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Comments for Shooting Polaris

Shooting PolarisShooting Polaris: 10/01/07

The second book I read this summer for my participation in this November's Nanowrimo is a memoir of a man who worked on a survey team in Utah. Shooting Polaris begins with John Hales's first summer as a novice flag man on a government survey team in the 1970s.

Hales outlines how he learned the ins and outs of surveying and the culture that has arisen out of the Public Land Survey System of surveying as mandated by Thomas Jefferson. Surveying under the PLSS is not about describing lines and boundaries as they exist naturally on the land, it is about creating boundaries according to the mathematical certainly of line. The bulk of the United States regardless of the changing landscape is divided up into 6 mile townships.

Hales was part of a team to go through the roughest areas of the Utah wilderness to resurvey the area. As a flag man he was sent scrabbling up mountains, down ravines and through unforgiving landscape to plant his flag on Line as directed.

During his summer tenure on the team the technology changed from physical lengths of wire to the precursors of modern computerized surveying equipment. The new equipment while more accurate is more prone to damage. Hale argues that today's equipment removes the surveyor's ability to see himself in the universe.

To explain why he feels a disconnect with the modern equipment, Hales explains the evolution of the equipment and process from the time Wyld wrote The Practical Surveyor, through the equipment he learned on, up to modern times. This timeline was my favorite part of the book.

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