June 30, 2001
Good Morning. As Jonina has been carrying on about, the weather here in Weardale has been unseasonably summer-like. As the sun comes up today, there are a few low clouds on the moors and scattered high clouds, but it's almost WARM! Yesterday when I arrived in London it was cloudy and a light drizzle was on, but as I headed north things actually got better. Perhaps one of the side effects of global warming is that Weardale will now have a summer. I'm not going to hold my breath on that one, though. Along with this unseasonably warm and dry weather, there have been some fairly strong winds. As a result, things are actually dry here. There's a pond in the quarry that has already dried out - in past years this hasn't happened until August. As a result of all this, the mud index is quite low and one actually has to go collecting in the mine with a water hose to get really filthy.
The flight yesterday from California was it's usually long haul, but mercifully uneventful. Commercial air travel has become such a mess these days that I find myself actually grateful when flights arrive on schedule. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a young woman who was a violinist with the SF Symphony. After working as a contract employee for seven years, she had finally landed a tenured position and was taking a month's trip to Europe as a sort-of celebration. To become good at an instrument requires almost total dedication to the craft and it was nice to see someone who was actually managing to make a decent living at it.As if to compensate for having someone interesting to talk to, the food was particularly nasty and fought back for quite a while afterwards. The stewardess who was serving lunch seemed keenly aware of the limitations of their "airline cuisine". When ask if I would like the chicken, beef, or pasta, I countered with an inquiry as to how the items were prepared. Her reply was "Come on now, you've done this before, you know there's really no difference between these things." Realizing she was quite likely right, I picked the chicken, thinking it possibly the safest of the alternatives. I'll never know if I was right, but this one had obviously suffered from sitting in a warming oven for far too long, and reminded me of one of those frozen TV dinners I use to get as a child. You know the kind - the ones with the mashed potatoes that could be used for modeling clay. United also serves a breakfast on these overnight flights, and this time it was something that looked like their version of an Egg McMuffin. These things qualify as the culinary equivalent of landmines and should be avoided at all costs. If you are confronted with one and feel seriously tempted to eat it, make sure your traveler's insurance is in order first. When people complain about the weather here, I usually tell them that one doesn't come to England for the weather. Perhaps a corollary to that is that one doesn't travel on a commercial airline for the food.
Did the long drive from Heathrow to Weardale (4.5 hours door-to-door) in good time and made it to the mine by noon. Everyone was there, including Jonina and a crew of the volunteers from Killhope who were collecting galena and bits of fluorite for use in the museum displays. Now that all the mines are closed around here, we're their only source of the stuff. It's nice to be able to help them out. Dave and Lofty were busy drilling for the day's round of blasting, which was to be at the opening of the first year's pocket in the west tunnel. The idea is to loosen up the floor at the entrance to the Black Sheep pocket and improve access to the flats in this area. Earlier in the day they has drilled a set of holes at the face of the east tunnel as well. Blasting earlier in the week at the face of the west tunnel had caused some of the roof to come down, and Dave wanted to install another set of timbers before blasting there again. Byron showed me the "glassy" pocket (named the Solstice Pocket by Jonina) that he had uncovered along the eastern wall of the west tunnel. The pocket is perhaps 10 meters toward the face from the original opening of the Black Sheep pocket, and looks to me like another opening into the flats. The fluorite in the pocket is truly gemmy and lustrous, though most of the crystals exposed so far are small. There are currently a number of medium to large fluorite-covered blocks exposed, which are loose but imbedded in the most tenacious clay imaginable. I spent a while with the water hose blasting away at the clay but seemed to make only marginal progress. This pocket is going to require some patience to expose, but I think it will be well worth it. If this is really another opening into the flats, who knows how far it could go?
By 5 pm Dave and Lofty has finished drilling and loading the holes, and had installed more timbering at the face of the western tunnel. I was completely wet from all the spraying in the pocket, and getting quite tired by that point, so we all went out for the blast. Everything went "thump, thump, thump" as planned. Jonina had left a little earlier, and on the way out met up with Alistair to enquire about our lumber bill - which should be getting up there. Though he hadn't figured it up yet, Jonina reports that he was in an unusually gregarious mood, and they had quite a chat. Met up with Jonina's husband Bill at the Golden Lion and relaxed a bit. Bill just arrived from California on Thursday and has spent the day trying to recover from the time change. He seemed reasonably coherent, but I'm not sure how good a judge of that I was considering I had been up for around 30 hours by that time. After a quick dinner at the cottage I was off to bed and actually managed to sleep until around 5:30 this morning.
Today being Saturday, Dave and Lofty are off, and I know Jonina has plans for me in the garage - which is now completely filled with fluorite. Perhaps we'll go down to the mine and see how the blast went as well. All in all, things look like they're going really well this year. I think that it the Solstice pocket proves to be large, we might have some really good stuff too. Hold that thought.
Jesse and the crew.
A few fluorite specimens seeing the first light of day.