August 22, 2001
Good Morning from Weardale;
Yesterday's forecast was variable high clouds with scattered rain showers. Temperatures were in the high 60's to low 70's F, with a light breeze. This morning is dawning clear and bright with only a few scattered clouds, but as we all know by now, this may change.
Yesterday began with a small measure of excitement, especially for Jonina. A couple of days ago a reporter and photographer from the Northern Echo, a regional daily newspaper, had been out to the mine, looking to do a short piece on what a bunch of Americans are doing with a muddy little hole in the ground in Weardale. Interviews were done with Cal and Jonina, and photos taken. The piece came out yesterday morning, and seemed fairly balanced, if a bit inaccurate on a couple of accounts. Well, evidently a reporter with another local paper who had been planning on a similar sort of story saw it and went ballistic. Called Jonina at 0730 and proceeded to rant and rave about all manner of things. As I have mentioned before, Jonina is NOT a morning person, and this was definitely not a good way for her day to start. After everyone got their own copy of the newspaper, we decided that this had been our "15 minutes of fame" and got on with the day.
After rendezvousing with everyone at Little Allercleugh, Joan and I headed for the mine, and Cal set to a morning of sawing specimens in the garage. Sawing specimens with the unit we have here isn't quite as easy as it should be. Despite having spent around $2000 on a large lapidary table saw, the thing is one of the most poorly engineered pieces of junk I can imagine. It vibrates like hell while covering the user with muddy water. Using it to trim specimens is a real fight. This is why we try to have Byron trim everything he can at the mine with the chainsaw. At first this seemed like swatting a fly with a shotgun to me, but after using the table saw for a bit earlier this summer, I now understand the logic. Anyway, Cal deserved some sort of a medal for his sawing efforts.
Arriving at the mine, I gave Joan a quick tour to see the various pockets in progress. Dave and Lofty were planning on installing a set of temporary rails - known as sliders - at the face of the west tunnel before drilling and blasting. As a result, I was forbidden to use any water in that area until they were finished. Seems that any spare water will pond at the head of the tunnel, and though it eventually drains, will make laying rail difficult. As a result, I was temporarily banished from the Solstice pocket and Joan and I set to wrapping up the pile of specimens I has left the previous day while collecting in the West Cross Cut. Despite the previous day's difficulties with the hydraulic power unit, it had started up perfectly this day, something, which made Byron immeasurably happy and allowed me to trim a couple very nice but large specimens I has pulled out. This also allowed Byron to begin the job of cutting up the huge specimen currently sitting in the Birthday pocket. Today's photo is of Byron using a wedge to split off a portion of the specimen after making a saw cut. The result was an elongate plate, perhaps 3 feet across, covered with gemmy fluorite crystals.
While cleaning up after myself in the West Cross Cut, I heard a very loud outburst of very flowery language from Dave. Upon emerging from the pocket to see what had happened, I found that Dave, while driving the Eimco loader around a particularly tight bend into the west tunnel had hit and dislodged one of the old supports put in years previously by Lindsay and Mick. The result was not as catastrophic as it might have been, as none of the ceiling moved. There was a small avalanche from one side, and a new support column needed to be installed. A minor delay, really, but about this time I realized that I had won the bad headlamp lottery for the day, and the battery on my light was giving out. No extras were available, so there went my plans to get the nice piece exposed in the Solstice pocket.
The muck on the floor of the West Cross Cut is full of little gemmy fluorite crystals that are difficult to see underground, so Joan set about filling buckets with the stuff and taking it outside to wash. As I was helping her with this, a couple fellows with cameras and a copy of the day's issue of the Northern Echo came up the stairs. Seems that someone at one of the British news wire services had decided that following up on why a bunch of Americans were spending their summers (and savings accounts) in a fairly remote part of northern England would make a good "human interest" piece. How they actually found the mine must have taken a bit of effort on their part, but the reporter mentioned that this assignment was much more enjoyable than the usual sorts of things they get, like murders and abductions. Pictures were taken, and I chatted with them for a few minutes about who we were, what we were mining, and why we enjoyed being in Weardale so much. After a short bit, they were off and running to file the story and get to their next assignment. I guess our 15 minutes has been extended to a half hour.
About that time Joan needed to get going so she could finish some shopping and get started on the evening's feast, so I wrapped up some of my prizes from the previous day and headed to Stanhope. Back at the cottage, I was pressed into service slicing potatoes and helped Joan with some of the strongest onions imaginable. After chopping a couple it was like the kitchen had been filled with tear gas! The pan hackeldy was a success, despite the fact that the controls on the oven here were thoroughly unintelligible and Joan was forced to do it on the stovetop. The crew, minus Kerith who hasn't been feeling too good lately, arrived around 1830, and in short order devoured a goodly amount of food and drink. Everyone headed back to their respective abodes around 2100, and Joan and I finished our glasses of wine on the porch, enjoying the last of the evening light.
Today we are heading to Scotland for a brief vacation before returning to help with close-up for the season. Jonina promises she will pick up the narrative for the next couple days, and I'm sure Cal will have a few things to say before he and Kerith leave for the States on Saturday.
Stay tuned for more…
Jesse and the crew
Byron performing surgery on the Big One.