Friday, May 30, 2008

Totally Naked Geology

All geology students are required to take a course called Field Geology. I took mine near Batesville, Arkansas where I learned how to use an alidade, brunton compass and map surface formations. The real purpose of the course, I learned much latter, is to immerse aspiring students of geology in the sight, taste, and smell of the earth.

Like every other profession, geology is mostly male dominated. That said, there are many excellent females in the business. Geologists are all a weird bunch (myself included) and female geologists seem to take this trait at least one step further.

What I mean is, don’t argue with a female geologist about anything unless you have your facts down pat. If you don’t, be prepared for an ass kicking. All female geologists have minds of their own, and beware the fool. Here is a story told to me by the former head of the University of Missouri geology department that exposes my point. Well, something gets exposed here.

Missouri’s field camp one summer had twenty-five males and only one female geology student. The camp was in the foothills of Colorado where the summers are always hot. Mid-afternoon, all the male geology students would doff their shirts while out in the field, mapping the local geology.

This went on for a week or so and it apparently played on their female counterpart’s psyche. She must have thought about it because one day when they began taking off their shirts, she doffed her own, bra included. Did I mention that she was quite attractive?

The students were spread out across the mountainous terrain, but news of their female counterpart’s topless display spread quickly, resulting in lots of ogling, staring at her through their alidades, and moving their stations closer to get a better look. Lady Geologist didn’t mind the attention and continued doing her job as if nothing had changed.

Once wasn’t enough but the novelty of Lady Geologist’s nudity wore off with her male counterparts before very long. When summer camp ended, she had a pretty good tan, and all the male students had new respect and understanding concerning the weaker sex.

Geologists, as I’ve mentioned, are a strange bunch. Nothing was ever said, or made, of Lady Geologist’s nudity and none of the professors running the camp reprimanded her for her actions. They already knew about female geologists and realized that she was just demonstrating that she could do anything that the boys could do.

http://www.ericwilder.com

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wildcatter's Son

Many memorable characters searched for black gold in early-Oklahoma, but none more colorful than Tom Slick. Slick came from the oil fields of Pennsylvania to drill for oil in Oklahoma. He was a true “wheeler dealer,” finding new and innovative ways of securing leases from reluctant mineral owners and raising money from investors. Most of all, he had a special knack for finding oil.

Tom Slick, Sr. earned the title, King of the Wildcatters, when he drilled the discovery well for the giant Cushing Field in 1912. He died at the age of forty-six, but not before selling his Oklahoma holdings to Prairie Oil and Gas Company for – what was at the time – a vast sum of money. He left fifteen million dollars to his son, Tom Slick, Jr., who by all accounts was perhaps even more colorful than his father.

Tom, Jr. also led an interesting life and knew many celebrities on a first-name basis. Among them were Howard Hughes and Jimmy Stewart. During his life, he founded Slick Oil, Slick Airways, Texstar, Transworld Resources and two research institutes. His passion, however, was the study of cryptids – creatures unknown to science.

Tom, Jr. financially backed expeditions to find Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, though perhaps his search for the Abominable Snowman is the most bizarre. He financed an expedition to Tibet, supposedly in search of Yeti. The expedition coincided with the invasion of Tibet by the Chinese and the ouster of the Dalai Lama. Supposedly, Tom, Jr. worked with the CIA and helped spirit the Dalai Lama out of Tibet before the Chinese could capture him. Tom, Jr. died in a plane crash in 1962 after losing most of his fortune.

http://www.ericwilder.com

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Hit Me Again, Bartender

I’m a bourbon drinker and after reading Eric Felten’s recent bourbon taste test I decided to do one of my own. My study falls far short of being scientific. I only had four different brands of bourbon whiskey in my liquor cabinet and these are the four that I compared.

I’m a Jack Daniel’s drinker and have been for many years. Marilyn has always liked Weller’s, a scarce commodity lately because, according to Darla, our local liquor store manager, the Chinese are buying up every bottle they can find. This is the reason that I had these two brands readily on hand. I had the other two brands for completely different reasons.

As you have probably already guessed, I’m an avid reader of Eric Felten’s column How’s Your Drink that appears every Saturday in the Wall Street Journal. He is witty, insightful and always tells a good story. When he picked Evan Williams as his favorite less-expensive Kentucky whiskey, I bought a bottle to check it out. While I was at the liquor store I also purchased a very inexpensive bottle of Early Times simply because it was the first whiskey I had ever tasted.

I quickly turned my nose up at the Early Times and was ready to proclaim Felten crazy after drinking several rounds of the Evan Williams. While I like Weller’s a lot, Jack Daniels is by far my favorite. Hmm! I thought. I know that it’s not likely but maybe, just maybe I have a built in bias. I decided to find out.

I labeled the bottom of four 1-ounce paper cups (probably not a perfect container but the only thing that I had four of) and filled them with the bourbons. Marilyn assisted me in my experiment, mixing up the cups so that I wouldn’t know which was which, and then handing them to me one at a time. Having no idea how I should rate them, I decided on four characteristics: 1) flavor, 2) aroma, 3) sweetness and 4) presence of any harshness, edge, or unpleasant aftertaste. I gave the first two traits a numerical value between one and ten with ten being my favorite. Here is my unexpected result:

Weller’s Flavor – 9; Aroma – 9; Sweetness – yes; other – smooth with no aftertaste, unpleasant or otherwise.

Evan Williams Flavor – 9; Aroma – 9; Sweetness - only slightly; other – just a hint of harshness.

Early Times Flavor – 8; Aroma – 6; Sweetness – no; other – no harshness or aftertaste.

Jack Daniel’s Flavor – 6; Aroma – 6; Sweetness – no; other – had an indescribable under taste, almost unnoticeable but not pleasant


What does all this mean? Probably that Marilyn, the Chinese and Eric Felten all know more about liquor than me, but heck, I already knew that. I still like Jack Daniel’s the best and maybe it’s just an acquired taste. If that’s the case then that’s all right too. I intend to keep drinking Black Jack, or else have someone mix the drink for me and tell me it’s Jack Daniel’s. After two drinks I’m sure that I want know the difference anyway, or care.

http://www.ericwilder.com

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Crawfish Pie

Crawfish pie is a Lousiana dish immortalized in the Hank Williams song Jambalaya. I found this recipe for crawfish pie in the French Acadian Cook Book published in 1955 by the Louisiana Acadian Handicraft Museum, Inc., Jennings, Louisiana. The person submitting the recipe is Gene Knobloch of Thibodaux, Louisiana and he offers this expert advice:

This is a basic recipe. To be a good Creole cook you must be original and you must have a good imagination. So throw in anything your good judgement tells you, even the kitchen stove if necessary.

P.S. – If you do not eat crawfish (shame on you) you may substitute shrimp.

3 cups cooked crawfish, tails and fat
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
3 cups cooked rice
4 yolks hard boiled eggs
1 ¼ cups of water 2 or 3 slices, well buttered bread
¼ cup minced celery Olive oil or other shortening
½ small green pepper, minced
Salt, black pepper, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, pimientos
1 bunch shallots, chopped fine
1 bay leaf

Saute in olive oil or other shortening, celery, shallots and sweet pepper, about five minutes. Add crawfish tails and fat, saute about 5 minutes longer. Salt and pepper to taste, add a few dashes of Tabasco sauce. Mix this with cooked rice, add water, mushroom soup, bay leaf. Add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. Test for salt and pepper.

Pour entire mixture into a greased baking dish. Grate egg yolks of the top. Remove the crust from the slices of bread, cut each slice into four triangles. Arrange triangles in a circle on top of mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until mixture is toroughly heated and bread is toasted. Garnish with pimientos. Serves about eight. Present with gusto.

http://www.ericwilder.com/

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Bertram Picou's Red Beans and Rice

Bertram Picou is a character in my novel Big Easy. Like many Southerners, Bertram Picou served in the Army and did his basic training at Fort Polk in Leesville, Louisiana. The Fort is the subject of Tigerland, a gritty but powerful movie starring Colin Farrell. It’s probably the best movie Farrell ever did and you might want to check it out. Anyway, the place was a hell hole and some say the chances of becoming killed or wounded were greater there than in Vietnam.

Rutted dirt roads, tracts of heavily forested land that had never seen a chain saw, miles of seemingly endless rifle ranges, and swamps so murky and misty that they looked like the backdrop of a Lon Chaney horror film, comprised Fort Polk. Alligators, armadillos, water moccasins and frightened, pissed-off young G.I.’s, soon to be bound for Vietnam, populated the musty old Fort where fever and meningitus were everyday occurrences.

And it was hot and humid! The World War II-vintage barracks had no air conditioning in the summer and little insulation in the winter. A soldier’s day started at 4:30 AM with thirty minutes of physical training before breakfast. This was followed by more PT, a one to seven mile hike to the rifle range, orientation, target practice, a one to seven mile hike back to the barracks, more PT, then bed. Bertram lost forty-six pounds in six weeks at Fort Polk.

Some of the drill sergeants were mean, some practically psychotic. Nice wasn’t in their vocabulary. Bertram is the personification of the term laid-back, but two words can still evoke memories of distress and instantly raise his blood pressure and heart rate. Those two words — grease trap! If you ever spent any time in the Army, you probably know what I mean.

Food in the mess halls was simple but filling. All you could eat in fifteen minutes or so. They served red beans in abundance, and rice. Problem was, not together. Army regulation said you can’t have two starches on one plate. Good idea for the Army, bad idea for Bertram Picou who thinks RB&R should be part of the Government’s food pyramid (or whatever shape it is now!)
Bertram breathed a large sigh of relief when he finally got out of the Army. He cooks RB&R almost everyday at his bar on Chartres Street in New Orleans French Quarter and here is his personal recipe.

1 ½ lbs. dry red beans
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
½ green pepper, diced
1 red onion, sliced
½ tbsp. oil
10 c. water
1 veg. bouillon cube
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 ½ c. rice
3 c. water for rice

Soak beans overnight. Saute garlic, red onion, green pepper, celery in oil in large pot. Add 10 cups of water, vegetable bouillon cube, and beans. Let cook on medium flame until soft. Cook rice separately. When rice is done, serve topped with red beans.

http://www.ericwilder.com/

Monday, May 12, 2008

Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

As a longtime geologist, I’ve heard many oil patch stories, some true, some likely false. Here is a story I heard about the discovery of the El Dorado Pool, the largest oil field in Kansas. Believe it if you will. I don’t know the truth, just the story.

As I’ve mentioned before, many of the early, giant oil fields were found by mapping formations at the surface, then using the surface geology to interpret what is happening in the subsurface. During the early days of Kansas oil exploration, citizens in the town of El Dorado, a small community in the south-central part of the state, hired a University of Kansas geology professor to do a geologic survey around their town. What he mapped using surface geology was a huge anticline.

Excited by the results of the study, residents of El Dorado pooled their money and drilled a deep well at the site proposed by the University of Kansas professor. The test well was drilled and, to the dismay of El Dorado citizens, was dry as a proverbial bone. They sold the leases for pennies on the dollar to Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Company, the predecessor to Cities Service Oil Company. The Kansas professor, like so many would-be oil finders after him, became the reviled scapegoat.

ITIO had geologists of their own at the time and was unconvinced that the dry hole was a legitimate test of the huge surface feature. They risked their money, bought the leases and drilled a well of their own — the result the discovery well for the giant El Dorado Field.

The El Dorado Field is the largest oil field in the State of Kansas and has ultimately produced more than 40 million barrels of oil. To this day, the only dry hole in the field is the original well drilled there by the citizens of El Dorado and the hapless University of Kansas geologist.

What happened? — An extraordinary stroke of bad luck. The people of El Dorado drilled down a vertical fault plane — the only place they could have drilled and not hit a producer. Fact or fiction?

Like all history, I suspect, as my Grandmother used to say, that it lies somewhere between the Devil and the deep blue sea.

http://www.ericwilder.com

Sunday, May 11, 2008

South of Weslaco

I graduated from college in 1969 and took a job mudlogging for a Texas company named Core Lab. The second well I sat was near the south Texas town of Weslaco. The well was a joint venture between Shell and Texaco and on its way to a depth of 13,500'.

Since this was only my second well, a senior mudlogger, Jack Bowie, was assigned to show me the ropes. Jack was as colorful as his name and show me the ropes he did. I would work the well site from seven in the morning until seven at night. Jack would usually spend the day doing other things and would check on me around quitting time when another mudlogger spelled us for the night.

Weslaco was very close to the Mexican border town of Reynosa. Usually Jack and I would leave the location and drive to Reynosa where the food, fun and drink were cheap. We often stayed out until the wee morning hours before returning to our motel rooms to clean up and then go back to the drilling well.

The well was a wildcat. That means it was more than a mile from the nearest producing well. The well was wild for more reasons than that. We were drilling through an extremely thick sequence of alternating sand and shale called the Frio. As close as we were to the Gulf of Mexico, the stratum was unconsolidated and we penetrated 300 feet or so ever hour. And there was gas, lots of gas, coming up out of the hole.

The gas and unconsolidated strata had caused problems on the well since the day it began drilling. The hole was crooked, dog-legged we called it, and there had been problems cementing the intermediate casing. Two drilling supervisors had already been "run off" and a crusty old tool pusher promoted to finish the hole.

I can’t remember the tool pusher’s name so I’ll call him Mike. Mike was of average height and build but he had a badly bent nose from some past altercation. He also had a resolute expression that caused the wild Texas roughnecks to take his directions seriously. He was a former World War II fighter pilot and it only took one look at his dark eyes to know he was likely good at it.

One hot July day found me more tired than usual from the past night’s cerveza drinking and senorita chasing. Jack was no where around and I reclined on the couch, "just to rest my eyes for a moment." I awoke to a sound peculiar to the giant drilling rig: silence. Awakening instantly, I rushed outside to see the backs of every man on location running as fast as they could, through the dry Texas cornfield, away from the location that had suddenly gone deathly quiet. Every man except Mike, that is.

Ten feet from me, he was moving faster than I had ever seen him move, twirling and closing valves, pulling levers, throwing switches. Finally, the diesel engines coughed, then sputtered, then again began circulating mud in the well. Seeing me looking, Mike grinned and walked over to the trailer door. As I stood with my mouth open and hands in my pocket, he pulled an old Zippo out of his pocket, fished a cigarette out of the pack in his shirt pocket, put it in his mouth and lit it. After a long, satisfying pull he looked at me and said, "Another thirty seconds and you and me would have been blown straight to hell."

Mike didn’t elaborate but Jack did when he finally returned to location. "The gas pressure’s so high that the mud’s not heavy enough to contain it. As long as the mud pumps are working, it’s cycled out of the hole. If Mike hadn’t restarted them, the pressure would have blown ten thousand feet of drilling pipe straight up into the air and all over this corn field. It wouldn’t have been a pretty sight."

Jack didn’t bother telling me how stupid I had been not to follow the roughnecks off the location. He didn’t have to because I’d already figured it out. That night Jack and I drank an extra Tecate for Mike, yet another unheralded oil patch hero that I’ve met, somewhere along the way.

http://www.ericwilder.com/

Friday, May 09, 2008

Early Northwest Louisiana Oil Exploration

When oil was discovered in northwest Louisiana, rolling hills, massive pines and a few small settlements dominated the landscape, farming and cattle the two major occupations. Some thirty years before, Army engineers had blasted and methodically dismantled the natural dam known as the Great Red River Raft that had raised area water levels for decades, perhaps centuries. What were left were shallow bayous, isolated ponds and Caddo Lake.

Caddo’s coffee-colored water was also shallow, no more than 20 feet at it’s deepest. Turtles and alligators populated the sprawling lake along with miles of impenetrable cane brakes and mazes of giant cypress trees with water-gorged trunks and branches draped with Spanish moss wafting in a damp breeze. And it was hot, temperatures rarely below 100 degrees in the summer and humidity through the roof. The shallow, often stagnant water bred mosquitoes, and many early inhabitants died of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases.

Despite the hostile environment, something began drawing oil hunters to the region — news of oil seeps and gentle rolling topography that possibly signaled subsurface closure. These explorers, drawn by the lure of black gold, pooled their money and drilled a few exploratory wells. Believing correctly that oil existed far below the shallow depths of Caddo Lake, wooden pilings were driven in shallow water and platforms built on them. The explorers constructed drilling rigs on the platforms from native timber and began drilling in Caddo Lake. This was a first, Caddo Lake the birthplace of offshore drilling.

Like the gold rushes of California and Alaska, men and their families began pouring into the area, intent upon sharing in the prize. Boom towns sprang up — Oil City, Trees City, Vivian, Rodessa.
What explorers had discovered was the giant Sabine Uplift. This single subsurface feature underlies several Louisiana parishes, and even more Arkansas and Texas counties. It not only trapped millions of barrels of oil beneath it, but formed the stratigraphic barrier for the Woodbine Sandstone, the primary reservoir of the super giant East Texas Field.

Caddo Lake sits atop the Sabine Uplift. Even with thousands of wells already drilled in the region, the deepest horizons of this giant subsurface feature still remain mostly undrilled and unexplored. What are the ramifications of this little-known fact? Possibly several hundred million barrels of untapped oil that could ultimately help the U.S. ease its dependence on foreign oil.

http://www.ericwilder.com

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Bugeye Sprite




As I was driving south on I-35 last Saturday I saw the distinct hood of a Bugeye Sprite approaching from behind me. I haven't seen one in many years so I snapped a picture out the window as he drove past. Those of you that have read my books, Big Easy and Murder Etouffee, will remember the Bugeye as Mama Mulate's - the voodoo mambo - car of choice. I also downloaded another picture off the web of a 1959 Bugeye so you could get a better look at the distinctive headlights. Just like Mama Mulate, they don't build them like that anymore.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Wolves, Bobcats and Black Panthers


A while back, I serialized a short story about wolves and panthers in northeast Texas. The story is whimsical and a work of fiction. There are no wolves and certainly no black panthers in east Texas. Or are there?

The answer is – well maybe. Northeast Texas remains an under populated part of the state. A region known as the Big Thicket extends north from Beaumont. The Big Thicket is a vast pine forest that stretches for hundreds of miles. This large forest, by anyone’s count, contains more wild animals than humans, many of which moved up from Mexico, or south from the huge Ouachita forests in central Arkansas.

The Big Thicket, by definition, doesn’t extend into far northeast Texas. In reality, however, the vast forest comprising the Big Thicket continues into northwest Louisiana and even into Arkansas, all the way to the Ouachita Mountains. Anyone that has ever visited the area knows if you stray very far off the main highway and follow a winding blacktop or dirt road, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by a sea of green often called the “pine curtain.”

Behind this curtain of trees and vegetation lies a world as mysterious and haunting as the day the first white man visited it. If you take this road, don’t be surprised if you hear the howl of a wolf, or the low throaty growl of a panther – yes, maybe even a black panther.

While growing up, I often spent the night at my Grandmother’s house in the piney woods of Cass County. They still had no electricity when I was young and burned coal oil lanterns at night for illumination. People went to bed early in those days, the smoke, soot and acrid odor of burning fuel more than most people could tolerate for very long.

Wolves were very much a part of east Texas in the 1950s and I still remember their mournful howls when we finally snuffed out the lanterns for the night. Don’t believe me? They had a bounty on their heads and were hunted into near extinction. I recall seeing the carcasses of an entire pack hanging in a row by their hind legs on fence posts. I was probably ten or twelve at the time.

Are there still wolves in east Texas? Not likely. Wolves are social creatures and usually run in packs. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me if an occasional lobo passed through the area. Black panthers are a different story. Locals have reported seeing them many times, although this is unconfirmed and denied by the Authorities. Have I ever seen a black panther? No, but I’ve seen bobcats and heard their woman-like screams in the woods.

If you’re still unconvinced, travel south to Cass County, Texas sometime. Leave the main road and follow a blacktop until it dead-ends. Hike a mile or so back into the piney woods, maybe until you reach a cypress bayou. Pitch your tent and then wait for the sun to go down. But zip the door up tightly. The howls, growls and woman-like screams you will definitely hear may just raise those tiny hairs on the back of your neck.

Eric'sWeb

Sunday, May 04, 2008

A Short Geologic History of New Orleans

In 1718, Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville founded the colony that became New Orleans. Sieur de la Salle had claimed the territory for the French in 1682 and France was looking for an outpost from where they could take advantage of the resources of the vast domain. They desired a location with access to the Gulf of Mexico at a spot they could easily defend from possible hostility by other countries. These two factors, high ground and access, likely resulted in the choosing of the present location of New Orleans.

High ground, you say? Everyone knows that a portion of New Orleans is below sea level. This is true but much has changed since the City was founded in 1718. The fact is the mean elevation of Louisiana is only 100' above sea level. To put this into perspective, Morgan City is 7' above sea level, Lafayette 39' above sea level, Baton Rouge 60' above sea level and the far northwestern city of Shreveport only 177' above sea level. Why then did Bienville situate the City of New Orleans at the second lowest spot in the United States, higher only than Death Valley that has an elevation of 282' below sea level? The answer is, he didn’t.

There were no topographic maps or GPS devices in 1718. Still, seasoned explorers Bienville and his brother D’Iberville understood the concept of high ground. They had located and chosen the site for New Orleans on an expedition more than a decade before the City’s founding. Although no records exist to confirm this assumption, a look at present-day Louisiana geography and geology indicates New Orleans in 1718 may have been at or near the highest elevation at the mouth of the Mississippi River.

New Orleans is part of the Mississippi River Delta, a geographic region that encompasses 13,000 square miles, fully 25% of Louisiana. Deltas are comprised mainly of silt. A look at the mechanics of the Mississippi River explains why. The Mississippi River drops 1,475' from its source in Minnesota to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. Water flows down river because of gravity. Along the way the Mississippi is intersected by many smaller rivers.

The Mississippi and the rivers that feed it transport many tons of alluvium picked up along the way because of erosion. The energy of the flowing river carries this alluvium in suspension. As the elevation nears sea level and this energy is dissipated, the river can no longer maintain its load and it is deposited in the form of silt. Often, extra silt is deposited at a meander in the river where energy is locally dissipated. This is a likely scenario for the location of New Orleans in 1718.

Just north of the small town of Donaldsonville the Mississippi turns abruptly eastward. Interestingly, Donaldsonville is near the point the modern Mississippi River threatens to abandon its present course and flow into the Atchafalaya River Basin. The Corp of Engineers has prevented this occurrence for many years by constructing special levees along the course of the Mississippi River. Near Donaldsonville, the Mississippi River flows eastward until it reaches a point just east of New Orleans where it again turns, this time abruptly southward.

Old New Orleans is located in a crescent-shaped bend in the river, a meander. The crescent that formed the Crescent City is really a meander. What happened in 1718 at this meander was a dissipation of energy that resulted in higher ground because of an unloading of sediment. Likely, New Orleans was the highest point near the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1718.

Why is much of New Orleans presently below sea level. The answer is subsidence. Geologically speaking, silt is very unstable. When loaded, it readily compresses and subsides. During the early days of New Orleans, there were no man-made levees separating the City from the Mississippi River. Because of this, the City was flooded with silt and knee-deep water every Spring. City fathers soon began building up the natural levees to prevent this from happening. The result is that much of New Orleans, without the yearly addition of silt from the river, has subsided in the centuries following 1718. Even with this subsidence, the French Quarter and the Central Business District, part of the original settlement, remains at or near sea level and was surely even higher in 1718.

Another reason Bienville chose the present site of New Orleans was because of access. Native Americans had shown the French a short cut from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans - a strategic advantage over any foreign power that might attempt to wrest the region from France. This short cut came through a pass from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Pontchartrain, and then from St. Johns Bayou to present-day New Orleans.

Everyone is aware of the tremendous damage done in 2005 by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. How can we alleviate a future disaster without moving the venerable old City? Here is my suggestion. Cut the levees near Donaldsonville and let the mighty Mississippi follow its preferred course: into the Atchafalaya Basin to the Gulf of Mexico. Will it change history? Only time will tell.

http://www.ericwilder.com

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Legend of Dad Joiner

During the summer of 1969, having just graduated from Northeast Louisiana State College with a degree in geology, I got a job as a mudlogger with Core Lab. I had already been on deep wells in Laurel, Mississippi and Westlaco, Texas. August found me near Mt. Pleasant, Texas, in a horse pasture, on my third wildcat of the summer.

I lived in a little one-room apartment in Lone Star, a Texas steel mill town, and worked from 7 at night until 7 in the morning, 7 days a week, until the 13,500’ Smackover test reached total depth. During this time, I witnessed a shoot-out, a stabbing and numerous fights on the rig. It was my welcome to the east Texas oil patch.

What I learned from this experience was that east Texas roughnecks were a hard-working, hard-drinking bunch. Every night, when drilling was going smoothly, they would invade my air-conditioned logging trailer to play poker and tell stories. One of the stories they told me was about Dad Joiner and the discovery of the East Texas Field. True or false, it varies somewhat from official accounts. As memory serves me, here is the story told by those wild east Texas roughnecks more than 36 years ago.

Already 66 years old, Dad Joiner was a broken-down wildcatter when he moved from Dallas to East Texas in 1926. An educated man, he’d practiced law in Alabama and served in the legislature there. It wasn’t enough for him. Like many others, he was drawn by the lure of Oklahoma black gold and the whispered promise of riches beyond his wildest dreams. Answering the siren call, he made and lost two fortunes during his 28 years in the Sooner State.

Joiner was an oil promoter, a breed spawned by “oil fever,” a disease for which, even today, there is no known cure. Having seen the blow-outs in Cushing and heard of the 25,000 BOPD uncontained flows in Oklahoma City, investors, greedy for instant wealth, fairly threw their money at often unscrupulous oil promoters, rife with promises of easy money. Many of the early Oklahoma oil discoveries were funded by these investors, even though most never realized a penny from their investments.

Some of the reports of Dad Joiner portray him as a principled visionary, a man with divine knowledge of the infinite riches located in the subsurface of east Texas and determined to find them. The truth is quite different. Joiner went to east Texas because of one thing — cheap leases.

17 dry holes had already reached total depth in the area and most legitimate oil companies had long since abandoned east Texas for more promising regions. Taking advantage of unsubstantiated, earlier-generated reports of possible oil in the Woodbine Sandstone, Joiner used this sparse information to raise enough money to lease a large block of acreage from Daisy Bradford. With these leases, he parlayed the drilling of a wildcat well on the block.

Oil rigs were primitive affairs in the late twenties. They shut down drilling at dark, sometimes after penetrating only a few feet during the day. At night, Dad Joiner would hold court at a saloon, drinking whiskey and playing poker with the locals. He also used this time to raise money for his ongoing venture.

After drilling two dry holes, Joiner’s money was beginning to “dry up.” In the manner of all good oil promoters, both before and after him, he devised a way to raise enough money to drill a third well, and help fund his high-rolling lifestyle. What he did is now called checkerboarding.

Simply put, he subdivided his block of leases like the squares on a checkerboard. He kept the red blocks and sold the black ones. When money got tight, he would subdivide the blocks even further. Through his continued promotion, he raised enough money to drill a third well by May, 1929.

In October, 1930, the Daisy Bradford Number 1 struck oil and became the discovery well for the largest oil field in the world. Dad, also in the manner of many oil promoters, had over-sold the well. What does this mean? It means that he sold the interests in the well two or three times. Lawsuits against him began soon after oil was discovered in the Woodbine Sandstone at the Daisy Bradford Number 1. Supposedly, he had sold the offset leases to oilman H.L. Hunt shortly before the Daisy Bradford discovery.

The roughnecks that played poker nightly in my logging trailer told a different story. Hunt was also an oil promoter and poker player – one that would be a card playing legend, even in today's high stakes Texas hold-em era. He won Joiner’s offset leases in a poker game - at least according to my roughneck friends - and the rest is history.

Don’t mourn Dad Joiner. Even though he died a pauper, he lived one of the most interesting lives of anyone I know. And despite his lack of altruism, he inadvertently discovered a legitimate super-giant oil field, one that may ultimately produce 8 billion barrels of oil.

History is the foundation of what we know today, and it’s important to understand what happened in the past. Sometimes, however, words on the printed page are but a shadow of reality. A month in a steamy, east Texas horse pasture taught me that.

http://www.ericwilder.com/

Friday, May 02, 2008

Gumbo Yaya

Those that have read any of my New Orleans short stories know that Bertram Picou is the owner of an eclectic little bar on Chartres Street, in the French Quarter. He cooks some of the world’s best gumbo and always has a pot simmering in back for his regular customers.

Everyone in New Orleans makes gumbo, some tasting better than others. The best gumbo is like ambrosia, a gift from heaven itself. It’s now made all over the world but one thing is sure. You’ll never find better gumbo anywhere in the world that tastes as good as the worst gumbo from New Orleans.

Some say that Bertram’s gumbo is the best in the Big Easy. Don’t believe me? Next time you’re in the French Quarter, stop by his place and give it a try. The bar’s a little hard to find, but keep looking. Below is Bertram’s recipe, told in his own words.

Bertram Picou’s Mama's Gumbo

"First thing is make the roux. Pour some oil in your big cast iron skillet and put it on the fire, medium heat. Add some flour and start stirring. Whatever you do, don’t leave the stove, even to chase Ol’ Shep, until the roux cooks to a pleasing shade of brown, maybe a little darker if you’re taste buds are more Cajun than most. Be careful now. Don’t burn that roux cause it’s the most important part of the gumbo! If it starts to smoke and curdle up, you done screwed up! Throw it out and start over.

Once you got the roux done, its time to make the gumbo. My Mama throws in crawfish, shrimp, chicken, sausage, squirrel, deer, or even fish. "Whatever floats your boat," she used to say.
Fill up your big stock pot with water and set it on the stove. Get it to boiling then add the roux. Mama always uses four tablespoons, more or less, depending on the weather, how dark she had let it cook, and how she feels that particular day. Good cooks don’t read recipes. They just sense how something ought to taste. However many tablespoons she used, her gumbo always tasted damn good!

Keep stirring until the roux and water are mixed, then add a couple of chopped onions, a chopped bell pepper, six minced garlic cloves and your chicken, seafood, or whatever. This is where it gets tricky. You need to add salt, cayenne and black pepper and this must be done to taste. Using too much, or not enough, can make or break the gumbo and, unfortunately, practice is the only way to learn how. You’ll have to do this yourself cause Mama can’t go to everyone’s house.

Cook the gumbo on a medium hot flame and keep stirring until everything starts getting tender. Don’t put a lid on the pot.

Finally, boil up your rice to perfection (just about the hardest thing in the world to get right, but that’s another story). Add parsley and scallions to the gumbo, and, if you like, a little file, then ladle it on the rice and enjoy!"

http://www.ericwilder.com/

Thursday, May 01, 2008

April Birthstone

As a geologist, I am fascinated by minerals and gems and I have a collection of spheres and eggs carved from various stones. I bought some nice spheres from an internet company called Mystic Gems and I’m now on their list to receive their newsletter.

I was working on something else for Musings today when I got their most recent newsletter which included an article about April birthstones. The article is so interesting that I am putting it on the blog, and there is a link to Mystic Gems at the bottom of the article.

April Birthstones, Traditional, Spiritual and Mystical - by Tammarah Davis, Gemologist

While April's diamond is deservedly the stone of everlasting love, the Opal from ancient Rome and a millennia beyond of Tibetan tradition is a fascinating mystical alternative. Sapphire and Amber arise from the religious realm as breastplate stones of the High Priest and as Zodiac stones for Taurus. Of these Opal brings the most varied beliefs. From the Tibetan tradition Opal is believed to help overcome challenges of one's birth month.

Opal - the name opal is derived from the Greek Opallos, meaning "to see a change (of color)." It is an amorphous mineral which can be of almost any color but most commonly white and green shades, and exhibits beautiful internal color play. Opal has been believed to strengthen faithfulness and loyalty in regards to business relationships, personal affiliations, and love. Some believe that it holds the energies to help one seem invisible in situations that the person does not want to be noticed. Native American Indians and Australian aboriginal shaman believed opal held the power to invoke visions and used it during ceremonies referred to as vision quests (Native American Indians) and "dreamtime" (Australian aborigines).

Opal has a curious darker side though. There is a superstition and belief by some that opals are bad luck to those that wear or carry them except for those whose birthstone it is. It started out being carried and highly prized by the Romans, second only to the emerald. As the centuries passed, more and more magical properties were attributed to the opal. By the 11th century opals were believed to be the stone of thieves, spies, and robbers (attributed with the magical ability to make the wearer invisible to others).

It was likely the Medieval Europeans who gave opal its "bad name" though. They equated the stone to the "Evil Eye" because of its likeness to the eyes of creatures that were feared and / or considered evil, such as cats, toads, snakes, and other reptiles and amphibians. But it was during the 18th and 19th centuries when the opal truly fell from grace as it became associated with disease, pestilence, famine, and the crumbling of empires and monarchies. There are still some areas that these superstitions run strong but there are very few if any stories to support these beliefs of the malign properties of opal.

Amber is the 7th stone of the Breastplate of the High Priest, and is a zodiac stone for month beginning on Apr 21. Actually a fossilized resin rather than a true mineral, amber is relatively soft and malleable. Strictly speaking, Baltic Amber is the only true Amber although Dominican Amber (retinite) and Copal (much younger resin) are also generically accepted as Amber. Amber has been used to trap and transform negative energies into positive energies. It is also been used as a symbol for the renewal of marriage vows. It is said to aid in choice, helping one to choose or allow them to be chosen. It is believed to be a pseudonym of the biblical "jacinth", and thus the seventh breastplate stone.

Turquoise is also from the zodiac month of April 21. It has a pale green-blue color and waxy luster, and can change colors when in contact with human oils. Turquoise has been referred to as a "stone of communication". It has been used to help speakers communicate their thoughts and ideas more clearly and precisely. It has been given to loved ones to help facilitate open and honest communications, while still allowing for those thoughts and ideas to be expressed in the most helpful and concise manner. Turquoise is also used as protection by those engaged in astral travel or going on a vision quest. It helps to provide a link between the unconscious and the conscious, helping to act as a protective mechanism during meditation work. The name turquoise is from the French expression Pierre tourques or Turkish stone, and originated in the thirteenth century.

Here is a link to Mystic Gems for you mineral lovers - http://www.mysticgemcreations.com http://www.ericwilder.com