Ode to Joe M. (or There's Nothing Romantic About Gold Mining)

 (When you're on the outside looking in things can appear vastly different than their true nature.)

Many people who stand on the "outside" of certain endeavors have a tendency to idealize or romanticize that which they no little about. For example, someone who has never ranched or farmed may view those life pursuits or occupations simply in terms of personal freedom, wide-open spaces, and the nobility of tilling the earth to produce Ma Nature's bounty. These same folks don't think about all the hard work that goes into farming and ranching, the long days that seem to have no end, and the precarious nature of making a living as a farmer or rancher. They only see a self-constructed "idealization" of those pursuits, not their reality. So it is with gold mining as well.


Most of you reading this are "insiders" who know the difference between the romanticized version of small-scale gold mining and its true image. However, some of you greenhorns or newbies out there are still star struck in this regard...just as I was when I first hefted pick, shovel, and gold pan almost 40 years ago. I'll tell you one thing right now. I found out very quickly that there was nothing romantic about small-scale gold mining, just as there's nothing romantic about the hard work involved in ranching and farming. No, I've never farmed but I did work on a ranch for a short period and I've been around ranchers and ranch hands enough times in my life to know the nature of that beast. And the hard work involved is nothing to idealize. It's a S.O.B if you want the real truth.

 (We're talking pick and shovel work.)

Lean, Mean, and Tall in the Saddle

Joe M., a close friend and Vietnam Veteran like myself passed away last year. Joe's dad was a rancher and when Joe returned home after his tour of duty in Vietnam to the sand hill country of Nebraska, he went right back to ranching and cowboying up. Joe was the quintessential rancher/ranch hand. He had his faults but he was as stand-up a dude as you could find anywhere, anytime. He was one tough hombre who could weld just about anything, repair a tractor or hay truck on the spot, and looked like the quintessential Marlboro Man cowboy when he mounted up...lean, mean, and tall in the saddle. Joe lived and breathed ranching and he taught me what little I still know about it. When my son was born, I made it a point to take him up to Nebraska and the ranch so that Joe could show him a thing a or two as well. The last time we were there was in 2003 because Joe was just beginning to feel the effects of ill health but from the early 1990s on my son was on that ranch with Joe at least a couple of weeks nearly every summer. Why? Because I wanted him to learn the value of hard work and commitment. Joe taught him those values and much more...how to saddle and ride a horse, how to drive a tractor, and how to hump it all day long without complaint. My son is 26 now but he's never forgotten Joe or his days on the ranch. He carries those memories with him now and they are GOOD memories.

(A Nebraska ranch.)

You Love It or You Don't

If you'd come at Joe with pansy ass ideas about the romantic nature of ranching he would've looked you straight in the eye and laughed his ass off. The he would have proceeded to explain to you very patiently the error of your ways. He would have done this with humor and patience, not with rancor or anger. He loved what he did despite the long nights in the calving barn, the brutal weather that he had to endure in winter and summer, and the low pay he received as a ranch hand. Working ranches and ranching were his life. So it is with small-scale gold mining. You either love it or you don't because in the final analysis you ain't gonna get rich doing it just as Joe never accumulated great wealth as a rancher or ranch hand. If you can't handle hard work and long days then mining (or ranching) isn't going to work well for you. It's just something that gets in your blood and you forge ahead because that's what you love to do, good...bad...and indifferent all wrapped up into one.

 (You won't get rich doing this.)

So It Goes

Before I got myself "eddycated" I worked as a ranch hand, a carpet layer, a tile setter, a house painter, and various and sundry other physical labor type jobs. So I'm no stranger to the physical demands of those types of working careers nor am I ignorant of the nature of gold mining as practiced by an individual. You folks out there who are trappers, farmers, ranchers, electricians, carpenters, construction workers, plumbers, or anything else that is considered "working class hero" labor already know what's what. Small-scale gold mining is an extension of your work ethic and a manifestation of your love for the outdoors and a bit of yellow in your gold pans. So it goes. The smarmy little shits with their Harvard or Yale degrees who sit at the highest levels of government or who stare down on the rest of us from their business tower office windows don't mean diddly squat to a gold miner...or a ranch hand. Don't get me wrong here. I respect education and the power it has to transform peoples' lives or provide them new opportunities. But when I'm out and about in the field mining I'd rather have someone alongside me who knows how to shovel dirt, not bullshit.

I miss Joe, God bless him! He was one of a kind and the salt of the earth. And you know what? My hat's off to every working class man or woman out there. They are the thread that persists, endures, and that ties it all together for the rest of us.

I know I've rambled somewhat here but I know you're smart...you to get the drift.

Be good to one another.

(c) Jim Rocha 2017

Questions? E-mail me at jr872vt90@yahoo.com


  1. JR, Once again you hit the nail on the head. Among my many faults, I'm a big fan of Robert Service's poems about gold mining in the Klondike. This one came to mind as I read your post here. It's a little long, but if you have not seen it, I think you will enjoy it. Here go's...


    Dirt is just matter out of place,
    So scientists aver;
    But when I see a miner's face
    I wonder if the err.
    For grit and grime and grease may be
    in God's constructive plan,
    A symbol of nobility,
    The measure of a man.

    There's nought so clean as honest dirt,
    So of it's worth I sing;
    I value more an oily shirt
    Than the garment of a king.
    There's nought so proud as honest sweat,
    and though its stink we cuss,
    We kid glove chaps are in the dept
    of those who sweat for us.

    It's dirt and sweat that makes us folks
    proud as we are today;
    We owe our wealth to weary blokes
    befouled by soot and clay.
    And where you see a belly fat
    a dozen more are lean...
    By God! I'd sooner doff my hat
    to washer wife than queen.

    So here's a song to dirt and sweat,
    a grace to grit and grime;
    a hail to workers who beget
    the wonders of our time.
    And as they gaze,through gutter girt,
    to places enskied,
    let them believe, by sweat and dirt,
    they,too, are glorified.


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