Daily Archives: December 25, 2009

The lightning bolt scar

The panhandle of Idaho is both wooded and open depending on where you are. More cows than people as is usually the case in the west. Many mountains and valleys and beautiful little ranches.

Chris and I were tasked with a detailed geochemical survey on some BLM land in the middle of nowhere. We drove 50 miles each morning from a run down motel in Council, Idaho, which itself is in the middle of nowhere.

It was Thanksgiving week of 1977. We were working a silver prospect. We sampled stream sediments in the area and made some detailed soil samples in spots of real interest.

I was twenty-five. Chris a little younger. Both of us had come down from a summer of work in SE Alaska. There we had worked in different two-man camps on Prince of Wales Island from June until the snow flew in October. Canoeing as much as 15 miles one way each day to study the regional geology. Needless to say we thought were tough. And we were. Nothing could stop us from doing what we needed to do.

It began to snow a couple days before Thanksgiving. It was apparent to us that the snow was going to pile up so high that we would not be able to complete our mission. Our solution was to drive all the roads we needed to use twice a day with our four-wheel drive to keep the roads passable. That included Thanksgiving day.

On Thanksgiving Council, Idaho shut down. No restaurants, no stores, nothing. The day before we bought a chicken and some canned food. So when we drove out to the prospect to clear the roads we stopped to make our own dinner. It was snowing hard and there was a strong wind blowing. We built a big wall of snow to protect us from the wind and we started a fire. We cooked the chicken on a big stick and heated some cans of corn and sweet potatoes. That oddly enough was one of my favorite Thanksgiving meals. Food always tastes better when you have to earn it.

I felt sorry for Chris on Thanksgiving day because he was away from home. He had the most beautiful and caring girlfriend in Washington state and I knew he missed her.

When the snow stopped falling the next day we continued our fieldwork. I took off on a traverse across some steep terrain in two feet of snow. When I came to a twenty-five foot cliff I did what in retrospect was not the sharpest decision of my life. I jumped! Standing on two feet of snow I figured that the sloped bottom of the snow-covered cliff would allow me to slide to a safe landing. I judged that correctly. What I failed to recognize was that snow may be two feet thick vertically, but on the steep face of a cliff its only about an inch thick horizontally.

When I jumped, my hands were in the air helping to keep me balanced. My left hand below my thumb caught a rock that ripped open a two-inch gash. I remember my backpack hitting me in the back when I landed at the bottom. It was quite a bit later that I found blood on my clothing and figured out what happened. It was so cold I couldn’t feel the pain.

When I see the lightning bolt scar on my hand I remember my friend Chris and the Thanksgiving storm of 1977 in Council, Idaho and I smile.

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