From the Field: What We Do

Work, work, work…time for a vacation!

Unfortunately, with the economy still in the dumps my work load hasn’t been that great lately, but my brother Craig and I planned a wilderness canoe trip to the Boundary Waters of Minnesota and Quetico Provincial Park in Canada anyway.  We were going old-school, in wood canoes, one that Craig and his daughter Miki built from scratch in 2011 and our father’s 1956 Old Town that he restored a few years earlier. Seven days with no cell phones, no GPS units, no watches, only old-fashioned paper maps and a compass.

Oh, wait a minute, I’m old enough to need to be taking prescription pills on a regular schedule …  guess I’ll need a watch. Oh, and one other thing, my new-fangled waterproof camera has GPS built into it with a world map to locate every picture I take. You just can’t get away from technology even when you want to.

Craig, his daughter Miki, his son Matt, and I headed north into the wilderness. Craig was initially worried about navigating with the map and compass, but I assured him that he had a “professional surveyor” with him and that I would keep us on track. I’ll bet you can tell where this is going … but you’re wrong. Craig picked up the navigating better than I and did it for the whole trip.

So, where does the surveying angle come in, other than reading a map and navigating? Not till the end of the trip. After the seven days of great paddling and some not-so-great portages, we returned only slightly battered and bruised, to the Customs Office at Prairie Portage at the U.S.A./Canada border.  While waiting for a transport boat to take us back to our truck across Moose Lake we had about two hours to kill. Not being ones to do nothing for long, we started exploring our surroundings.

One trail led Craig and Matt to what they described to me as a “survey marker.” I was immediately interested but wondered how they managed to find some old moss- and lichen-covered brass monument plaque in the middle of the woods. They gave me directions on how to find it, and I walked right to it. You couldn’t miss it.

It was a new 2” x 2” galvanized metal obelisk protruding about 12” out of the ground with numbers on the U.S.A. side and a “C” on the Canadian side.  It looked to be held in place by hydraulic cement in the solid granite outcrop that underlies a thin veneer of soil. Of course I had to take some pictures.

On my walk back to the portage I looked across a dam on a stream between the two lakes and could see another monument on a high point on the other side.  I took a picture of it, too.  My brother saw me do this and in a voice of disbelief said, “You took a picture of a survey marker”?

“Of course, I’m a surveyor,” I said. “I’ll send it in to Professional Surveyor Magazine.” He just shook his head.

Unfortunately no one in the area could tell me any details of who set the markers or when they were set.  They look like they were set this year, and I had mixed feelings for the men and women who set these monuments: enjoying the unparalleled beauty of the Canadian wilderness but having to set the markers in solid granite.

That’s what surveyors do, though, and we love it. 

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