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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sluice and Pan = Pay Dirt

If you’ve ever panned for gold you might know the thrill of seeing a rim of sparkling yellow light called “color” show up. Much more when a genuine nugget appears. Now I’m not talking about one of those recreation park concessions. I mean out in the wild along some river or creek. 

I know something about this because my husband, Wally, and I owned a 60 acre ranch in Southern Oregon for eight years and it was rumored that along our half-mile of riverfront people had found gold nuggets. If that was true, what might a real mining project unearth? After our years of farm life, before we left to go north for an easier life-style, we decided to investigate. 

“I’d hate to think we might be leaving a gold mine.” Wally said. So, he went about securing a permit, felling a few of our many large trees to pay for the project, renting a tractor-shovel to dig out a pond for the sluice trough so as not to contaminate the river, and hiring one son and a son-in-law who both were out of work at the time to contribute labor. I took on the job of camp cook, hauling meals and lunches in a wheel barrow down to the river-side spot where the men were glad to stop, eat and rest. 

The operation was scary and fun, but the best part was panning for gold. We’d take the final and heaviest dirt from the bottom of the sluice box into a pan. By dipping it into the river and sloshing it around carefully we’d get down to the black grains of sand. That’s when, if there was any gold in the pan, it would show up brightly around the edges of the black. We’d call the others over then to show them. “Look! Isn’t it beautiful?”

Word got around what we were doing and an old-timer asked Wally, “How’s the gold mine coming?” He answered, “We’ve found a lot of color.” The response? “Color! Heck, I can find color in my garden!”

But we were not deterred. We worked that operation for about a month and got only a fraction of an ounce of gold for our effort. Entertainment got us an A+, but money? Nothing more than a hole in the ground and a tiny vial of gold dust. We left the ranch with a bank-load of good memories and a fatter purse for appreciation of its land value, but whatever happened to the wee vial of gold, I don’t know. I wish I had it here on my desk. I could really appreciate its worth.

If we’d found gold in large amounts we’d probably still be there grubbing away. Others would be in on the operation and we’d be stuck. Eventually, the scenery wouldn’t thrill us so much, the burden of excess, where to spend or invest it, wondering who might be ripping us off, and any number of painful considerations to temper the good would probably not measure up to that little capsule of fun we had in satisfying our minds that we were not leaving a gold mine behind when we pulled out the dirt driveway. If I were to hear tomorrow that the present owners struck it rich I wouldn’t envy them a mite. 

Now I live in a cozy little condo in southern California.  It rests beside a rippling brook and small waterfall.  Huge trees give me shade with enough sun sprinkling through to cheer my days. Cool breezes make me the envy of summertime heat wave sufferers elsewhere in the country. My neighbors are all quiet, often invisible but friendly when we meet out walking our dogs. I don’t have to milk a cow (though I enjoyed that when I did.) I don’t need to clean out a chicken coop, (but the eggs were worth it.) I don’t hear a car or see one, yet shopping malls are within an easy walk. I’ve had a good life with few sorrows and many joys. I count my blessings all day and every night. They are the “color” in my pan. Yes, they're even gold nuggets! 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Questions, Silly or Serious?

Ask anything. Get a true answer. That would be my desire, but sometimes the answer comes only with work and, let's face it, I'm a true American, I like things to come easily. The academic workaholics don't like people like me. They want no silly questions and won't give casual answers. Well,  I have serious questions too, but this morning I asked a silly one I'd never thought of before, and I'll bet you haven't either.   Do ants smile?

What brought that on? This: I was sitting at a curbside table in a small cafe and noticing how the patrons and waiters wove in and out amidst the tables, meeting others doing the same and smiling at each other. Strangers to one another, mostly, but nevertheless willing to give out smiles as if they were recklessly throwing diamonds to each other. (To me, smiles are pricier than diamonds.) Then a young mother with her little girl baby slung onto her hip passed by on the sidewalk. I couldn't help smiling. No one could. Pure enchantment they were. The mother didn't notice me but the baby did and she gave me the broadest and sweetest smile imaginable!

That's when I thought of the silly question. Ants move easily and quickly with apparent purpose in mind just as humans do. They pass each other rapidly, meet and sometimes greet, but do they smile as they go about their ways? I suspect there may be someone who has figured that out through long study and persistent observation. I could go to the library and research it or make it my own project, but I'm not that desperate for an answer.

My questions tend to be either too silly to warrant time to seek answers or so serious they are beyond reach and only speculation is possible. Like this one: Who triggered the Big Bang? The stuff of the universe, did it come from nothing? Can something come out of nothing? Is that either physically or mentally possible? And does every something become nothing at some time?

I know it's a waste of time to dwell long on questions either too silly or too serious. I've got to get to more basic ones like, What do you intend to do with the rest of your life? Are you content with the same old-same old, or do you want to do something more worthwhile than blogging or keeping a-float on the sea of information available or pursuing some senior activity agenda?

I know what I should do. I should read the manual of my new home phone and find out how to set up the answering device it's supposed to have in it. My instinct is to stay ignorant and let anyone anxious to get me call my cell phone or call again on the home phone. At any rate, that's something I can put off. What I will do is clean up the kitchen from the lunch I prepared and ate because I don't like the sight of it. I'll pay a few bills because the consequences of not doing so are unappealing. I'll listen to the evening news broadcast and try to make sense of that. And I'll settle down for the evening with a good book. Better things may yet be in the works but at my age I'm not looking too hard.

Ambition is not my middle name, but I love to ask questions. Both silly ones and serious. Sometimes I do get answers. But even if I don't, speculation is fun and who knows, I may speculate well enough to write a book of science fiction. Don't count on it though. I'll be asking questions till the cows come home.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Seniors, What Are You Expecting?

I love to tell stories I’ve told before, (so if I’ve told this in another blog, don’t worry, I know it.)  An elderly small farm owner named Joe had always been a hard worker and didn’t show signs of slowing down as he got older. One day a friend of his stopped by and Joe invited him to sit a spell on his front porch. After a bit of conversation the friend said to him, “Joe, this is really good. Why don’t you get someone else to do the work and sit here all day enjoying yourself?” Joe thought a minute and said, “Well, I suppose I could do that, but I never did see much sense in dying before my time had come.”

In my own case, I still keep house, manage my own affairs, and carry on as I did when I became an empty nester with kids grown and gone, no husband to watch out for and no outside job. If I were to sell everything and move to a senior living place I could not complain about housework. I’d not have to prepare my own meals. I’d have lots of company and a bus to take me places. Kinda cushy, but the thought of it reminds me of old Joe. I’d be exchanging the few complaints I have for just another set and I’d rather complain about little snags like cleaning house than thinking up other kinds of complaints.
Here at home a singing canary and a little Chihuahua keep me company and the housework is not a burden when I remember to be grateful for my home and the fact that I’m able to keep doing what is expected of it. Best of all, I’m my own boss and can do everything on my own initiative and at my own pace. I expect this of myself. What I don’t expect of myself is excellence in the use of my talents. I should be ashamed to admit it, but I rarely expect my work to be 100% perfect. I’m not like some I've seen, perfectionists who deliberately make some slight flaw in their work “so not to compete with angels.” I just let good enough be good enough after I’ve run out of interest in a project. No one is grading me. I’m in a kind of senior free-study-audit-any-class-you-want school. I’m expecting only to enjoy it. Yes, things can get better when you get older, if you expect them to. Believe me.