138 Degrees in the Shade, Part 2

138 Degrees in the Shade, Part two
August 15th 1965, the Red Desert of Libya.
Of course, Bill and I know everybody in Norphlet so we spend a few hours a day just talking about folks back home. Two Norphlet High School graduates in charge of drilling a multi-million dollar well for Exxon. It’s pretty unbelievable, but after a few days it just hot and work, work, work, and thoughts of home pass.
Yes, things are pretty grim and unbelievably hot, but the food is a real plus. The rig is a French rig, and they have a French chef. At lunch today the chef told us he has just received his supplies, and it included what he called a French delicacy; squid. Well, Vertis and I had fried squid when we spent a week in Athens and those small calamari were very tasty.
It’s almost seven and we have just sat down to have dinner, and after an appetizer of whipped cream and onions, the chef brings out the main course. I’m looking for a pile of fried calamari, but instead the chef dips up a whole 18 inch squid and plops it on my plate. Then he takes a ladle and splashes a black sauce on top of the squid, and he says, “Squid in its own sauce.”
It really looks gross, and I can smell a very fishy smell to go with it, but I know I have to try it.
No, no, I can’t eat the squid, that bite has stuck in my throat. I check Bill, and he has just laid his fork down. Yes, the chef is muttering something;
“Want hamburgers?”
Wow, he just spit that out, but you would have had to hogtie me to eat that squid, so I’m quietly muttering “Yes” as the French crew gobbles up the squid. Yes, I do feel like an ugly American, but I don’t think many Americans would eat that squid, head and all, like the French crew did.
It’s a few days later when one of the Libyans came back with a small gazelle that he managed to chase down with a Land Rover. Well, I really don’t approve of hunting with a Land Rover, but he dressed the gazelle and took it to the French chef to prepare.
My gosh, I’ve just had maybe the best meal in my life. Of course, we’re making over how good it was to the chef, he’s beaming, and he rewards our compliments with a French cheesecake.
I’ve been waiting for the new bit that was put on at 8500 feet to get dull, which will give me about eight hours free while the crew pulls drill string and changes the bit. I’ve heard about rock carving made by pre-historic desert people on some cliff walls north of the rig, and I want to see the carvings, which are actually called petroglyphs. As I walk out of the dining hall, I see the drill pipe coming out of the hole, and I’m heading for my Land Rover.
I’ve been driving for about an hour due north, and then, when I see a ridge over to the west, I turn and drive toward it. Thirty minutes later and I’m pulling up beside some impressive outcrops of sandstone where I notice something under the overhanging sandstone ledge. Then, on the sandstone wall under the ledge I see a carving. I can make out a stick figure and an animal, which is pretty fat. An elephant?
That’s when I see a military looking vehicle heading my way with its light flashing. What? Algerian Border Patrol flashes through my mind, and after I yell, “Oh my God! I’m in Algeria!” I take off driving east, but they’re coming after me with lights flashing! I’m driving across the flat desert as fast as my Land Rover will take me, but they are gaining. That’s when I hear what might be a gunshot or the Land Rover backfiring, which makes me hunker down and stomp the accelerator to the floor. A dirty, hot Algerian jail comes to mind. Another noise and then another, and they are about to catch me, but as I dip into a dry stream bed, I turn and roar down over a rocky bottom for a few hundred yards, and up the other side I see them slowing down because there are some good size rocks in that dry stream bed, and now I’m gaining on them, and after another ten minutes they turn back. I guess I’m back in Libya.
My hands are shaking as I drive up to the rig. The last joint of pipe has just gone in the hole from a trip to change bit, and the driller has started back to drilling when I hear the rig brake start squealing as the driller eases off of the brake. That means the bit is penetrating rocks that are very porous, and are easy to drill.
I walk out of the trailer, get the attention of the driller on the rig and give him a circle sign over my head, which means to stop drilling and circulate while we wait on the samples to come to the surface. From the depth we are drilling it will take about 20 minutes. I note the drilling mud looks a little frothy, and I yell to the driller, “Pierre! Gas cut mud! Get ready to close the rams, if it kicks.” The first samples are coming to the surface now, and as I reach out to get a handful of cuttings, I can smell oil. I take a quick whiff of the sample and nod, good oil odor. I stick my tongue to the samples, no salt taste..good.
I’m heading down to the mudlog trailer with a bag of cutting to examine under the microscope Fifteen minutes later and I’ve examined the samples. They have good oil odor, fluorescence, oil staining, and I could see porosity in the sample. Well, another DST. I walk up to the rig where Bill Sandifer is standing.
“Good show, Bill. We’re going to test it. Set the packer at eight-thousand and eighty-five feet, fifteen minute open, and two hour final. If you flow oil, reverse it out.”
“You got, Richard, but you’re gonna hear that bunch of roughnecks scream, when I tell them they are going to pull the pipe again and DST. Hell, they’ve been working all day making a trip, and they are about to have another eight hours of the same thing in this heat.”
“Yeah, Bill, I know, but with a show like I just logged, the office would have my hide if I didn’t test it.”
“Oh, I know it, Richard, but this crew has been drilling over in Algeria on field wells,
and they never test any of those wells.”
“I think I’ll check things out at my trailer, while you tell the driller to come out of the hole for a test.”
Bill laughs and I’m walking toward my trailer when I hear a string of what I think are French cuss words. The only word I can make out is “American!”
To be continued


Your Grandchildren’s World

Your Grandchildren’s World
You had better skip this column, because I’m going to put a big guilt trip on you. Still reading? Well, here goes: It is without saying that you can have all the money in the world, but if you don’t have your health, what good is money? But you might say, “Well, I have my health.” Okay, but would it matter to you if your significant other didn’t have his or her health, or what if some of your off-spring didn’t have their health? Would you care? How about your great grandchildren? Well, of course you would care. But let’s stretch it a bit. What if a child, whose Moro Bay mother ate a lot of mercury contaminated fish, which means that child would likely live a sub-quality, lower I. Q. life instead of having a professional careers? Would you care? I hope you would.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. If we really care about our Earth and its people, it directly effects how we and the rest of mankind treat our environment, because we are interconnected, and that child from Moro Bay is a child of the Earth, and it could easily be your grandchild or great grandchild.
The idea, that for a short-term economic gain, we would doom an innocent child to a sub-par life is about as Un-American as anything I can imagine, but we are doing it daily, and those who can make a difference, such as our pregnant Attorney General, who is actively trying to block environmental rules (The Clean Power Plan) that would reduce the mercury emitted from Arkansas’ coal fired plants. That’s the mercury, which ends up in fish, and if a woman consumes a certain amount, during her early months of pregnancy, the child will probably have a reduced I. Q. That’s not me pulling it out of thin air; that’s a proven scientific fact.
I feel very strongly that by exposing individuals to environmental hazards just to make money, by evading existing environmental laws, or to oppose rules in place, is criminal. Yes, to reduce the quality of life of an individual just to make a buck isn’t criminal, what is? Of course, if by congressional action or presidential decree, the existing environmental laws are relaxed resulting in the loss of life or the degrading of life for a people, then that’s also criminal in my book, and to encourage using dirty coal as a fuel rather than nonpolluting alternatives, that, in my book, is also a crime.
There are so many environment problems that will harm our grandchildren I could list, but I think one of the biggest environmental dangers is allowing our planet to warm until in years to come several billion people will suffer and numerous coastal cities will become uninhabitable. Here in the good old USA, the present Administration is denying global warming, just to curry coal mining votes in West Virginia, etc. and to allow mining of coal in the National forests, and on top of that they are extending lifelines to uneconomical, dirty coal fuel electrical generating plants to keep them going. By doing that our country is setting a horrible example to the rest of the world. Yes, global warming is a certainty, and any open minded person with a 6th grade education knows that. Of the 196 countries in the world, we are the only one whose leadership denies global warming. Even Syria has signed the pact. But what is worse than not signing the agreement are the folks who are denying global warming, knowing they are wrong, and their greed to make money is causing them to perpetrate a crime against humanity.
Of course, the head of the EPA, who should be leading the way in protecting the environment, is leading the way all right, but he’s leading the way to dismantle as many environmental laws as he can, while having a $43,000 soundproof booth built in his office. Have we totally lost our moral compass? Have let the greed to make money dominate our lives? Corporate profits are at an all-time high and we have full employment, so why have we become so greedy that we will do anything to make a dollar? We should use this time of unequaled prosperity to strengthen our environmental laws.
But dirty coal just the tip of the environmental iceberg because we are ignoring hundreds of other horrible problems such as the mountains of plastic, which are fowling the earth’s environment to the point where huge masses of plastic float out in the open water of the Pacific. One of these masses weighs 7 million tons, it’s twice the size of Texas, and up to 9 feet deep. Those plastic rafts in our oceans contaminate the oceans and create an ongoing hazard to animal life. Eight billion tons of plastic trash are dumped into the oceans each year, but hey “That’s way out in the Pacific”, you may say. I guess that is what you’re saying when you toss that plastic water bottle out the car window. Actually, around the World 1,000,000 plastic water bottles are used every minute, and only about 9% are recycled. I’m saying this, “There will not be another plastic water bottle allowed in my house.”
Yes, we’re all guilty, and the solution in not to just say, “You’re right, Richard.” but to do your part in cleaning up and protecting our Earth. Everyone who has the intelligence to read this column knows how they can help, but are you going to wait until an environmental disaster is in your face?
Let me give you an example: When I was a P. C. & E Commissioner there was a problem with a major chicken processing company disposing of waste chicken parts in an open mining pit. One of the individuals who lived in the area came before the Commission to protest was an elderly lady. I was impressed that at her age she would be so environmentally active, and I asked her, “When did you become so concerned about the environment?” She answered, “When the flies got so thick on my screen door that I couldn’t see out.” And then she hesitated…”and the smell was so bad….” I was stunned with her reply, because I’m a visual person who grew up around barn waste with plenty of flies, but when that little lady said “…Flies were so thick on my screen door I couldn’t see out” I could imagine not only the flies, but the smell. I guess the question is for you, the readers of this column, to answer, “Are you going to wait until you can’t see out the screen door for the flies to be active in trying to improve our environment? “
Yes, I have had a number of people say, “Richard, why waste your time!” I guess, I may be, but if I live long enough to see my great grandchildren have to live in an environmentally degraded world, and they ask me why did you let it happen, at least I can say, “I tried!” Will you be able to say the same thing?

138 Degrees in the Shade

138 Degrees in the Shade
August 1965, Libya
I’m near the end of my Benghazi, Libya assignment, and since I’m the senior geologist in the office, my job is to evaluate important wildcats being drilled by Esso Libya. It’s nine in the morning, and I’m waiting for an Alitalia a flight to Tripoli, where I can fly in an old DC-3 400 miles south to a remote site near the Algerian border. I’ll be on the rig in for at least two weeks, maybe longer if I’m held over.
Alitalia is right on time. My God, what a surprise.
We’re whizzing down the runway, and as the pilot takes off, I’m pulled back in my seat. Actually, I like the way Alitalia flies. It’s never just a slow roll down the taxiway, it’s a roaring almost a wheelie onto the runway, and it certainly isn’t dull.
It’s an hour later, and the pilot’s voice comes over the speaker.
“Please, be sure your seat belts are fasten; air brakes will be engaged shortly.”
Only seconds later, the plane shudders and pitches forward. This plane is going to come unglued one of these times—But not this time, I think, as we dip almost straight down with the flaps up to slow the plane’s descent.
There he is. A western-looking man is slouching against the wall with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, holding a scrawled sign on toilet paper that says, “Esso.” Another Aussie carrier pilot, I think.
“I’m the Esso guy,” I say.
“Oh, hello; I’m Reg. I’ll be flying you down.”
“I’m Richard.”
“Okay, Mate. Just follow me to the hanger, and we’ll be off. It’s about a two hour flight down there.”
We’ve been in the air for about an hour, and Be there in another 30 minutes, crosses my mind, and I have just finished reading the International Herald Tribune, when Reg opens the door to the cockpit and yells, “There’s a giblie going on down there, and I’m going to have to dip into it to see the rig!”
I look out the window, and I can see it’s a major sandstorm the Libyans call a giblie.
“I’m going to drop in real low,” he yells.
The plane bounces up about 15 feet, and a second later heads back down. My stomach is on the ceiling, and it’s not coming down. I’m wondering if the wings might come off.
For God’s sake, land!
“Can’t find the rig! Reg yells. “If I don’t see it in 15 minutes, I’ve got to head back to Tripoli—getting low on fuel!”
The plane drops lower until we are within a hundred feet of the ground, when Reg yells, “Oh, my god!” I look out to see us barely whizz over a 100-foot sand dune.
I’m passed being airsick, and now I’ll settle for a crash landing—anything to get off this plane. Reg is yelling, “I’m heading to Tripoli. We’re low on gas—but we should be able to make it.”
Should be? But as we pull up into smoother air I get some relief, but that doesn’t last very long.
“Oh, no! The giblie has moved north and the Tripoli airport has visibility of 100 meters,” yells Reg.
“What are you going to do?”
“We have to land—we’re out of fuel!”
Out of gas in the middle of a sandstorm with almost no visibility. Yeah, I’m praying, and my nose is stuck on the window looking for the ground.
“Hang on!—I see the runway—Damn!—there’s a bad crosswind! Ohooooo!”
A thought flashes: Well, we shouldn’t burn when we crash—we’re out of gas. I glance out and I see the runway. Yes! Yes! I’m elated, but the plane tilting, and I can hear Reg cursing as he tries to level it before our right wing hits the runway. Finally, I feel a wheel hit the runway—but it is only the right wheel of the landing gear.
Oh, God! Oh, God! We’re going to crash! We’re doing a wheelie down the runway with our right wing inches from hitting the asphalt. Finally, Yes! We bounce over and the left wheel hits so the plane goes into another wheelie. It is another 100 yards before the plane settles down and Reg guides it up to the hanger, as the engine coughs—out of gas.
I’m off the plane, and I want to kiss the ground. But Reg calmly lights a cigarette, and walks up. “Be back in the morning at nine, Mate, and we’ll give it another go.”
Hell, getting back on that plane is the last thing on my mind, but I want to keep my job, I’ll fly.
It is 9 o’clock the next morning, I’m back in that old DC-3, and minutes later Reg is flying me south. It’s a smooth flight, and we land about 100 yards from the location. The rig is a French rig they hauled in from Algeria, with a French and Libyan crew.
I’m off the plane—My God, it’s hot! I have never felt heat like what hit me when I got off the plane. A couple of guys walk out to meet the plane, and I know one of them is an American. He is the other American on the rig. I’m the geologist in charge of evaluating what we are drilling, and he is the Esso Engineer in charge of the actual drilling.
The American engineer walks up to meet me, wearing only khaki shorts, sandals, and a hard hat. We walk toward the camp and as we get to the communication trailer, I notice an old RC Cola temperature sign nailed to a post beside the door. The thermometer is at the maximum that could be recorded—120 degrees.
Before I left Benghazi, the district geologist told me this part of the Libyan Sahara Desert is an area of 100-foot high sand dunes that are a soft, sometimes middle shade of red from the iron oxide that is present in the sand, and the red color doesn’t reflect the heat, it absorbs it. That accounts for the record temperature of 138 degrees recorded near where we are drilling—a world record, and I’m thinking we might break the record as sweat runs down my cheeks
We walk to an air-cooled trailer that serves as our office, and strike up a conversation, “Hi, I’m Bill Sandifer. Where’s home?”
“Richard Mason—Arkansas.”
“Really, what part?” Bill gives me a funny look and a shake of the head.
“South Arkansas, little town near El Dorado; you’ve probably never heard of it.”
“Huh?—near El Dorado?—I’ll bet I have. What its name?”
“Norphlet.” There’s a few seconds of stunned silence as Bill finally says, “You’re kidding!
I graduated from Norphlet High School in 1950!”
Bill is five years older than I am, so I didn’t know him in school.
We are on French drilling rig 800 miles southwest of Benghazi, Libya, in the most remote place I have ever been, and we are the only two Americans within hundreds of miles and of both graduated from Norphlet High School. Yes, those are lottery odds.

Breaking the Rules

Breaking the Rules
Benghazi, Libya, May 1964
The Beaver has just dropped me off at Santa Fe Rig 2. It’s a new location only 10-miles from the new Esso port of Marsa Brega, and I’m not wasting any time hanging around the rig today. They won’t even start drilling for another 24 hours, so I’m heading down to the coast to see some of the German fortifications left over from World War II.
I just passed a little ridge overlooking the main coast road, and there are at least three fortified, sandbagged areas where German machinegun placement have been, and there are stacks of land-mines and jerry cans everywhere.
It is about 3 o’clock and I am about to turn around and head back to the rig when I see something strange on the side of a low cliff. As I get closer, I realize it is the remains of a biplane. It had crashed and burned, and as I look at the wreck of the old World War I Biplane, I’m guessing it’s Italian, and then not twenty yards away I see a German Jerry can. The history of the country sometimes overwhelms me.

It’s late in the afternoon, and I decide to stop by the Esso camp at Marsa Brega for dinner. Yeah, there’s the dining hall. I walk up to what looks like a dining hall, and poke my head in. Hey, there’s Sidney Sorenson one of the Aussie Pilots. I’ll join him.
“Hi Sid. Mind if I join you?”
“Have a seat, Mate. What are you doing here in Brega?”
“Oh, I’m on a rig about ten-miles up the road, and I thought I’d get some decent grub before I drive back. You’re usually not in Brega, either. What are you flying?”
“They switched me off Beavers to that DC-3 out on the runway. I’ll be in and out of here nearly every day for a while.”
The waiter has just placed a nice steak in front of me. I’m thinking how good it is, and about to leave, but something just crosses my mind. I turn back and sit down beside Sid.
“Sid, do you ever have any extra room on the plane?”
“Yeah, every day, mate. We never have more than a couple of guys. The plane is mostly for cargo.”
“What if a young lady just happened to be at the airport a few days from now? Do you think you might give her a lift?”
Sid is smiling, and I know those risk-taking Aussies won’t turn down something like that.
“Well, sure, but how are you going to get the word to your wife?”
“If you have a few minutes, I’ll write her a note, and tell her to meet you at the dispatcher’s office next Monday. What time do you leave Benghazi?”
“Just a little later than the Beavers you guys fly in and out of the desert— around eight-thirty.”
“Great; I’ll tell her just to get on the DC-3, with you, and no one will ever know—or care.”
“You got it, Richard. Write the letter.”
A few minutes later, and Sid has an invitation to Vertis.
“Here Sid; the dispatcher will get it to her.”
“Okay, will do, and when we’re in the air, I’ll radio you an ETA. Pick her up out on the runway. No sense in having the folks in this office wondering what a woman is doing here.”
“Gotcha. I’ll be by the radio Monday morning waiting for your call.”
The first week of this assignment is dragging because I have Vertis’s visit on my mind, but it’s Monday, and now she should be on her way. I have just left the communication’s trailer, heading for Marsa Brega, after Sid gave me an ETA of 9:32. I’m dropping down toward the coast now, and I can see the two dozen scattered houses. I guess about 50 people live here year-round, loading the tankers and serving as a supply point for rigs in the desert.
I stop at the edge of the runway waiting on the plane, and start looking for the DC-3. There it comes, crosses my mind, as see a DC-3 dropping like a rock for an approach. Yeah, it’s Sid all right. I start my Land Rover and get ready to drive out on the runway. Is she going to be on the plane? Of course, Vertis knows it’s against company policy for her to even fly on the cargo plane, and it sure is against the rules for her to accompany me to a remote camp in the desert and spend the night at one of the drill-sites.
I’m waiting on the edge of the airstrip in my Land Rover with the motor running, and I watch as Sid pulls up short of the hanger, and the side cargo door opens. Yes, she’s on the plane! I roar out to the runway, and Vertis hops out of the DC-3, just as I pull up.
“Hey, need a ride?” I yell. Vertis jumps into my Land Rover, and we head for the desert. I’m sure the folks waiting for the plane to pull up to the unloading dock wonder what’s happening.
“Richard, I can’t believe you pulled this off,” Vertis says as we drive along. “Aren’t you
afraid you’ll get in trouble?”
“Naaaa, they need geologists in the worst way, and true love sometimes does some unusual things,” I say back.
“You mean true lust.”
We both laugh, and since we are almost newlyweds, we don’t even think about the consequences of violating company rules. Heck, I’m thinking, they won’t fire me. They need wellsite geologists—but it will be a written reprimand—won’t look to good on my record—ah, forget it.
“How was the flight down?” I ask.
“Not bad; a little bumpy, and Sid made me nervous when he dipped in and dropped like a rock to the runway.”
“Yeah, that’s the way Sid always comes in. He was an Aussie carrier pilot before he started flying for Esso Libya.”
“One other little thing; I fastened my seat belt when we took off, and after we landed I stood up and the belt came with me. It wasn’t attached to the plane.”
We pull up to the rig, and Vertis, with her long, blonde hair, causes quite a stir among the crew, but the tool-pusher and other Americans on the rig are my friends, and everyone thinks it’s a fun thing to do. I even take Vertis to the dining hall that night for dinner, and she is literally the belle of the ball. It is after dinner now, and we’re going to have a romantic reunion in my trailer.
It’s the next morning, and we’re heading back to Marsa Brega where Vertis can catch the DC-3 back to Benghazi. Sid taxies out to the end of the runway and kills the engine on the side of the plane where the cargo door is located. That’s my signal to drive out to the plane and deliver Vertis. A quick kiss, Vertis hops on the plane, and I’m smiling as I stand there beside the Land Rover.

A Heathly Ecosystem

A Healthy Ecosystem
In past columns I’ve mentioned the more exciting wildlife in our state such as cougars and bears, but what about ordinary group of animals and birds we see almost daily, or did see almost daily? Without a doubt, we are the ones who decide what animals, birds or reptiles live in our state, and which ones to eliminate because we think they are a nuisance or dangerous. I guess our grandfathers, who exterminated all the wolves, cougars, and almost all the bears would say good riddance. But is it really a good thing to kill off a species? We have caused huge numbers of animals, birds, etc. to become extinct, and we took the millions of buffalo down to 26 before we stopped the slaughter. Can you imagine, when the transcontinental railroad was completed, passengers could ride along and shoot buffalo from the train? Just for the sport of killing some large animal. Well, the passenger pigeon wasn’t as lucky, and the estimated billion birds were killed down to the last bird, which died in a zoo.
We have matured in our management of wildlife, but we’re not there yet. I had a man working for me doing yard work and other odd jobs, and I had noticed a number of black snakes and king snakes on our property. I said, “C. D. let’s don’t just kill every snake you see. A lot of those snakes are eating mice and other pests.” Well, C. D. just shook his head and said, “Mr. Mason, I don’t trust none of ‘em.” C. D. has retired now, and I have adopted a “Don’t kill anything you’re not going to eat” on my property, and that includes copperheads. I know a copperhead can kill you, but I don’t remember anyone dying, and during that time a lot of folks were killed by lightering strikes. I guess I’m saying, “I’ll take the slight risk in order to keep the ecosystem intact around my house. I live on 37 acres with two small ponds and only my house on the front of the property. I think animals have developed a sense of safety on this land. A doe had twins in our courtyard not ten yards from my front door, and last night, just at dusk, I drove down my driveway and spooked a herd of deer. Seven to ten—maybe more. When the raccoons and possums hear my sliding glass door open from the kitchen after dinner, they are almost standing in line to nibble the scraps. We’ve picked up a family of red-tail hawks over the past couple of years, which I’m sure the squirrels don’t like, but they are holding down the squirrel and rat population really well. Maybe I’m getting the reputation of being to animal friendly because Canadian geese are starting to show up in my backyard around my small pond, and a tree on a small island in my lower pond has become an egret roost.
But some parts of my Arkansas ecosystem are missing. Up until about 10 years ago I had a nice covey of quail, but slowly, without a quail being shot, they have disappeared. The two small ponds, open areas around the tree line, and the abundance of grasses with seed are excellent quail habitat. Yes, and I know from talking to hunters and others who regularly spend time in the field and woods of our state, that the sighting a cougar happens about as frequently as kicking up a covey of quail.
I’ve quoted the legendary Chief of the Seattle Indians several times before in my columns, but I’ll do it one more time because this one really needs his wisdom. “Man is merely part of the web of life,…” uh, huh you know the rest. Yes, you might shake your head when you look at my backyard where the armadillos have rooted up the grass, but they have also cleaned out the fire ants, so I’ll take the bad with the good.
Of course, every time I mention Arkansas needs to have a complete, viable ecosystem, someone will always say we need to shoot every coyote we see. “They get the young deer.” Now really folks, anyone who think the zillions of deer we have in this state are in any danger of being reduced by coyotes should just take a look at my back yard around dusk. Studies have shown coyotes basically have a diet of small animals. When the numbers of deer in the state are considered, coyotes are an insignificant factor. However, if coyotes were allowed to multiply, they would help control the out-of-control spread of possums, raccoon, and other small animals.
Then maybe we could see our quail make a comeback. Yes, I know the old “loss of habitat’ story and it sound good, but it doesn’t hold water. What happened to my covey of quail? And what happened to the thousands of other coveys that have disappeared? Of course, we have lost habitat, but we still have millions of acres of prime habitat without one quail. Why? It’s sure not from overhunting, so what is the cause? I think we should look at the ecosystem and see what is different when compared to the quail we had in the 1950s and 60s. First, the net additions to our ecosystem: Feral hogs, armadillos, raccoons, possums, fire ants, and skunks. What do these animal have in common, and why did they multiply in our ecosystem to become such large numbers? The answer is very simple: Nature abhors a vacuum, and over the past 75 years, we have created a vacuum in our ecosystem and today it has been filled by those additions I just mentioned. Of course, it’s easy to see how the vacuum was created. We killed off all the predators that kept the ecosystem in balance and the vacuum was filled with the animals listed above. Those animals have several things in common, and the most obvious is they are ground-feeding scavengers that will eat just about anything. Which brings us full circle to look at the most obvious missing parts of our ecosystem. Yes, of course, it’s the quail and this is the easy part of the eco-equation. Why? Well, “ground-feeding scavengers” feed on almost anything edible and small quail chicks and eggs are gobbled up eliminating our quail. The answer is as Chief Seattle would counsel is to repair the web, and then the quail will return. Look, I know I have said this several times, but unless we add predators of ground feeding scavengers to our wildlife mix, we will have less of an ecosystem here in Arkansas, and why we’re adding stop eliminating any animal that feeds on these scavenges, and that means stop shooting the coyotes, bobcats, hawks, and owls. Do away with the ill throughout bear season, set a moratorium on cougars and wolves, then maybe we will see the web of nature repaired and our quail will return.
I’ll leave you with another environmental quote from Chief Seattle, “To harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.”

The Lady Be Good

The Lady-Be-Good
Midnight, August 15, 1964.
I’m 26 years old and in a hell of a mess. I’m lost in the middle of the Libyan Sahara Desert.
I steady myself on the top of my Land Rover, and look out over a barren wasteland from the crest of a 100’ tall sand dune and pray I’ll see something to point me in the direction of the camp at Rig 2, I left 12 hours earlier.
Surely to God, I’m not lost, flashes through my mind. But now, as the dusty blackness closes in around me, I know I’m lost. Not only am I lost, but I am in the middle of a sandstorm, and all I have with me is a canteen of water, a sandwich, and my Land Rover is about out of gas.
How did I let myself get in this mess? I have been driving across this desert for month.
I think back on a day without a hint of a problem. Up at 5 o’clock and head to the drilling rig to look at the samples. The driller hollers at me, “Ain’t seen nothin’ but old black shale.”
My work for the day will take 20 minutes, and that’s when an idea crosses my mind and I walk over to talk with Clyde McFarland, the tool-pusher.
“Hey, Clyde! How far is it to Kufra?”
Kufra is an oasis in the Desert, and it was the staging point for the British Long Range Desert Group in the World War II. I’ll be a tourist and see if the Brits or Rommel left anything of interest.
Clyde yells back, “’Bout two hours—due east, but watch out for land mines. Last week one of ‘em got an Italian Jeep and killed the geologist drivin’ it.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. I’ll watch out when I get close to the oasis.”
“Well, you’ll be okay once you get to the oasis… Shoot, if you get to Kufra, you oughta go see the old Lady-Be-Good, the World War II, B-24 bomber that got off course after a bombin’ raid and landed in the desert.
“How far is it from Kufra?”
“”Bout an hour south. You won’t have no trouble findin’ it.”
I set my compass, and soon I’m driving east toward Kufra across open desert. As I get closer to the oasis, I drive by stacks of land mines are piled up on the edges of the landing strip. They aren’t even rusty. Before the War, a tribe would move from place to place with the elders leading them. After losing a few elders to mines, the tribes started sending the camels and women out front.
I continue past the airfield toward the oasis, where I park near a group of men sitting near a water well.
“Kaifa al-haak?” I say as I walk up. That’s one of the few Arabic phrases I know; a greeting that means, “Hello, how are you?”
The men all stand and greet me, spewing out Arabic that I don’t understand. Finally, one of the younger men steps forward and speaks in fairly, good English.
After a few pleasantries, I ask directions to the Lady-Be-Good. As soon as I say, Lady Be Good, everyone points south and chatters away in Arabic. But before I can get in my Land Rover, a lunch invitation comes from the young man. I look over across from the well where there’s a tent, and a steaming pot over a low fire. They have made an invitation I can’t refuse. It will be an insult to the tribe if I turn them down.
“Na-rhan, shukran,” which means, “Yes, thank you,” and I follow the men over to a steaming bowl of couscous that has been spiced up with chopped lamb, camel, and parsley. Then we all sit on the ground cross-legged around the bowl, everyone takes flat bread, and we reach into the steaming bowl of couscous, dip, and begin to eat. Finally, after we finish, everyone accompanies me to my Land Rover, and I head south following some obvious tracks.
In a little over an hour I top a rise and there, sitting in front of a low sand dune, is one of the strangest sights I have ever seen. An American B-24, World War II bomber, the Lady-be-Good, is sitting there looking as if it has just landed. The plane, which looks intact from the outside, is completely stripped inside of anything that can be unbolted or prized off.
After a few minutes of walking around the plane, I climb into the cockpit, then look into the interior, and I’ve seen all there is to see. I think about what the men faced when they scrambled out of the plane. In 1959, they found the remains of the crew. They had tried to walk to Kufra.
I set my compass northwest, and after an hour of driving, I know the rig should be 20 miles ahead, but the wind is picking up, and soon it is blowing some 30 mph. It is a giblie as the Libyans call these sandstorms, and the sand and dust drops the visibility to zero. Hours later, it’s dark, and I still haven’t found the rig, and I began to worry about running out of gas. I drive up a big sand dune and climb up on the top of the car. I’ve been standing on top of my Land Rover for about 15 minutes, trying to see a glow in the night sky, which would be the gas flares at Zelten, the ESSO Camp.
What am I going to do? crosses my mind as I yank the door open and settle into my seat.
This is one of those moments, when you wonder how someone from Norphlet, a small, oil-field town in South Arkansas, winds up lost in the Libyan Desert. The fate of the The Lady Be Good crew flashes in my mind again, as I lean back in the seat to wait out the giblie. The wind is rocking the Land Rover and in a few minute I’m asleep. It seems as if I’ve been sleeping for several hours when something happens, and I sit up startled. No wind! I jump out of the Land Rover, and the first thing I see are the Zelten flares. I’m less than a mile from the ESSO Camp, and the burning gas is so bright it’s like daylight. I can’t believe I was so close to Zelten, and couldn’t see the flares. In a few minutes I’m at the camp to spend rest of the night in the crew quarters.
Morning comes quickly, and I soon I’m driving across the desert again to be back to rig two for my morning report.
“Mason here, Gerhard; Rig 2 report, ninety eight seventy-five T. D. made 365’ Heira Shale, black shale, no shows. Over.”
“Mason, where the hell have you been? George was about to send out search parties. Over.”
“Went over to Zelten to pick up some supplies and got caught in a giblie. Over”
“….Okay,… but keep in touch better. Over.”
No, I don’t think Esso needs to know the details.

Jobs, But Not Just Any Job

Jobs, But Not Just Any Job
Of course, there is a reoccurring need in our state for jobs and as more and more folks enter the marketplace it is important we have work for them. However, it is my opinion that our fair state has never seen a job it didn’t like, and yes, of course, there are bad jobs. Well, are we are still recruiting bad jobs? Hey, you bet we are! This ain’t Vermont. It can be a hog farm on the Buffalo Watershed or a polluting Chinese Pulp Mill or a maximum security prison. “Bring “um on if they create jobs, seems our goal.
During the six years I served on what was then the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, many times the question, when a potentially threat to the environment came up when considering a permit, the question was, “How many jobs will that create?” Not “How will this plant or permit impact our environment?” In the past, and sadly even today, any job created in the state is welcomed with open arms. A lot of these jobs here today came to our state because we had and still have lax environmental regulations.
Well, times have changed in our country, but has our state changed, or do we still have the old mantra, there are no bad jobs? Let’s consider a few facts for a moment. Fact number one, the country is at full employment, and there are over 6,000,000 want ads out there looking for workers. In other words, if you have a pulse, you can find a job. Fact number two, there are good jobs to recruit and there are bad jobs. Fact number three, obviously, we should recruit just the good jobs, but we aren’t. First, let’s talk about what are bad jobs. I guess it’s a gimme to say that if a job has a negative impact on the air, water, and land in the state, it sure doesn’t come out as a job we want to recruit. Of course, the hog farm on the Buffalo River Watershed flashes before my eyes, but of course that not the only source of bad jobs. What about a Chinese pulp mill? You can’t process pulp without some pollution, and we already do our Nation’s share of pulp wood processing. The Chinese pulp mill is five miles from Arkadelphia, and unless the Chinese have come up with a non-polluting paper mill, you can’t process pulp without some pollution. Just for a moment visualize all those Chinese who wear masks because their air is so polluted, and then consider them building a pulp plant in Arkansas. Anyone who has been anywhere within 20 miles of a paper mill knows the smell. I’ve even smelled the mill near Pine Bluff in Little Rock, So when the fans sitting in the stands during the football “Battle for the Ravine” get a whiff of paper processing that will make them want to gag, will they just say, “Oh, wonderful. It smells like jobs and money!” No, at that moment most of the folks are going to say “stinking paper mill.” I think you get the idea. There are good jobs and a polluting plant’s jobs aren’t good jobs. I opposed that paper mill when Union County was in the running for the plant, and a few years back when Union County was close to getting a new maximum security prison, I and others opposed it.
I think you get the idea, but the more important point is what and where are the good jobs? The jobs we should go after. Let’s consider one more fact. There are thousands of skilled high-tech workers who live in mega-cities, and they want out. Some are looking to early retire and other have had the traffic, pollution, and the hectic 2 hour commutes have them looking to relocate. This is what they prefer. They want a smaller attractive town with a mild climate that offers them the amenities they have become accustom to having. The towns and states that attract these skilled individuals will be the towns and states that will prosper in the 21sr century.
However, the bad news is we have very few if any towns that have all of what these individuals want, but the good news is the items they want are the same things we want. These are the quality of life perks everyone wants. These skilled individuals have jobs and the last thing on their list is an empty industrial park. Actually, our state has dozens of vacant or near vacant industrial park that should be turned into a quality subdivision, which would be attractive to these skilled workers. But let’s cut to the chase. These skilled workers want good entertainment, quality restaurants, good schools, an attractive downtown, and a low crime rate. So let’s get after it and stop trying to win the jobs lottery, and cut out the junkets to China etc. if we really want to have a growing and vital town, we will spend what it takes to create these amenities, and use our resources wisely. If we don’t, many of our towns will slowly waste away until their schools close, and they are merged with a bigger school district. In a few years many of these towns will actually cease to exist. But there are ways to stem the outflow.
El Dorado, hired Roger Brooks, a destination expert from Seattle to turn the city around, and that is exactly what MAD, the Murphy Art’s District folks are trying to do. Mr. Brooks said, “If a town doesn’t become a destination for people to visit, it will slowly lose population and one day cease to exist.”
The results so far are encouraging. The opening of Phase One, the Griffin Restaurant, MAD Amphitheater, and MAD Music Hall drew crowds larger than the population of El Dorado, and these folks came from far and wide. Phase One is still a work in progress and the largest children’s PlayScape in the state will open on May 15th. Phase Two will add a new 8000 square foot art museum art with display arrangements from regional and national museums. The final part of the project will be the renovation of the crown jewel, the Rialto Theater, which will be a Lincoln Center quality Vaudeville and Broadway Play venue. MAD is the key to attract the skilled tech professional who will move to El Dorado, reverse the population drain, and, create jobs.
No, you’re right, every town in the state can’t be an entertainment destination, but our state has such an abundance of natural beauty that by focusing our efforts and building on that natural beauty, we could make our state truly the Natural State and thus provide many of the amenities these skilled workers are looking for. Yes, that would eliminate those junkets to China and Europe, and countless other lottery level pursuits we see our towns wasting money on. If we use our limited funds wisely to enhance our towns, we will not only attract these skilled workers who will create jobs, we will increase the quality of life for all of us.