I waked up after sleeping eleven hours, I realized some time earlier in the wee dark minutes of morning, I let one of my two four-legged children into the back yard. That was Mudgee, my Catahoula-Heeler mix. Just before sunrise, I opened the back door to find her standing on the back porch steps to enter and out the door went Mr. Tanner, my main man of terrier descent. The two of them ran happily together into the yard as if one had gotten off a train and the other had greeted their long, lost friend. I closed the door and back under the covers I went to continue my comfortable sleep. The day’s light stirred me and I found that I was alone with the silenced paw clicks on the floor. No whining for a toy under the couch or lapping sounds from a blue water bowl. I remembered my dream of walking in the dark and opening my back door, twice. I peeped outside to find nothing but dew on the ground. I made coffee and began to worry. To my surprise when I went to the front porch to begin the hollering of pet names, Mudgee and Mr. Tanner popped up from thin air covered with mud and briars, panting and tongues hanging to the ground. They came up to me with shining eyes and toothy grins. They were in cahoots and didn’t share with me their pranks while roaming the woods behind our house or their thoughts about rolling in dead armadillo. The three of us sat on the front porch as if nothing had happened. I sipped coffee and watched the empty highway. I was sure that my little family had been wiped out by a logging truck or hauled off by some mysterious creature. It came to me after the fact just how lucky I was to have them here on the porch with muddy coats, stickers in their muzzles and laughing eyes.
The reason for my eleven hour sleep was an effect caused by wading in head high Johnson grass and vines with a heat index of over a 100 degrees. The previous morning, my boss handed me a sheet of paper with a brief sketch and highlighted areas in yellow and stated only to “get it done.” I immediately wondered why I had volunteered to work on my day off and I remembered I was poor. My coughing, unshaven, pot-bellied coworker and I loaded the work truck and off we went to the project site. The area of concern was partially on the Little Rock National Airport’s property and the adjoining land to be mapped was owned by the State of Arkansas, with a warehouse for disabled furniture. Since I am the leader of this motley land survey crew, I drove around looking for my points I had hammered into the asphalt a year ago. Locating what I was looking for and glad my mental plan of attack would “get it done,” I heard lawn mowers and weed eaters. The Arkansas Department of Corrections and the occupants of the “Big House” were beautifying the lot, which was owned by the state. Troops of men in matching outfits of Boy Scout green where mowing in formation, led by a gun-toting tall black man standing nearby wearing a cowboy hat and khaki uniform. There was a second escort who appeared nonchalant and lazy, who leaned on the bumper of a large horse trailer, which apparently had hauled umpteen push mowers and the men in green. The circling prisoners cutting grass appeared pleased to be outdoors and didn’t mind the shouts and harsh instructions issued by the Nazi foreman. They were where I needed to work. I mulled this over and went to Plan B.
I drove toward the other side of the project, which was separated by a chain link fence and security gate protecting the airport from the unwanted. My SIDA badge was proudly displayed from my tee shirt pocket. I buzzed the intercom. No answer. I buzzed again. No answer. I saw in my rear view mirror a pick up truck with a logo on the driver side door. I backed my truck up out of way. I talked with the driver of the other truck and discovered they were there to fix the intercom. I got back into my truck and drove the long, long way around to get into the airport and my site to map. When I reached the opposite side of the chain link fence and security gate with the broken intercom, the gate was open. I silently cussed. I searched for points I set in the ground, belonging to another job of mine the previous year. I wanted to tie the two tracts together. They had disappeared. Back to Plan A.
Wandering through security gates as the humidity was rising, my coworker was asking questions so unrelated to my line of thinking, I answered him in monosyllables. Returning to the State of Arkansas property, I now saw the cowboy Nazi leading his men shoulder to shoulder with hand rakes as they walked backward, pulling their rakes full of grass clippings. My “get it done” time was dwindling and I knew I had to start my job somehow, someway. I then drove to a nearby third previous project site and set my coworker out with his tripod and total station at an intersection of an abandoned railroad and asphalt road, in the blazing sun. I stacked a backsight and we began to traverse toward where we needed to be.
Once we arrived to the airport side of the project it was pushing lunchtime. My coworker, Ken, who appears to have never missed a meal, lives with his mother and is forty-eight years old, made a left-handed comment about food, water and how he was running low on cigarettes. After working with me for well over a year, one would think he would remember planning ahead, packing a lunch and buying smokes for the day. I gave him a Camel. The moaning about heat and the hint of nicotine fits put a halt to work. We took care of his tiny dilemma and returned to the job site.
Once we had completed the mapping needed on the airport side, we began to work on the state’s property. The terrain rolled slightly and the area we needed to map was uncut, uncared for, and unbelievably tall with weeds, and for added enjoyment, a tilled garden was hidden, hipped up with unattended vegetables and watermelons and taken over by thorny brush. My instrumentman Ken, is now at the point reached by many rookie crewmembers after working a short year, truly believes he knows what he’s doing. While I am standing in greenery and only the prism is seen above my head, my coworker is silent. I’m waiting to hear something on the radio. He’s not telling me to move left or right so he can find the prism. He’s trying to fire the instrument through brush. I’m losing weight as I stand in the air eating brush and humidity. Ken is stacked under the shade of a tree. I stab my prism rod into the ground and walk back to the instrument as I count to ten to calm down. I remind him I can’t see him and to please call on the radio to move whichever way to get a shot. He tells me that he had. I look at his radio and notice his radio is turned off. Small dilemma corrected. Back to the weeds I go. Seemingly after hours of stumbling through impassable brush and weeds, the best is saved for last.
Along a fence line, which is bordering a busy road right-of-way, there stands muscadine and trumpet vine draped over old mulberry trees. I must locate that area for a proposed road to enter right there. My prism rod will only telescope to about eight and a half feet high. The vines are at least twelve feet high in places. I tell Ken to relax on the radio, that I need to crawl into this canopied green cave to find spots to pop the prism out for a shot. I remind him that I’ll call on the radio that I’m about to wave the rod and to answer back if he sees me. He called back, okay. I find a tunnel underneath the vines and crawl about fifty feet to where I need to be. I looked down to grab my radio and only find the clip. My radio is missing. I cussed out loud. I crawled backwards through the tightly wrapped tunnel and found no yellow radio. I somehow turned around in this hellhole to walk back to the instrument. My coworker is clueless and just stands there, no presence of mind to meet me half way. Finally I reach the instrument where Ken stands in the shade and ask him to please call on the radio because I’ve dropped mine somewhere. He begins to call on his rad
io as I’m standing next to him. I silently count to ten. I asked that he wait until I’m back in the brush. I can’t hear my radio 200 feet away. Oh, he says.
Once I find my radio, I continue to crawl back to the prism rod, still wrapped up like a present with briars and vines. I call that I’m waving the rod and can he see me? Yes, he answers. I set the point of the rod in the ground and there is silence. Again, Ken is trying to fire the instrument through leaves and not calling to move one way or another. I am soaking wet from sweat, blackened by Johnson grass tassel fuzz, scratched and bleeding red ribbons down my arms. I count to ten. I drop the rod to its four-foot status and crawl back out of this monster of greenery. I pop out of this overgrowth to call to take a backsight check shot and to box the instrument. I am frustrated. I think about my “get it done” and I did the best I could.
I drive back to the office in silence and unloaded the truck. I locked up the office after another crew came in from out of town. I helped them unload while my coworker sat in air conditioning and unaware of the term “team effort.” After the multiple thank yous from the other crew, lights were turned off, alarm set – out the door Ken waltzed to his motorcycle and drove off waving goodbye as I locked the gate to the employee parking lot.
When I opened the door to my house I was attacked by a happy dog. Of course, his toenails are too long and added extra red ribbons to my already cut up arms. His greeting of hello, it’s nice to see you, involved knock you down pounces off my chest by all four paws. I meander to the bedroom while still being greeted by Mr. Tanner to release Mudgee from her kennel. She adds to the chaos of hello, it’s good to see you by jumping out of time with Mr. Tanner. I’m being mauled with happiness. I can’t walk in a straight line. I bend down to calm Mudgee and am hit in the nose with her forehead. I see stars. I’m whoozy. The three of us go into the den and a small table is knocked askew. I sit down on the floor to fix an already broken brace and think, “the floor sure is cold.” I realize too late that I am smack in the middle of where Mr. Tanner has yakked up his breakfast. I slowly rise and find that the mauling has continued and am knocked off balance and have plowed into a hat rack, which falls over. It’s all I can stand. You two get OUT! I make my way to the back door and am relieved when they bounce off the kitchen floor to the back yard. I clean up the mess left by Mr. Tanner. I strip off filthy clothes and swab witch hazel across cut arms, and sit down a few minutes. I am exhausted. I take a deep breath – sit still. No television. No noise except for the air conditioner, which I am glad to soak up. I become one with my couch. I think about the vines and the tunnel of green. I remember the heat and feel the stings of my scratches. I wonder if my “get it done” has enough groundwork. At the moment, I don’t care. I just want to sleep eleven hours.
After Ken drove off that Saturday afternoon – he went for a ride on his motorcycle on Sunday, the 29th, and was killed in a lone crash that evening.
About the author
I live alone and worked in the land surveying profession for fourteen years. Mudgee has a terrific new home and Mr. Tanner and I still share the same roof. Update: After a brief foray into the non-surveying world, I am once again employed as a surveyor, and am working on various projects all over the Arkansas region.