Sunday, 5 November 2017

Week 57: (30th October to 5th November 2017) or 'Weighing up the week'

The silver horseshoe in the sky slowly abseils down a wall of stars. In a while, the horizon will unzip once more, dispersing a colourful steam across the sky like dyed perfume to paint the Earth once more. From this stream of colour, the clouds that live over Lancashire will take their straws to the dark greys, lapping it up until the sky is full of lead.

And so it was, on one particular morning this week. I was sitting under some of this lead waiting for a train to whisk me south. Though others also waited around me, we were all lost in the labyrinths of our own thoughts. (I was musing over a sign I had read in my taxi stating that the soiling charge was £75, and wondering how to release the word 'soil' from its prison of negativity). And then, in that unique yet inevitable way a chord of activity can strike whilst travelling, a figure emerged before me. Though he didn't speak, his appearance translated his predicament to me perfectly well. He was about 30, and his was a life of drama. Which props had been used in the most recent episodes of this drama? Not a sink, that's for sure. I was doubtful about a pillow too. But certainly, somewhere along the way, a bottle opener. He slunk into the chair next to me and loudly exhaled as if to eject the troubles from his mind. 
Moments later, a trio of police officers descended to the platform. They approached the man without the look of urgency usually reserved for the most dangerous of suspects but still with an essence of displeasure. 
"Can you tell me where you're travelling to?" one of the officers began. There was no intelligible answer, apart from a slurry of words slipping over the tongue. It was if his very vocabulary had been diluted in a flood of alcohol. Eventually, a 'baa' and a 'row' crept out. Barrow in Furness. 
It transpired after lengthy interrogation that, in the course of the night, he had struggled his way across the railway tracks, an offence which would eventually carry a fine but in the meantime, a ban from travelling by train so very quickly the police scooped him up from the platform. For a while, though, it troubled me; the officers hadn't asked him why. What seed of woe had germinated this state of mind within him? Somewhere, the manipulative tentacles of some heavy burden had pulled out the rational reasoning from inside him. As he ascended back up the steps, he did so sluggishly as if he was hauling an ever growing load of troubles, which in a sense, was true. 
We all carry some measure of burden; the daily toils are as important to the human experience as water is for tea. If there really is some 'weight on our shoulders', even if it's the weight of the world, it's alas a mass that will never be numerically described. The only scales we have are the few moments of introspection that we are sometimes afforded at the end of the day; in the stillness before slumber, when our conscience is weighed.

Luckily, within the Earth Sciences, the measurement of mass is a more precise endeavour and in Soil Science it’s one of the first processes a sample goes through during the experimental period. For my samples, the mass of the soil, together with its volume, will indicate its relative density. In time, as more of my samples are sent through this procedure, I will begin to establish how the density of soil changes down the profile; establishing whether the use of heavy farm machinery has compacted the surface horizons is one such line of enquiry.

And so, a bag is unsealed, its contents are placed in a foil tray, measured on a mass balance, poured back into a bag and resealed. Then, a bag is unsealed, its contents are placed in a foil tray, measured on a mass balance, poured back into a bag and resealed. After this, I take a bag, unseal it, place its contents in a foil tray, measure it on a mass balance, pour it back in a bag and reseal it. On and on and on this cycle persists, never deviating nor embellishing. The only aspect of the project which dares to surprise, the one unpredictability within a web of constants, is the mass of the soil itself.


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