Thirty five years ago a novice placer miner went to have a heart-to-heart talk with an old timer he knew. The old man was already in his early 70s at that point in time and possessed a wealth of small-scale gold prospecting experience and knowledge. This old salt had seen the best and the worst of times, and had sustained himself by gold mining through the bust-out days of the Great Depression and well beyond. Throughout it all, this grizzled sourdough had maintained a wry sense of humor and had kept an infectious smile on his face.
One afternoon high in the Sierra Nevadas the younger man entered the old salt's camper trailer and took a seat across from him. The old man waited a bit, smiled, and then said "What can I do for you?" The novice miner hesitated and then sighed. "Well, I'm not really sure about this gold mining thing. Seems like a lot of work for very little return." The old man nodded his head and waited. "Hell, it's not even the mining part really. I feel like I don't even know where I'm headed in this life or what I'm supposed to do," said the younger man. "Sometimes none of it seems to make any sense."
The old man smiled and said, "Follow me." Together they made a short hike down to the gold-bearing river they'd both been working the past few weeks. Groaning ever so slightly, the old miner lowered himself onto a flat rock. "Take a seat," he said motioning for the younger man to sit beside him. They sat in silence for a minute or two taking in the beauty of the river and the constant rumble of its power. "What do you see?" asked the old man. "What do you mean?" said the younger man somewhat perplexed. The old timer shook his head slightly and smiled. "Tell me what you see out here."
Not quite sure of himself the younger man replied, "I see the river. That's what I see." The old salt picked up a small rock and tossed it into the water. "Know what I see?" he asked. "Tell me," said the young man. "Well, every time I look at a river or creek or dry wash carryin' gold I see all them miners I worked alongside of all those years. I can still see their faces and hear 'em laughin', swearin', and just plain carryin' on." The old man tossed another rock into the river. "Now some of 'em were good-hearted Joes and others were mean-spirited, self-servin' sons a bitches but they all taught me somethin'. The novice looked at him. "Yeah? And what was that?"
"Well, my young friend," said the old timer, "there are three types of gold miners. Those that get lucky and hit the 'big one' right away." He paused for a moment. "Luck can be a two-edged sword though. Some of these types get overly excited, let their egos run wild, and start shootin' their mouths off. The smarter ones bank some of that gold and live comfortable while the others are dead broke and askin' for a hand out next time you see 'em." The younger man nodded. "OK, what about the second type?"
The old man pitched another rock into the fast flowing water at their feet. "The second type is old blowhards like me. Men and women who stay at it, day-after-day, runnin' that dry washer or sluice, or snipin' and pannin' until their hands ache." The old timer smiled. "These folks know the gold is out there and they've had their share of decent finds, but they still have that dream of hittin' it big. They never give up."
"What's the third type?" asked the novice. "The third type?" The old miner flipped another rock into the river. "Well, those are the ones who get all jazzed up about findin' gold and rush around like chickens with their heads cut off. They never find much gold and get real frustrated once they see how hard they gotta work at it." The old man smiled. "These types are the first to give up the ghost and call it quits. They walk away mumblin' and grumblin' and never pick up a gold pan again."
The younger man thought for a moment. "I'm still not sure how this applies to me and my life," he said. "That's the age-old question ain't it?" said the old salt with a grin. "Look at it this way. Some of the lucky ones find their purpose in life right away and go at it with gusto. Others, like you and me have to work a bit harder at it. Then there are those who fold up like cheap suits when the first sign of bad weather heads their way." The old timer stared hard at the novice. "It's these last ones I feel sorriest for 'cause they wander aimlessly their entire life."
The young man's face brightened. "I think I'm getting the drift here."
"Yep, maybe you are," said the old man grinning. "Next time you look at a river or creek or wash you'll see it differently. Hell it might even help you remember our little talk one day." The old timer turned to face the younger man one last time. "Remember this. Findin' your purpose in life is just like gold minin'."
The old man flung one last rock into the water. "You'll never find any gold if you don't go lookin' for it...
(c) Jim Rocha (J.R.) 2015
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