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Cherish Your Field Days

Cherish your time in the field, it won't last forever. Like it or not, all of our days are numbered workin' on a field crew. It's one of those things that's easy to take for granted or even complain about when it's happening. We don't understand what something's gonna mean until long after it's over. Then we miss it like crazy and don't remember the bad stuff like dust, cold, wind, snakes, ticks or that sweltering hot day when a water truck splashed mud on you while pounding curb stakes. When you're young, it's all good times that will last forever. But the old buzzards know that life happens and can change instantly with no do-overs. Sure, there will always be a few crusty old party chiefs around, but sooner or later we all leave the field. Maybe Father Time comes for us: too many miles on the odometer or the drivetrain's broken. Or the wife and kids come along and you start thinking about your future. Before you know it, that orange vest is hanging on a coat rack in your office next to the swivel chair your butt sits in. I vividly remember my last time in the field. It was a hot August day in San Diego. We were shooting topo in a steep canyon for an architect. I was running the gun and collector (Topcon + HP48) and we took over 800 shots. The last few shots were excruciating—I could barely turn the motion dial. The onset of Parkinson's had arrived and I could go no further. I very unceremoniously told my partner it was my last day and I haven't dialed an angle since. That was 6 years ago. In the blink of an eye it was over. Cherish the people you meet and the relationships that form. Some will last the rest of your life. Your mentor, teacher, best friend or future business partner might be sitting next to you on that long drive to the pipeline. Those drives to the jobsite are a great chance to bond, tell stories, teach, learn and sometimes even debate the finer points of surveying. Nowadays, one-man crews have changed some of that although I suppose now you can listen to a podcast. The numerous field surveyors I worked with are people I continue to look up to and respect. There were so many unique characters with different stories. Among the many I shared a cab with were licensed surveyors whose grit and determination to get there I admired. There were several women surveyors whom I was in awe of for their strength to break through gender barriers. And I will never forget my LBGT colleagues for the fearless and dignified manner in which they always got the job done. In that mixed-bag there were also a few father figures, former hippies, veterans, cowboys, surfers, artists and drifters—all of them just plain good people. Cherish the places you survey and the experiences to go with them. We all have surveys that stick in our memory. For some it's a place we'd never been to or seen before. It might be a jobsite with a character and uniqueness that stirs our soul, expands our consciousness and helps us grow a little. Mountains, prairie, lakes, beaches and even city streets can all be amazing backdrops for a traverse or topo. Life is about having new experiences and surveying has always been dependable in delivering them. A special project can be so interesting it alters the course of our surveying career. We discover something so new and fresh it changes the perception of our job and role as a surveyor. Anything's possible now. For me, those special places all provided breathtaking backdrops to the survey. I'll never forget the topo I shot under the Golden Gate Bridge or the corner locates we did on sandstone bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. My most special experiences always involved unique surveys and people such as vernal pool locates with a field biologist. Cherish your youth. None of us will climb chainlink fences or quickly slip between strands of barbed wire forever. Youth sees life in the moment, but those moments eventually slip away if you're not paying attention. Everyone working in the field regardless of age should stop, "center the bubble" once in awhile, then take a deep breath and soak it all in. It's a snapshot you'll cherish later. When I was chaining in my teens and twenties, I loved crashing through brush and swinging my machete. Sharpening it was a ritual. I remember the pride I felt when mine finally had a bite outta the sweet spot from thousands of swings and too many sharpenings. Who doesn't remember the excitement of closing their first level loop or traverse? And we all remember digging enthusiastically for iron pipes like they were buried treasure or something. Cherish the memories. We all have stories to tell around the campfire or at the family gathering. I know some of you have encountered abandoned meth labs, corn stills or survival bunkers while searching for lost corners or fencelines. In some parts of the country, a bullet whizzing over your head as you approach a property line is like a form of initiation. Scary now but makes a great story later. Admit it, you had fun running across all the gators, rattlesnakes, Cottonmouths and wild boars once the adrenaline wore off. You were terrified but the chief laughed. Why heck, some of you have even stumbled across dead bodies—the ultimate memory and storytelling prize. Someday you'll have years to wear that one out. Good or bad, I cherish it all. It's funny how most of us miss the field and conveniently forget the bad stuff. Oh what I'd give to put on my orange vest one more time and take a long drive to the jobsite with one of my buddies. Maybe there will be a traverse waiting for us in heaven. And what about all the wisdom that leaves the field with us? Too bad we can't bottle it up for the youngsters or make an app out of it...

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