Spring has Sprung

Field Notes

Is there a better profession than being a surveyor–especially in the spring? These are the beautiful days we all wait for with anticipation through the cold and windy days of winter. I’ve always felt that when one works outdoors, they freeze all winter for a few nice days in the spring and then sweat all summer for a few nice days in the fall.

I may have some detractors who enjoy the outdoors regardless of the conditions. I once heard an old saying that goes: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.” That may be true to a certain extent, but I think any reasonable person would choose a warm, sunny day with a temperature of 70 degrees, over a rain-soaked, windy day with temperatures barely above freezing.

When I think of my best days afield in the early spring, I often remember hearing and seeing a red-winged blackbird nearby. It always seemed to be a harbinger of warm weather coming to stay. I don’t recall seeing that particular fowl through the summer, but they always came to greet me on the first real warm day when I felt the need to strip off the jacket and long sleeves.

The one time that I remember seeing a red-winged blackbird on a very nice and warm day was in 1996 when I was busy running static GPS sessions for aerial ground control for the Adams County (Pennsylvania) GIS mapping. I was sitting along a rural road waiting for my session to end, and thinking about how lucky I was to be working near my home on a project that would revolutionize the way tax records were kept in this county that includes the famous Gettysburg Battlefield.

I had just tilted my head back to get a full face of sunshine and when I closed my eyes to shutter the sun, I heard that unmistakable chirp and trill of a male red winged blackbird. I looked around and saw him sitting on an electric fence that ran along the road enclosing the meadow where the cattle lay sunning themselves. I felt that I must be one of the luckiest surveyors at that moment–who could be enjoying life more?

The swollen streams in the spring are sometimes a challenge to the surveyor who wants to get from one side to the other. One spring when I was leading a crew doing cross-sections along a new ramp for Interstate 95, we had to cross a stream that was flowing full in its banks. Fortunately for us, there was a nice-sized log extending across the water. It was only about two feet above the water, but it caused quite a bit of anxiety for some of the crew who didn’t feel that they were sure-footed enough to cross it without catastrophic outcomes.

There were several attempts to find a safer crossing, but eventually, each crew member crossed with the encouragement of the rest of us brave souls. We shouted encouragement from the banks, saying, “Walk the log,” like a bunch of kids from the Lord of the Flies novel. After all, we were all in our 20s, so, it was a somewhat juvenile expression. There were a few wet feet, but mostly the only thing hurt was the crewmember’s pride.

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Of course, the animal activity is always cranked up a notch in the spring; the snakes start slithering, the bees start buzzing and sometimes larger animals get in an amorous and aggressive state of being. Once when I was a young man operating a theodolite with a yoke-mounted EDM, I was set up near the corner of a field where we were doing a farm boundary survey. In the adjoining field was a bull, which appeared to be lazily enjoying the warm, sunny day.

Since there was an American wire fence between the bull and me, I paid little attention to him, but he started to pay attention to me, as I called for back sights and walked around the tripod, turning the angles. I realized how much I had disturbed him when I heard him pawing the ground next to the fence. Then he lowered his head and began pushing the wiring on the fence. He continued to paw as he tried to push forward and eliminate his enclosure so that he could start pushing me around. The fence and the posts were old so I didn’t have much comfort in their ability to contain the bull. We eventually finished our work from that set-up and moved away from the beast.

Even when the weather is grand and life seems good, there still may be something that is ready to ruin a surveyor’s day. Enjoy springtime in the field, no matter what may come your way.

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