Monday, May 16, 2016

Unloading the Toe (Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge)

Mining coal below a highwall. via Kentucky Coal Education
In any industry, there is a body of knowledge (and often a jargon as well) that serves to separate those who know whereof they speak from the clueless. 

Much of what I learned in my Mining Geology classes at Mines was how to avoid exhibiting a lack of such bona fidesThe most-memorable story was of a civil engineer, already in-country, whose American employer re-purposed him as a mining engineer and sent him to solve a problem at a bench-mining operation. The mine removed overburden to expose a coal seam, which they then mined from a contour bench below a steeply-sloped highwall.


Mining Methods, via The National Academies Press
It seems they had a very tight profitability margin, which was being eroded by loss of equipment and access due to landslides. The steep slope above the contour bench kept slipping down into the mining area, blocking the seam and damaging men and machines below the highwall.

The brash civil engineer barely listened to the explanation at the site before he told the men working there that the answer was simple: "Just load the toe of the slope!" (Pile material at the base of the highwall to reduce its slope.) He was certain this would resolve the landslide problems.

It would have, too. Except that wasn't the problem they were trying to solve. They needed access to the coal seam at the base of the highwall. The civil engineer was sent back to building roads, and the company brought in a real mining engineer to fix the issue. (The solution involved removing just enough of the overburden above the bench to reduce the slope of the highwall.)

Erosion—in its most continuous form, mass wasting—is an ongoing issue that engineers of all stripes are trying to solve. But it isn't only engineers who are challenged when the earth moves downhill, as you can see in my response to Charli Mills' prompt this week for the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge:

May 11, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story, using the power of erosion. It can be natural, cultural or something different. Is the force personified or does it add to the overall tone? You can use the word in its variations, or avoid the word and write its action.

Erosion can be subtle or drastic. And often, our initial response is not the whole solution.

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Unloading the Toe

I realize I am lucky as I breathe dust. Only the edge of the landslide still raveling downhill had caught me.

My rucksack is just under the rubble. A quick tug on an exposed strap frees both it and a large rock. The rock goes bounding down the slope, triggering mini-slides in its wake. I slap the ruck to lose most of the dirt, and swing it onto my back.

Several steps down the trail, I remember I had my car keys in my hand, ready to use. Now they are somewhere under the tumbled earth.

Time to dig.