A half hour later, I had unzipped my parka. An hour later, I’d torn off my gloves and toque. Jane Fonda has nothing on two feet of snow, a 40 lb backpack, 5 layers of clothing, and 7km on a strict timeline.
It was just after 1030am when we reached what my GPS indicated was the well site centre. It was better than I thought. An open stand of aspen on an embankment overlooking a valley. Very nice. Definitely site-worthy. No wonder the government had this pegged as a “further investigation required” area.
“Okay, Cam.” I threw down my backpack and dug the camera and notebook out of my vest. “We need to be back at the truck before dark. Optimally, I’d like to be back on high-grade before dark. Sunset is at about 5pm and it took us a hour and a half to get out here. We need to leave here no later than 330. We have about 5 hours to dig.”
“Roger that.” And with that, snow started to fly.
I traced out the well site, 80 metres by 100 metres, photographing all sides (this is snow and bare trees, this is more snow and bare trees). Then I did a walkabout to have a gander at the general area.
I’d gone about 50 metres from Cam’s snowblowing excavation and stopped abruptly. Yeah, I’d heard a gunshot before. Up close and personal too. But your mind always wants to think that your ears didn’t really hear it. Especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, in winter.
Fuck. I sprinted back to the wellsite, my heart in my throat. I fully anticipated seeing Cam gushing arterial spray all over the white landscape. Geez, I hate First Aid. I hated taking the course and all the weird people who have to touch your body in all those places that weren’t meant to be touched by someone not your mother or your lover. And I hated trying to administer First Aid. It was just too much…people.
I had nothing against blood and guts. I did an internship at the Coroner’s Office in my undergrad just to see if I could stand it. No problem. In fact, the technicians commented that they’d never seen anyone so curious as to get their nose bloody (yeah, I got a little close that time). It was dealing with living people they bugged me. They could get hurt. I’d actually been bitch-slapped in a First Aid course because I pulled a bandage too tight. If she’d been mortally wounded, it wouldn’t have mattered, I tried to tell myself later. If she’d been dead, well, I wouldn’t have needed to bandage her. And then there’s that part in the First Aid course where they tell you that the injured can’t sue you for administering First Aid because you were a Good Samaritan. Wouldn’t be a problem if everyone was dead.
I sprinted up to Cam. He wasn’t bleeding. Another shot rang out and we both hit the snowbank. “What the fuck?”
“Are you okay?” Cam’s eyes couldn’t get any bigger.
“Yeah. You?” I got a thumbs-up.
Now that everything was under control again, my heart returned to its rightful place. So did my brain. “I do not like being shot at,” I mumbled, remembering the last time shots were fired over my head. I stood and shouted, “HELLO!” I waited.
I repeated and waited.
Cam and I waited, watching the clouds drift overhead, and listening to the few crazy birds who didn’t migrate south for winter. After about five minutes, I started to get cold. So much for that aerobic walk in.
I called Morris and told him what had happened. It was considered a near-miss, in safety lingo, and would be tallied up in our safety stats. Frankly, I wanted to find out who the hell was shooting and why.
“Could be First Nations,” Cam offered. He was right. They weren’t restricted by official seasons. But I still wanted my client to know that two lives were in danger out here.
After 10 minutes of squawking on the phone, my nerves had calmed considerably. I turned to retrace my steps when Cam said, “Elise? We’ve got a site.” He held up a small quartzite flake. “That’s why I called you back.” I nearly decked him.
It was noon and we’d found a site. Under two feet of snow. At least it wasn’t 330pm. And I should have known with Cam. He always finds sites.
I took off my vest and pulled at the velcro pouch on the back. Melissa had made me a doggie-bag’s worth of plastic artifact bags, artifact cards, pencils, and Sharpies. I made a little nest for myself in the snow and settled in to do a sketch map and make notes on the area. The quartzite flake and two other rocks were bagged and tagged. I took pictures of the soil profile along one wall of the first shovel test and described that too.
By the time I’d finished all my notes and got the artifacts sorted, Cam had dug eight shovel tests, two of which were positive for artifacts (aka rocks). He’d also managed to clear most of the well site of snow. Not bad.
The score was Cam 8, Elise 0. That was the way it worked. I held the permit and the responsibility. I took the notes and the pictures. The assistant dug. End of story. If the permit holder out-dug the assistant, something was wrong.
In the summer, we’d have dug more shovel tests. But, this was slow going. The site wasn’t huge and we any stone tools in our lot. All in all, this site wasn’t going to make the pages of National Geographic. It would be worth about four pages in my report and that was about it.
We were packing up to start our trek back to the truck when my stomach grumbled. My mind did a jog through the events of the day.
“We didn’t eat lunch,” Cam said. Oops.
“Do you want to eat here or in the nice, warm truck?”
Cam didn’t hesitate, “Truck.”