Friday, August 22, 2008

Incest and Overlays: Part 1

I've wanted to map the interconnections amongst the players of the exploration game in such a way that you could see the tracks, the paths, the name changes, and the reorganizations that have gone on inside the exploration industry through the years—well, at least that portion of the industry in which I’ve been involved, the portion which has affected me. For that purpose, I’ve imagined a map—a map of the western United States where most of that exploration took place—a topographic and geologic map that could expand, enlarge, and zoom in on specific areas as necessary, and which had as many overlays as needed with which to show the movements and interrelations of all the actors throughout time: a 3-D map analogous to a regular 2-D map the way 3-D chess on Star Trek is analogous to regular board chess as it’s usually played today.

But how could I do this? The number of overlays required would make such a map bulky and unmanageable. The movements of the characters involved—the players or actors: the exploration geologists themselves and the companies they worked for—was so complex as to defy description by even the most elaborate models of quantum particle motion. Possibly, if each one of us had been assigned a code, a number, or had been colored by some tracer dye, we could have been followed in retrospect as movements of colored lines on the overlays or as flashing numeric codes, showing up here and there in our travels and travails through the west.

But we weren’t. And we were the sort of individuals who resisted that sort of intrusive observation longer, I think, than many outside the industry. We wouldn’t be the sort of people who would carry cell phones dutifully into the field if it meant having to be on call at all times. We didn’t even care for our own company muckety-mucks to know where we were. They didn’t need to. They often didn’t understand what we were doing, anyway, so why should they know where we were. That understanding would, of course, depend somewhat on whether we were working for a company that had been in the business of exploration and mining for a long time, or whether we were working for an oil company recently gotten into the minerals and hardrock mining business, or even—heaven forbid—a manufacturing company who had an assembly-line mentality, who expected everything, worker and assembly piece, to be in its right place at all times, and who expected things to proceed neatly and orderly from point A on the assembly line to point Z.

But exploration and development didn’t really work that way (still doesn’t!). And we knew it: some of the most fortunate finds were made by geologists stopping to look at areas that weren’t on the plan, by geologists driving down a different road on the way back to town in the evening, by geologists looking for an entirely different commodity than was in the five-year plan, by geologists finding a different commodity that what they were looking for, or by people who weren’t geologists at all (shh--don’t tell the boss!).

The maps and overlays would also have to show what I always called the incestuous nature of the exploration business—of the people, the companies, and even the places. This group of people worked together at this company in this area back in that year. Later, after big layoffs or changes in orientation, some of these original people were working over here, some of them over there, all of them for different companies. But we still had connections—and we still all talked to each other at meetings.

"God forbid," our boss's bosses would think of this talking-at-meetings enterprise—after all “loose lips sink ships” was a byline of many mucky-muck types.

Later, the same aforementioned geologists would meet up at another company, one that had only been doing exploration outside the U.S. up until then, or one that hadn’t even existed before. People from earlier times and earlier companies would come together and form their own company—sometimes, it would seem, just so they could work together again: they had worked together so well in the first place, they might as well do it again.

Sometimes, our connections were more subtle. I’d meet new people at new companies, not knowing any of them, but they would have worked closely with people from the first or second company I worked for, or they would have worked closely with those people’s mentors or colleagues from even earlier times, times before mine. And this continuous network of ever overlapping, ever widening, ever complex web of people would simply continue onward and onward, throughout my entire career. Try playing 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon in the mining and exploration industry, and you should easily be only two or three away from anyone. The person standing next to you at some convention should know at least one person you know or have worked with, and you are likely to know at least one person they know or have worked with. [This kind of connection is all based on the idea of the "six degrees of separation," which is also a movie - one I haven't seen - although it has Will Smith in it, so maybe I have.]

panamintsA Google Earth - One Geology image looking north from the south end of the Panamint Range toward Telescope Peak.

Speaking of 6 degrees, if you’ve worked in the Mojave Desert, or even if you've worked almost anywhere in Nevada, try playing that game with Charlie Manson or one of his girls. I know at least two ways to get to CM in only 3 steps, one through actual encounters by people I know who worked in the Panamint Range in 1975, another through people who lived in a small cabin up some central Nevada canyon that we worked in during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Either way, it’s a little scary. And another weirdly scary thing: the person I connect through the first way hired me for my first real job in the mining exploration industry at Company 1, and his connection to CM is only 2: a certain in-jail one-of-the-girls caught for attempted assassination. Too close, and not just because I worked in the same area—the Panamint Range of California—for another company, Company 2, several years later, or because another one of our then colleagues worked in the same area later for even another company, Company 3, at about the time I first worked there for Company 2.

goler Looking east up Goler Wash, a good dry wash in which to practice your 4WD skills.

And so, as time continues and all the faces change, all the connections - of people, companies, and places - continue, and they can come to the forefront anytime and anywhere. Sometimes it's all about who staked what claims when or where, who worked on that same area before or after, who drilled the property and who didn't drill, who made the discovery and who walked away from what was later to become a mineral deposit. In other words, the beat goes on...

This is a submission for the Accretionary Wedge #12 about geological connections, which is being hosted by Callan Bentley at his NOVA Geoblog, linked to here.

Part 2 of this story may be continued later in another format.


Unknown said...

The longer I hang around exploration types the more I recognize the interconnections within the community. A year ago I wouldn't have understood your post... now it fits neatly into place alongside the stack of business cards in my desk drawer.

Christie Rowe said...

I have a great 4th year student who wants to join the exploration community. Any opportunities for a bright kid with no experience in North American exploration? If you have any advice for him please email me (christierowe_at_gmail)