My Version of the Mining "Ten Commandments" (Conclusion)
I'm standing on the mount holding my stone tablets high while lightning flashes and thunder rumbles across the barren deserts of iniquity. Sort of like the late actor Charlton Heston in that old biblical epic, "The Ten Commandments." Then again...maybe not. Anyway, on to my version of the second half of the mining "Ten Commandments."
6. THOU SHALT NOT IMBIBE STRONG SPIRITS IN A MANNER THAT CAUSES THEE TO ACT LIKE A DAMN FOOL OUT IN THE FIELD.
Now I am not the one to preach here since I did my share of imbibing sitting around the campfire and having a few laughs with my "pards" when I still was patient enough to deal with "borderline" mining partners. Truth be told, in my younger years I probably drank enough beer to float the proverbial battleship. I'd take a nip or two of the hard stuff once in a while too, so I'm no prima dona. I've been clean and sober for 24 years now so my drinking (and drugging) days are long over...thank God. But even in my worst days (or nights) of drinking I never fell prey to acting like a true horse's ass as many do when they're in their cups. I simply stumbled away, went to bed, and passed out! But when it came to gold mining I kept a lid on how much I drank (or I didn't drink a all) because my mind was focused on dry washing, dredging, highbanking, or sniping to get that yellow. And it's very difficult to do that when you're suffering from a Level 10 hangover or throwing up all over the morning campfire. There's nothing wrong with having a beer or two (or even three) or a few shots at the end of a long, hard day of freezing your ass off in ice cold water or eating fine dust hour after hour as you shovel more powdery dirt into that motorized dry washer. But if you can't handle your liquor or are some sort of "problem" drinker you won't be welcome around my evening campfire. No sir or madam. I'm not judging you because I can't. I'm just saying if you're one of those drinkers (or substance abusers) who goes off their nut while imbibing I want nothing to do with you. Loud drunks bug the shit out of me these days (and did even when I was still drinking myself) and so do sloppy drunks who start crying the blues and blubbering like babies when they're in their cups. Hell, I've seen it all out in the field in this regard. Drunken assholes raging, yelling, hooting and hollering long into the wee hours and firing weapons into the air while I was struggling to get some sleep in my tent after a very hard day. I've seen drunks get up in the middle of the night and stumble around trying to find a place to piss and end up emptying their bladders into the campfire coals. A very unpleasant smell, by the way. I had two erstwhile pards at one time who were both heavy drinkers and who would stay up long into the night until their bottle of whiskey, or vodka, or schnapps, or gin (or whatever the hell it was) was empty and then they'd pass out on the ground and become feasts for the hordes of mosquitoes swarming the area. And guess what? When morning came I'd roust their asses and force them to work no matter how damn sick they were. Yes, I'm hard-assed at times so we parted ways quite quickly. I've had pards pick fights with each other behind too much alcohol and then start swinging and slapping at each other like a couple of schoolgirls on the playground, or they'd find enough bottled courage to get smart-mouthed and up in the face of forest rangers or the local constabulary. Dumb asses. So have your end-of-day drinks, enjoy them, stay cool, and I'll sit there at the campfire right alongside you enjoying good conversation and good company. But when it comes to gold mining, there is nothing worse than a damn drunken fool out in the field. Take my word for it.
7. THOU SHALT REMAIN ON THE UP AND UP WHEN IT COMES TIME FOR SPLITTING THE GOLD.
Those of you who tend, like me, to work alone don't have to heed this particular commandment. But if you're working alongside others or have a pard or two, taking the high road when it comes to gold splits is always the way to go. Don't be pulling nuggets out of the sluice box on the sly or otherwise pocketing what is supposed to be equally shared. And I don't care how small the amount of gold recovered is or how big either. As long as everyone mining alongside you is pulling their weight, they are entitled to an equal split of the yellow. If they're not pulling their weight (which can happen, by the way) their share of the gold pie gets reduced accordingly. All of this gold split stuff has to be out in the open and understood BEFOREHAND, not after the gold is being divvied up. This reduces the possibility of bitter arguments and even anger at times. I know, 'cause I've seen it happen...even over ridiculously small amounts of gold. Nuggets or nice pieces of gold are another matter and can pose problems at times. Anyone with any sense working alongside you wants that nugget or nice piece, right? Yes, they do. Back in the day when I was working with a pard, or two or three (which I did at times up in the California Motherlode) we'd draw high card from a deck of 52 and the highest card would win the prize. Alternately, we'd use the weight of that nugget to compensate for the smaller gold when push came to shove. In other words, if we were all receiving five grams and that nugget (or nuggets) weighed in at three grams, those with the nuggets or nice pieces in their hot little hands would receive two additional grams of smaller stuff. End of story. Now I know some of you are thinking, "Well, shit fire. If those nuggets are really nice the dude that got them can sell them for a premium above their weight or melt value. So he's getting more of the split." Well, you're on the ball son. This is true if that nugget (or nuggets) is of decent size or has a unique configuration. But have you yourself ever tried selling those kind of nuggets for a premium? It's much more difficult than you might think and it takes a lot of time to find a buyer who will pay the premium you want. Me? I like nuggets and nice pieces of gold as much as the next guy or gal but as I've always said, I'll take an ounce of fine gold any day before I'll take a bunch of small nuggets weighing a half ounce. Or an ounce, for that matter. Whatever...it's all the same in the end to me pretty much. At any rate, however you go about doing gold splits make damn sure you're as honest as the day is long. And make sure your pards are too...you might be unpleasantly surprised otherwise. Gold, even in small amounts, makes people crazy. That's a fact.
8. THOU SHALT MIND THY GEAR.
It's a sad indictment of the times we live in that thievery has become a high art for many people. In mining circles among those of us who toe the line, stealing another miner's gear or supplies is the biggest no-no there is. It ranks right alongside claim jumping but in my mind stealing or thievery is much worse. In the old days of gold mining stealing another miner's means of eking out a living was akin to leaving him to starve. No equipment for getting the gold = no gold = no food on the table. That was the equation and it was as real as real can be. Unlike today, thieves back then had their necks stretched or were run out of camp on a rail, tarred and feathered...if they were lucky that is. I will say that 30-40+ years ago when I was dredging and doing some real mining by other means I could leave my campsite and gear exactly where it was and head into the nearest town for supplies. I could come back to camp (or me and my pards) and find everything exactly as it had been when I (or we) had left. And this with other dredgers or dredging crews both upstream and downstream of us. Granted, much of that time I was working areas that were difficult to access (in and out) so we have to temper things with that bit of info. But in all that time, desert or mountains, I never had a single item of gear stolen or my supplies ransacked. I know I sound like an old coot, but back then miners honored this unwritten rule to the "T" for the most part. I'd like to say this holds true today and among most miners it probably does. But I would be hard-pressed to leave my gear laying around today while I disappeared for a while. This is especially true if you're working a gold area that's right off a main road or has "easy" access. I can guarantee you that your gear will be gone in the blink of an eye if you don't keep tabs on it. Regular thieves and mining thieves both ply their trade in many gold areas today. Some years ago a friend of mine in Northern California had pulled off the road in his pickup truck to scout an area to work with his highbanker and left all his gear in the back of his truck. When he returned after 15-20 minutes at most, he found everything that had been strapped down in the back of his truck was gone...his highbanker, his gear, his tent and sleeping bag, his food, his gas cans...all of it. When he reported this theft to the local sheriff's office the deputy told him that this sort of thievery wasn't all that uncommon these days. I know that here in Northern New Mexico where I live people will steal you blind in a heartbeat so you can't leave anything laying around when you're out and about. Nada. Sad, but true. So mind your gear and keep your eyes off other miners' gear while you're at it. You don't want to become what you profess to despise. And one of the most despicable creatures on this earth is a thief, mining or otherwise.
9. THOU SHALT GO ABOUT THY BUSINESS WITH A LIGHT HEART
When (or if) you watch those reality TV gold mining programs (I don't any longer, by the way) there are moments of humor or lightheartedness but not too many, if truth be told. When gold mining becomes a business proposition or a commercial enterprise the whole focus becomes more, more, more. This is understandable to a great degree because those TV "stars" have much to lose and just as much to gain. But the "fun" that's so closely aligned to small-scale gold mining and prospecting pretty much goes out the window. In commercial mining, the piles of gold that are accumulated are manifestations of great angst, hard work, and no small amount of greed. The scripted drama notwithstanding, those TV shows often depict people at their worst...angry, petty, dishonest, and vindictive. Those are negative qualities I've rarely come across in my 40 years of working and dealing with small-scale gold miners. Granted, there have been a few exceptions to this rule but those were few and far between. So don't get caught up in various forms of negative BS out there in the field...you don't have to prove anything to anybody but yourself. You're not the pampered young punk with an unrestrained ego, arrogant and self-serving, ordering others around like cattle all the while feeling you're God's gift to the mining world. You're simply you and that's just fine. So get out there and go about your mining business with a light heart and enjoy each and every minute of what you're doing and where you are. I'm telling you straight that the years fly by faster than you can imagine so be happy doing what you love. I treasure every moment when I'm out and about with that yellow beckoning me. Sure, I miss the good ol' days, but I can't linger there too long. Nor can you. Enjoy yourself out there, make your steps light and happy, and if you get the gold that's just icing on the cake. Forget your cares and worries, your responsibilities. Even if it's only for a day or two. Every minute counts.
10. THOU SHALT UNDERSTAND THAT YOU NEED LESS THAN YOU THINK.
Many of you know it drives me a bit crazy (or crazier?) when someone new to the small-scale gold mining community starts bombing me with e-mails about how they want to buy all sorts of fancy new mining gear or equipment when they don't know...to put it bluntly...jack shit about gold and gold mining. Hell, in many instances these folks (invariably greenhorns) don't even know how to handle a gold pan properly! We've all been there so I'm not trying to belittle these folks. But it does drive me up the wall. Essentially though, this commandment isn't about newbies or putting the cart before the horse. I will tell you this, though. You could spend your entire small-scale gold mining lifetime with nothing more than a few hand tools, a gold pan, and maybe a five-gallon bucket and never need anything else. You'll still have fun, get some gold, and operate just fine with that "less than you think" mentality. I've known a number of small-scale miners who did their thing just like this from the get go and still do. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that what you think you need, both in your life at large and gold mining too, is not necessarily a reflection of real fact or true need. Yes, I've owned some expensive gear over the course of 40 years' worth of prospecting and mining. But I bought and used that gear only when I was experienced enough to make it work for me from a gold standpoint. And let me say this too. I've never been a "toy" guy. You know the type, they have to have the most expensive dredge, the latest detectors, the big-dick pick up truck that cost them a bundle, the latest and greatest in camping gear, and on and on and on. I'm not against that in principle, as long as you can afford those toys and don't have your ass in hock because you "needed" them or just "had to have them." If you can afford all those expensive toys, more power to you. Ditto for the material things in your life...your house, your property, your cars, your boat, your fifth wheel, your gun collection, your ATV...the list can go on forever. But understand this, most of that shit you don't need if you do some serious soul searching. Since I quit dredging, dry washing, or running motorized mining gear my biggest mining toys are two metal detectors, a Super Sluice gold pan, some hand tools, a snipe tube, and my trusty old Keene sluice box that's about 35 years old now. I don't own jeeps, ATVs, trailers, motor homes, a fancy house up on a hill, boats, or anything else that's a high-ticket item. And I'm essentially debt free in a world where being "underwater" financially is the rule rather than the exception. In fact, right now I'm in the process of getting rid of many of the other "things" I don't really need. Again, no slight intended here to anyone. We all do what we think right for ourselves and those around us. And understand that I'm not some old hippie-dippie preaching about living on a commune and ridding yourself of all material possessions while you chant mantras in some tee-pee with a dirt floor. What I am saying is that a lot of the crap you've accumulated over your lifetime ain't necessarily needed. One rule in this regard? If something doesn't bring joy or excitement to your life...well pard...get rid of it. We all "need" a lot less than we think...mining or otherwise.
(c) Jim Rocha 2019
Questions? E-mail me at email@example.com