Saturday, October 22, 2016

Strategic Planning. Yellow Jacket Edition.

Strategic planning has not always been my strong suit.

Chess for me always involved me following my own plan to victory, no matter what moves my opponent made.  I would plot out my moves, eight, nine, even ten moves ahead.  Unfortunately, those moves involved only a single path laid out, so any variation in that plan would lead me to pain, destruction, and death.
Every.  Single. Time.

It was the summer of 1982.  I was cutting grass for extra money, and was 'renting' the lawn mower from my dad by cutting our grass for free.  In the process of cutting the rocky backyard, I disturbed a yellow jacket nest.

Yellow jackets - also known as ground hornets - are the meanest creatures on the planet.  Anyone who thinks the honey badger is the baddest animal in the kingdom has never had to fight off yellow jackets.  They are aggressive, can sting repeatedly, and seem to enjoy doing so.
Summer of '82, and I am cutting the back yard.  I run the lawn mower over an unseen yellow jacket hole.  The scout bees got sucked into the vortex of the lawnmower blades, and immediately were turned into bee hash.

The second set of scouts escaped the mower-vortex, and found themselves between two very skinny legs, clad only in a thin layer of denim.  Vowing revenge on the stick figure for the deaths of SB312 and SB1495, they screamed for the horde to attack.

Had I had known they were there, I would have left the lawn mower running right over the hole, and let them die, one at a time.  But I didn't, so they came out, ready for battle.   And facing only one combatant on the opposing side, they quickly overran the field of battle and won the victory.

Nursing my wounds, I tried to figure out the best approach to finish my task and avoid a reprise of the stings.  I watched for a few minutes, until the bees calmed down and all went back in the hell hole.  And then, carefully, slowly, I crept up to the hole and with a lightning strike jammed a small rock into the hole.


I finished cutting the yard in full strut, feeling proud of myself for the quick, brave, decisive stroke that freed me to do my work.  I had won the battle of man vs. wild, and the rotten bastards would starve to death, trapped in the hole they had dug in my yard.

A day later, I show the plugged hole to one of my friends.  To my surprise and consternation, the bloody bees had dug themselves a new hole, a couple of feet away from the original hole.  Disappointed that my solution had not been permanent, I watched for a moment.

And then made my mistake.

Obviously, the yellow jackets had abandoned their previous hole.  So I removed the rock, to see what the abandoned hole looked like.




I told myself (and my friend, who had almost recovered from the combination of flight and laughter) that I was simply curious about the housing structure of the bees.  (My next study of that will involve molten aluminum.)  I told myself that it was simple biological curiosity.  Once I was a safe distance away, though, I had to admit the truth: I had just been outmaneuvered by a damned insect colony, who had decided to leave scouts at the closed entrance.  Just in case.

When the stupid 12-year old rolled away the stone, they were ready for attack.

Gasoline and a match solved the immediate problem.

12-year-old Crorey resolved at that painful moment to think things through a little more carefully from that point on, seeing the chess game through to its obvious conclusion BEFORE removing the rock.

Sadly, 12-year-old Crorey did not learn that lesson.  Three broken bones (none of them mine), a broken tooth (also not mine) and countless incidents with my car throughout my teenage years speak to an inability to see very deeply into the future.

Sometimes, the future I would peer into would not allow me five good solid seconds of foresight.


Unfortunately, the adult version of Crorey keeps finding himself in similar situations, holding the selfsame rock, surprised that he is being stung.  Not thinking strategically.  Yes, I would LOVE to help with that CFC campaign.  Are you kidding?  Of course I will provide a vat of chili for your party!  No, I can carry that table by myself into the house.  Sure, I would love to try that joloka pepper.  And let me wipe my eyes afterwards.  Or worse.

Hold my beer.  I got this.

Unfortunately, I also love the stories that result.  I have found that nothing is quite like that feeling that I am responsible for my current predicament, and that I can see the exact moment where everything went off the rails.  The result cannot be avoided, and all I can do is laugh and face the consequences.

So partly because I enjoy the laughter that results from silly predicaments, and partly because I love seeing chaos develop, I have spent my adult life happily not learning the lesson of the yellow jackets.

Even so, there are times that I find myself reaching a little earlier for the gasoline.

Anybody got a light?

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fool's Gold Rush

I have always been a geology geek.  I have been reading geology books since shortly after I finished all of the Hardy Boys series.  As a kid, I talked about rocks with everyone who would listen.  And with many who fooled me into thinking they were listening.

I still fall into that trap from time to time.

So when I was in Brasil, in the middle of one of the largest deltas in the world (which means NO ROCKS), I had to get all of my .  And one day when we were visiting the metropolis of Belem, my dad introduced me to a geologist from the local university.

He did this to feed my curious soul, but also in some small measure, I suspect, to get a break from trying to bluff his way past an irritatingly insistent 9-year old.

The geologist was wonderful, and spoke English to me, answering questions and talking story about some research.  It was my first time talking with an academic, and I loved it.  At the end of the conversation, he gave me a small piece of translucent, red amber-like material.  He explained that it was volcanic glass, and told me a little about how it was formed.  (Now that I have worked with obsidian for about twenty years, I have my doubts that the piece he gave me was obsidian).

But a story that he told Dad fascinated me.  This was the late 70s, and a gold rush had started in the state of Brasil where we lived, Para.  There were stories of men who found large nuggets.  LARGE nuggets.  Like 40 pounds and more.  When a particularly large nugget was found, the government confiscated it for the Banco Central Museum. Without paying the miners for the find. After that point, all largish nuggets had shovel marks on four sides.

The geologist acknowledged the stories about the gold rush, but said that a colleague of his had actually been involved early on, and had been given a large nugget.  Thinking that it was a piece of fools gold, he used it as a doorstop for ears, until a member of the geology faculty asked if he could test it.

Once it was recognized as real gold, it triggered a gold rush as everyone went to cash in on the mine.

I have repeated the story through the years.  It is one of my favorites, and I love getting to try and re-capture the excitement and wonder of that little boy, thrilled to be talking to someone who knew everything about a subject.

So this morning, when I read an article from Blanchard on the Reed Gold Mine, located somewhat north of  some very notable locations in North Carolina: (Frog Pond and Locust), I smiled in memory of the first time I heard about a gold mine from someone who had some first hand experience with it.

And yet, as I read further, the story sounded awfully familiar.

The story is of the first gold rush in the United States, dating back to 1799.  A kid by the name of Conrad Reed skipped church to go fishing, and found a yellow rock.  He gave it to his dad, John, who didn't know what it was, and used the 17-pound hunk of metal as a doorstop.  He asked a local silversmith (note that his specialty was, well, SILVER) and the guy just didn't know whether it was gold or not.

Eventually, three years later, John showed it to a jeweler in Fayetteville who knew what it was, and melted it down to a gold bar 8" long.  And then offered to buy it.

Since spot gold prices were not available on the internet yet, Mr. Reed asked the princely sum of $3.50.

He got it.  That much gold was worth about $3600 at that time, so the jeweler made some money off the trade.

This discovery led to a frenzy of activity, as gold mines were quickly opened across NC, and the first gold rush was born, eventually leading to the opening of only the second US mint in existence in Charlotte (which kept the risks of theft during travel to Philadelphia to a minimum).
Gold $1 piece, minted in Charlotte.  (C is on the obverse, center bottom)

I read the story with great glee, realizing that what the geologist had told me almost 40 years ago, in the middle of the Amazonian rainforest in Brasil, was an urban legend that had been modified from a real story from Appalachian history.

I see a trip to Frog Pond in my future.  Anyone want to go with me?