My short career as a surveyor
I mentioned that one of the things we did up at The Haven was to post “no trespassing” signs around the perimeter of our property, but I didn’t mention the “how” of it, which is actually a story unto itself.
We knew where the stakes were in the front, and we were told there were stakes marking the back corner, but we had never actually seen them. I know from experience that it is very, very easy to get turned around in the woods, or to think you are walking a straight line to your destination while blithely walking in exactly the wrong direction, or at a right angle from where you think you are going. There have been times where we were at the exact opposite side of the property from where we thought we were. There have been times where I would have sworn the road was in one direction, and I was completely wrong. There have been times when I have stumbled on a path that I would have sworn wasn’t on the map, or not found a path even though I would have sworn it should have been *right there*.
Therefore, we had planned to use my sister’s GPS to make sure we were staying on the property line. I know GPS isn’t 100% accurate down to the millimeter, and it’s possible that it wouldn’t be able to get a good signal in the woods, but I also know that my head isn’t even 10% accurate, so it couldn’t have been worse with the GPS than without it. Unfortunately, the GPS was a complete failure. It worked perfectly in our trial runs along the road, but as soon as we moved into the woods, it just completely stopped. It insisted that we must be on the road, and wouldn’t even update the latitude / longitude indicators. It was worthless.
I really, really wanted to get the job done, but I really, really doubted our ability to wing it. We decided to make do with what we had, and give it a shot. We would lay the signs in a line where we thought they aught to go, waiting to nail them in until we were sure we ended up in the right place. If we ended up being off, we could work our way back correcting them until we had a more or less straight line.
What we had was a simple compass and some yellow caution tape. We went to the road, where the GPS was working, and paced off 30 yards. Assuming the GPS was right, we now had a roughly 90 foot long “rope” of caution tape (we had been planning 100 feet, but we figured 90 was close enough). Then, I positioned myself on the stake and used the compass to ensure that Rachael was walking a straight(ish) line. When she got to the end of the tape, we laid a sign down and did it again.
Here’s the thing though, we had a lot of room for error. First off, all of our assumptions were based on the fact that the tape was 90 feet long, which we didn’t even know for sure. Second off, the compass was very fickle, and I could get about any reading I wanted, within maybe 20 degrees. The tape would often need to be bent around trees or tossed over bushes. And there were times when I couldn’t even see Rachael to see if she was on the line or not. (I had the “holding the compass” job by virtue of the fact that Rachael had a pink shirt, and was thus much easier to see in the woods than my navy blue.) Even if we were off by only a little bit on each spot, the small error could propagate to a large error after repeating a dozen times.
When we got to the back of the property and found the stake was directly on our line, it was probably one of the greatest moments of my life. We were sweaty, we were tired, we were scratched up, we were dirty, we were thirsty (we didn’t bring any water with us because we didn’t expect it to take 2 hours!), and we were absolutely sure what we were doing wasn’t going to work. There it was, right where it was supposed to be.
It just seemed so crazy that we could do it without any kind of technology. I have to say, I became an absolute believer in the compass that day.
When we got back to camp, everybody was over working on the raspberries. “You know,” I said, “if we have to walk back there, we might as well go on the edge of the property and put some signs up. Just to the raspberries. That would save us some time tomorrow…”
A few minutes later, we were back in action on the other side of the property. When we got to the raspberry patch, everyone had already left, so we decided to just keep on truckin’. That side was infinitely more navigable, not to mention that we had refined our system a little bit, which means we finished the entire side in 30 minutes, rather than the 2 hours it took on the other side (to be fair, we also didn’t have Evie “helping us” on that side either). Well, at that rate, we might as well do the short(er) distance across the back, right?
It was a long, difficult day and I was absolutely beat, but the no trespassing signs were up, and mentally I felt great. It was such a sense of accomplishment to crawl through bushes for two hours and then suddenly find out the fruits of your labor paid off! It was great to see all the little ins and outs of the property that I hadn’t gotten to see yet, especially the very back corner. And there is something psychological about fencing in the property that really makes you feel possessive. It was great to clarify where exactly the property line was in a few ambiguous places, and it feels like we now have a safety net to help keep us from wandering off our property or getting lost.
Without a doubt it was the most satisfying project I’ve done on the property.
Special thanks to my sister and co-surveyor, I definitely couldn’t have done it without her. Repeatedly, she had to climb through brambles and bushes to keep the line straight, only to have me stroll around on an easier path once the marker was set (did I mention we were wearing shorts during this?). She did it without complaining. Even though we didn’t really chit chat, I felt like it was a nice bonding moment. Especially when we found that first stake, my friends. There was a lot of hi-fiving, let me tell you.