intelligent chatter. I have forgotten his name, but he now seems like a “Peter”. Peter was likely in his teens. My boss at Scintrex, Mike Lewis,  allowed me Peter as long as I would be responsible for him. Mike was cool that way: after all it was he who had hired me in March  1969 after seeing me burst into a conference hospitality room and loudly announcing my willingness to “do any kind of dirty work”. I was, as I said, silly. But charming.

Peter and I were to perform an EM survey using two horizontal loops, one being a transmitter and the other a receiver. The loops looked like hula hoops, and were connected by a cable long enough that we could walk anywhere between a few feet to 100 feet apart.

The surveying was a bit like a two-man conga. We followed a line cleared, or “cut”,  in the bush with stations marked by survey lath pickets marked with the line number and the chainage along the line. We stood say 100 feet apart each at a survey lath. I would be at the front, the instrument man with the receiver, wearing headphones; and Peter behind, with the transmitter. The EM instruments were energizing the subsurface. if there was metallic mineralization in the rock, the character of the EM Signal  would be altered, change which was compared to the original wave character and measured.

Turning on the power, I would twiddle knobs until I got a “null” or zero signal or dial reading and then I would read the amplitude and phase shift between the the original EM signal transmitted and that  which I received. I wrote my observations in a notebook. Then we would advance another 50 or 100 feet and repeat the procedure. So that was the job: walk 50 or 100 feet, stop, read, walk another interval, and so on, until the  line was finished; and then we would walk to the next parallel line, often 400 feet away, and start again.

Well: that is the gist, anyway. It reads so simply. But the practice was not simple at all. An array of survey lines looked so straightforward on maps but we did not walk maps, we walked terrain, which in that forest was horrible. The slopes were steep and there were many gullies with near-vertical banks. Logged before the days of clear-cutting, the forest was slashed – with trees and boughs jumbled on on top of another, requiring us to clamber over piled trunk, slipping on rotting bark, falling through gaps between trunks, hidden by old boughs. We had to crawl through spaces below and between trunks. We were tethered by the loop cable, so had to be aware of each other. And, it was raining hard all the time we surveyed. It rains well in coastal British Columbia. We wore robust yellow raingear. Slickers, we called them.

At one point we had to cross a rock slope; bare, except for some moss.  I took a tentative few steps and then suddenly I slipped. As I slid down the slope I turned onto my back and bounced and slithered down in my low-friction slickers. Banging my head on rock, I was knocked unconcious.

I stopped sliding at the crest of a cliff, maybe 20 feet high.”If I fall into that lot I’ll get badly hurt”, I warned myself, as I came to and looked down from the top of the cliff into the tangle of evil Devil’s Club lurking pointedly below. I was on my back. Peter was at the top of the slope yelling at me; the cable between us must have snapped. I don’t recall the fate of my loop. I could see that  up slope was a long dangerous crawl, and to the side was also bare slippery rock for a few tens of feet. But the Devil’s Club really scared me – it is a very spiny plant with lancet needles, and hellish to walk through. Reputedly, it is a pharmacy for those who practice herbal medecine.

My back, chest and head hurt. But I could not stay where I was. I gradually wiggled my way to the side of the rock slide, where Peter stretched anxious hands. Together we headed down slope through/over/around the slash. We walked very slowly for hours. I did not feel the pain after a  while. We did not have a radio- such was not the custom in those days.

Peter had left  his pack with the instruments back at the slide. I still had mine. Rain pouring, we shared the battered, sodden PBJ sandwiches I had made in the logging camp cookhouse that morning.  Peter came through in his cheerful, anxious support. We managed to make a few silly jokes.

My atheism was young then – I was still just an agnostic. But all the time, I was painfully walking through that sodden slash, I felt that I had done wrong in sending the “Dear Joan” letter. Perhaps I was being punished for my heartless selfishness in abandoning Joan to an old London bus?

We found a logging road and eventually discovered our geologist client in his truck, reading a book. I was grateful for him being there, the type of professional who later in my life I would disparagingly call a “fair weather geologist”. He drove us to the camp and radioed for an emergency plane which soon arrived flying low through the clouds. I was able to walk to the plane, a point of pride for me, watched by tough lumber jacks.

I was shuttled to the airport at Chilliwack where an ambulance awaited. I walked to the ambulance, proud but in much pain. At the hospital I was greeted by staff waiting for “the man who had fallen down a  mountain side”. They were surprised to see me walking and seemingly in good shape. But I was in shock still – as soon as I got to the Emergency Room I burst into tears; there were no more lumberjacks or ambulance crew to impress; no more slash to painfully negotiate. Likely, the attention of a concerned, motherly nurse turned on my tears.

I had broken several ribs, severely  battered and bruised my pelvis; damaged my coccyx and had concussion. I was twice X-rayed thoroughly to make sure no damage was missed.  The doctor told me I was very lucky to have survived the fall. My back had been saved by my long sheath knife, which had slid along my lampwick belt to tuck under my tail bone. The knife, badly bent, had absorbed  most of the force of my bouncing down the slope.

I was luckier still. I stayed at the hospital in Chilliwack for about two weeks, in the Ladies Ward because there was no room in the Men’s Ward. I got to eat all the Jello desserts that the ladies didn’t want. Barbara, charmed by my flowers, drove to Chilliwack every evening, and courted me by taking me for rides in my bed and wheelchair along the corridor to the sun room.

Since my work injuries were covered by insurance, I had most of the summer off, recovering. I celebrated by loving Barbara and buying a 1957 Austin Healey 100-Six sports car. That was a really silly decision (but another story). Joan spent her summer travelling with the bus, meeting a Christian missionary and eventually becoming his wife.

Barbara and I married in 1973.

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 50 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his decades of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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3 Responses to Dear Joan, Devil’s Club and Jello

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