Tuesday, May 29, 2001
Good morning all. Came wide awake sometime around 4:30 this morning - perhaps still adjusting to the time change, or just thinking too hard about the multitude of things one can find to worry about when running an operation such as this. By way of some consolation for the situation, I found the scene captured in the attached photo in progress outside. Anyone out there who has ever fancied themselves another Galen Rowell will know that the best light for all those scenic color-saturated landscape shots gracing many a Sierra Club calendar is had at either sunrise or sunset, and this one is a good example.
The weather has so far been mercifully mild. As I have not wintered over here yet, I can't speak to the real extremes here, but during the summer it generally ranges between clear, sunny, and in the mid 80's F to very cold and windy with horizontal rain. Last year about this time we were enjoying a spate of the latter. This year things are decidedly mild so far. The typical day dawns clear and sunny with scattered clouds and a light wind up here on the hillside. As the day progresses clouds move through and periodically dump a splatter of rain in areas of the valley before moving on. By evening the sun is peaking through around the clouds again, lighting sections of the hills and casting long shadows. I am told by the locals that the Dale has been enjoying good weather for several weeks now, which would account for the fact that the local "mud index" is currently fairly low.
Though yesterday was a holiday both here and back home, the chores began in earnest. After the usual morning ritual ingestion of caffeine, we started in on setting up our specimen preparation area in the cottage's garage. Our landlords are kind enough to let us store much of our equipment and supplies over winter in the attic above the garage, so most of the process involved trying to remember just what essential item had been stored where. Our main worktable consists of the former door to the garage. When Jeremy and Phillippa first renovated Little Allercleugh a few years ago, the contractor they hired installed a sheet metal garage door, which rose up on springs. The contractor was obviously not cognoscente of the extremes of weather up here, as the door promptly blew off during the first gale. The door was then replaced with the hinged wooden ones we have today, and the original door languished as an expensive piece of rubbish until we came along and pressed it into service in a use it was never designed for. Improvisation is what small-scale mining is all about.
Our first road bump was encountered during calls to check in with Lindsay and Mick - the former owners of the Rogerley, and folks who have been of great assistance to us in operating the mine long distance from California. Every spring before our return, Mick usually takes care of renewing Byron and Jonina's local blasting permits. To do this he needs copies of their stateside certificates. During the past couple years Mick has had some illnesses, but lately has recovered a goodly bit of his health and energy, and is eager to get on with cramming all the travel and vacationing he can into his now open-ended schedule (otherwise known as retirement). During the past month he has been cruising around Brittany and the Channel Islands on a tug, so despite leaving messages, no one on our end actually spoke with him about this before we came over. We assumed that if he needed something from us, we would hear from him. Well, we all know what usually happens when we make assumptions, and after all, if I was busy chasing the best "fruit de la mer" the Brittany coast has to offer, would I be thinking about blasting permits for a bunch of foreigners? I still find it incredible that the local authorities would even consider issuing explosives permits to non-citizens. Wouldn't happen in America, I'm sure. Anyway, after a certain amount of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair, Jonina got up the nerve to make a painfully early morning phone call to her husband Bill in California (who is NOT a morning person, I am told). The appropriate paperwork is now, hopefully, on it's way via the ever-helpful Fed Ex.
After that tempest has subsided, we all went to the mine to have a look around. Despite a small rock slide onto the landing (smaller than last year's), everything seemed in good order. Dave has done a lot of maintenance work for us at the mine over the winter, so we should be able to get set up and begin work very quickly. Byron poked his head into the pocket opening where he spent much of last summer, and between descriptions of which direction he thought the mineralization was heading, I could see him begin to twitch and grow excited. While locking up I was talking with him about what we needed to do this week at the mine to get things set up. Every time I brought up something - like re-plumb the water or set up the hydraulic power unit - he would say "and we can collect some tomorrow, too." A true addict.
After closing up, we headed to the Mill Race for our inaugural round of Whitby Cod. For the uninitiated, Whitby Cod is the Mill Race's version of fish and chips - but on steroids. Whitby is a fishing village on the coast near Newcastle, so the fish is about as fresh as one could expect. They're also rather large. The first time I encountered it was three years ago when Cal and I were over here signing leases and making final arrangements before opening the mine. After getting the final documents signed off with Alistair Ward's estate agent (no mean feat!) we decided to treat ourselves to lunch. The Mill Race was right down the street, so we wandered in and ordered a couple pints. The proprietress, Mary Walker recommended the cod, which we both ordered. We had been thinking to get a light lunch before continuing on with our business and were not prepared for what arrived a few minutes latter. What we each got was a large oval plate with an even larger batter fried cod fillet hanging over the edges of the plate, along with chips, peas and carrots, and a salad. Not a light lunch, but one of the finest interpretations of fish and chips I've ever come across. If you're by the Mill Race, definitely check it out. Be careful when you consider ordering the "Mixed Grill", unless you burn 5-10 thousand calories a day. Ask Cal about that one.
Today it's off to the mine to begin opening up.
Stay tuned for more....
A rainbow at sunrise, seen from Little Allercleugh.