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7. Footprint: The soul of the geologic – 20/11/2011

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I arrive at the quarry around 1.30pm, having just come from Trewidden Garden near Penzance, where I was completing the finishing touches on a granite and bronze sculpture commission for the Bolitho family. I walk into the ‘crib hut’ to have a cup of tea and a chat, before heading down to the sludge beach to dip my toes in.

The conversation moves to Tim’s schedule and to the fact that he’s running out of time to get some granite sawn for Ernie the mason to work on at home. The pieces that have already been sawn have so many cracks they are not worth using. I sense I could be useful this afternoon, and I offer to work on the saws – possibly compromising the clarity with which I am able to consider the issue of growing and recombinant geologies. Tim says how grateful he would be if I could just clear the saw of the faulty slab, and run off a few post supports. He asks if it’ll be okay to do this for him, as he knows I am there to take photographs; ‘I’ll sort you out’, he says, meaning he’ll pay me for the extra work, but I am not bothered, he does enough favours for me. So I get to work on clearing the saw bed and loading on the new slab for the post supports. Half an hour later I am done, the saw is doing its thing, and I go down to the bottom of the quarry to search around for a route to the beach. This is not going to be easy.

While I am scrambling around, doubts emerge about whether I put in the right measurements on the saw. I go back up to the top of the quarry to the saw shed, and check that all is well. All is well. Back down the quarry and more rummaging through dense bramble and buddleia cover. I am coming to the conclusion that I may need a dinghy to get to the beach. I ponder my dual roles at the quarry as sawman and researcher, where a reciprocating sensuality generates deeper knowledge. Working through the two merged roles, trying to work out how best to think and write the sludge. I know I have to go back up and turn the saw table round ninety degrees to finish the blocks off, so I can’t really get too involved in finding a route and following it through. I have almost given up anyway.

At the top of the quarry again, I set the saw going on its final run and then go back down, rather despondently. Then I spot a gap in the buddleia, where a short climb over piled up boulders seems to provide access. Other routes are too risky, presenting the threat of rock slides. My chosen route still has the potential for a calamity, but to a lesser degree. Camera in bag, I descend, over mossy rocks and under tree branches, towards the water’s edge. Moving over the partly submerged rocks I begin to think about those people ranging across the Formby mud flats four thousand years ago. In what sense is my activity related to theirs? A footprint that lasts for thousands of years, that is just  flicker in the scales of the geologic.

Focus. Don’t fall in. Don’t dislodge a big rock. Get to the destination, do your thing and get out of there. Well, there might be similarities. But really I am aiming to make a footprint, that is my goal. They were most probably not aiming to make footprints, not thinking about how geological processes might bring it about that the marks in the mud would still be around in several thousand years. I consider the physical action of pressing my foot into soft matter – whatever my motivation, a mark is made, and it will have a life of its own. Anyway, the beach. I get there.

I stand on the beach in my steel-toe-capped boots.

There is a thin layer of leaves on the surface of the skirt of sludge that fans out into the sump pond. I move my boot up and down and the sludge ripples; it is fluid. I press down harder and it is resilient, resistant. It seems to have strange quicksand-like properties. My boot is quickly submerged and I know my time on this embankment will be necessarily short. I take off my boot and sock, press my bare foot into the sludge with its leaf and moss covering, and try to make my mark. There, a clear footprint.

The edges of the print gradually close in, erasing the surface trace. I look around. I am very nearly at the bottom of the quarry and it seems different from here. I see how the rock face is arranged in layers. Then there are the recent deposits of granite infill dumped into the sump and levelled off, forming a new storage yard for high quality rough block. This infill is taking up some of Tim’s sump capacity that is pumped up and used to lubricate the saws; if too much sludge continues to settle in the sump then eventually there will be no room for the water. This has resulted in the need for sludge ‘settling tanks’ to be built further up the line, to stop the sludge from finding its way down to the bottom of the quarry.

Then there are the benches of Buckle and Twist waiting to be blasted.

The 7000 tonnes.

The sheered faces where granite has been and gone, and the corvids move through stolen space.

Up to the raggedy gorse outline that meets the jet stream-ing in from Culdrose.

I retrace my route back over the boulders, and pull myself up through the branches and back up onto the road. Chuffed, I am. Task complete. Back in one piece with camera un-dunked. At first I thought of all the plants growing up and between the rocks as obstructions, but I now think they stabilise the slopes and make it safer. No one spotted me with a bare foot submerged in the sludge either, as I would likely fall prey to some of Ernie’s notable ability to ridicule.

I go back up to sort out the saw.

I put the sawn blocks on a pallet ready to be loaded into Ernie’s van, wash the saw and put the waste in the bin that goes to fill more of the sump. I see Ernie. He’s not feeling great and so we walk back to the crib hut and he has a cup of tea and a few pain killers; he’ll carry on working nonetheless. I load the blocks into Ernie’s van by hand, and head home.

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