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!