Crossing Paths

Left … more left … keep going left until I tell you to stop,” I said. My instrument man (we’ll call him Billy) was dragging his feet.

“Are you sure?” he asked. “The other monuments we found were down at the vegetation line. What makes you think this one’s so far up into the palmettos?”

Actually, Billy was right. This was years ago, and we were recovering monuments set along a certain contour line for the now defunct cross-Florida barge canal project. Although they were set 30 years ago, so far we had found most of the monuments, and they fell along a certain line of vegetation.

“I must have ‘fat-fingered’ a number or something,” I said. “Stay right here—I’ll be right back—don’t go anywhere.”

“Okay, okay,” he responded. He knew what I meant. I had a lot of calculations to go over back at the truck, and I didn’t want him there bothering me.

Billy had been getting on my nerves lately. We had a long drive to the job, which would have been the time to talk, but he chose to sleep. Once we got there he was “chatty-Kathy,” and it was never about the job. And did he stay put? Never! He was always looking for a reason to hike back to the truck, have a snack, and talk some more.

Lest anybody accuse me of being a mean, old, stick in the mud, consider this. We didn’t have these fancy computer-driven, touch-screen data collectors that you have today. We had, as “Jethro” would call it, a ciphering box. That’s where you put in long strings of digits, and if you made a mistake there wasn’t a fancy graphics picture to show it to you.

The very last thing you needed while you were “ciphering” was somebody standing over your shoulder saying “I bought a bag of pork rinds for 99 cents,” when you’re about to enter a distance of 98 feet.

No, Billy and ciphering did not mix. In fact that’s most likely why I “fat-fingered” the number in the first place. I was at the point of having to decide that if he did not stay put this time, I may have to let him go. The distraction was becoming a liability.

We had cut five traverse lines—descending towards the river—so it was a little bit of a walk to get back to the vehicle. I was almost to the sand road where the truck was parked when a whisper came over the radio.

“There’s a bear down here!”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“There’s a bear down here. It walked out onto the cut line, looked at me, and walked away.”

“Yeah, right,” I said. At this point I had been surveying 20 years and had not crossed paths with a bear.

“I’m not kidding,” Billy whispered. “I’m going to look for the tracks. I’ll show them to you when you get back.”

“How big was he?”

“About three feet at the shoulder.”

“It’s best to just stay where you are. I’ll be back shortly.” I wanted him to stay put for two reasons. First, for his safety, and also because I really did not want him wandering up to the vehicle now—he would never stop talking and I needed peace and quiet while calculating.

I was working my way through the calculations and getting close to the last couple of angles, when surprisingly I heard him digging around in the back of the truck. I glanced at the rearview mirror but only caught a glimpse of his hair as he mulled around looking for something.

“You know you should have stayed put like I asked you to,” I said. This produced only a muffled grunt as he continued. Not wanting to lose my concentration I kept on with the calculations. Then he knocked over a can of nails that we use for temporary survey points—which made a racket.

“I already have the nails. Please just go back! I need peace and quiet,” I said without lifting my head. He grunted something incomprehensible and shuffled off through the sand.

As I headed back down the cut line I expected to find Billy either walking ahead of me or searching for bear tracks. When I got to the search area, though, I found him exactly as I had left him, leaning against a tree.

He said, “You should have seen it. The bear came out from over there.” He pointed up the cut line. “It looked at me, then turned and walked away. It was really cool!”

I didn’t say anything. I turned the new angle (which placed him at the proper vegetation line), and when we were at the distance we found the monument. It was a brass disc set in concrete inside an old stove pipe, and it was a few inches below the ground. It was 30 years old and in great shape. We flagged it up well, and then packed up the gear and headed back to the truck to go search for the next one.

“So what did the tracks look like?” I asked him.

“I never looked for them—you told me to stay put.”

I stopped walking and stared at him. “You never looked for them?”

“No.”

“And I suppose you never came back to the truck?” I asked.

“No.”

We walked on. I wasn’t speaking to him, because I’d rather he had told me the truth.
We went only a short distance when he said, “Right about here. This is where he came out of the woods and walked onto the cut line.”

Sure enough we had cut a line across a very narrow trail. A bear trail.

“Look at the tracks,” he said pointing at the ground. “I’m going to follow them.”

“What? Hang on a minute. That’s not a good idea—it could be dangerous. Besides, we have to get moving. We already spent more time here than we should’ve.”

“Just five minutes, please!” he begged. “I don’t want to see the bear, I just want to see a real bear trail, I mean what it looks like and all. I’ve never seen a real bear trail let alone walked down one. Five minutes, please!

“All right, five minutes, then meet me at the truck,” I said. “And don’t do anything stupid!”

I had walked the remaining traverse lines that we had cut and come out on the sand road a short distance from the truck. I looked up and saw Billy emerging from the woods with his head down. He came out by the truck, looked up, and saw me coming.

“Hurry up,” he said. “You gotta see this.”

“How did you beat me here?” I said.

“The bear trail, look! It comes out of the woods and crosses the sand road right at the back of the truck. I’m going to walk it just a little farther. I’ll be right back,” he said.

I put the equipment away and hopped up into the front seat like I had when I was doing my calculation. I was looking at the map to see where we were going next when he came back as promised. I heard him mulling around, and I glanced in the rearview mirror—I saw him standing there plain as day—and then it hit me.

I went to the back of the truck and asked him one more time, “Did you or did you not come back to the truck while I was calculating?”

He assured me that he did not.

“Well, then, I talked to him,” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.

“Talked to who?” he asked.

“The bear! I was talking to the damn bear! He was nosing around the back of the truck and knocked over the nail can, and I told him, ‘You should have stayed put like I told you. I already have nails now just go back, I need peace and quiet!’ He must have thought I was crazy.”

Billy just stared at me, shaking his head and holding back a laugh.

“What?” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

“Oh man, just wait until they hear about this.”

“Wait just a minute.” I told him, “Maybe the nail can was not seated properly and it just fell over.”

 “Oh, no. I’m afraid the tracks tell the tale—Bear Whisperer,” he said, sarcastically.

We had driven down the sand road a short distance when suddenly he startled me.

 “Oh, look!”

“What?”

“There’s a squirrel. Maybe we should stop and ask him where the nearest shade tree is for lunch.” He laughed from his belly and slapped his knee.

I didn’t say a word, but inside I was dying laughing, too.

It took 20 years of surveying for me to cross paths with a bear, and I didn’t even know about it when it was happening. If I had, I would’ve been much more observant, and a lot less talkative!

About the Author

  • Thomas LaCorte, PSM
    Thomas LaCorte, PSM
    Thomas G. LaCorte, PLS, is a professional land surveyor and an author with more than 35 years of experience in surveying.

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