Sunday, December 20, 2015

Panning for Gold




Years ago Jackie and I were camping down at the Salamonie State River Forest campground with Connie Smith my mother-in-law and Jack Smith my father-in-law. Across the road from our campsite was a rough woodsy area, traversed by a tiny rill. This small bit of water bubbled up from alongside the road and with a twisted course of tiny flows, dribbling falls, and shallow pools, ran a crooked course a hundred yards or so from hillside spring to where it joined the Salamonie River.

My father-in-law is a man of many varied romantic talents. . . underwater demolition, and construction expert. Among other fascinating adventures, he had traveled the country cutting up and salvaging underwater train wrecks. . . he dove for mother of pearl shells in the Mississippi River, performed construction and welding various metal works in the waterfront of Lake Michigan. . . and had for a time panned for gold out west.

That had always intrigued me and on that hot summer day, I asked him to show me how to pan for gold. I thought no better place to try my hand at this than the tiny stream across the road from our camp. I cannot remember exactly what we used. . . my mind fills in the blank with a rather large stainless steel salad bowl, that Jackie and I used to own. It may have been that or it may have been that Jack had one of his old sluice pans with him. I cannot remember for certain.

We headed across the road. I think Jackie, and Connie (Jackie’s Mom) came across with us. We searched the little stream, for a time until Jack found a spot to his liking to take our first pan of gravel to sift. We scooped the pan about half full of gravel, and dirt from the bottom of the stream, and filled it about halfway to the top with stream water, picking out the larger bits of sticks and leaves, etc. all the organic material that we could manually. Continuing the process of swirling water, picking out little rocks, and stones, by hand as we gently rotated the water around the bowl.

I was ever too impatient, wanting to too quickly flush the mud. Jack had to again and again take the bowl from me and show me the proper slow graceful rocking motion to be used. My motions never attained the smoothness of his, but I gradually improved to where rather than taking control of the bowl himself, he was alternately verbally encouraging me and correcting me.

This was no easy process. If I remember, we worked on the that one bowl of gravel for an hour or more. My thought before we began was just to take some dirt from the creek, and swish it around for a minute or two, and find gold, but the reality was a very gradual, very hot, very sweaty and extremely tedious process. In other words, it was a large measure of very hard work and at the end of all that work, we had a teaspoon or so of black sand, 5 lead birdshot shotgun pellets, of which Jack had put in 3 from his pocket when we began as a test of our panning effectiveness, and an almost invisible particle or two of something yellow that Jack thought well could be, what he called flower gold.

It took no skill. It took no patience. It took no graceful movements to find dirt. Indeed any impatience in the process would have washed away the gold with the dirt. The dirt was so very easy to find. The process of panning is a process of soft patience, and great restraint to wash away the 99.9999% that is worthless, to find that tiny 1 part in a million fleck of gold.

I remember his lesson to this day. I still need the correcting of Jack’s instruction in my mind. . . slow down. . . gently. . . slowly. . . smoothly. . . ever patiently wash the mud away. . .

Please Lord. . . give me patient panning eyes.
. . .give me eyes of soft washing, and clear water, and the gentle caressing motion of grace. . .
. . .give me eyes to seek the purity, and holiness of a speck fine gold in a pan of mud and sand. . .
. . .such as You somehow saw in me. . .

I love you God. . .
I thank you my Lord. . .

Dave


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