So much for slowing down, I went to work today. Well, “we” went to work today, technically, I didn’t, I’m just along for the ride, and, in the process, meeting some new folks and maybe even having some new experiences. Like slowing down on a “work day”.
Today’s workday consisted of welding a new something (slick plate) or other on a big gold mining piece of equipage (trammel) in the middle of nowhere after unwelding the old something or other off of the big gold mining piece of equipage in the middle of nowhere. So, yes, I am more in the middle of nowhere than I usually am, except this middle of the nowhere actually has Internet. Not fast, but almost capable. I don’t think I’m anywhere that has a name, other than “Georgie’s gold mine” somewhere off the Steese highway some miles outside of Fairbanks, Alaska, but not yet to Central, in a direction I really didn’t pay attention to. I’ve heard a lot about Georgie’s gold mine over the past few years and am happy to have an opportunity to visit.
Now, as far as this workday goes, obviously, there was a commute involved. We had to drive a couple of hours to get here and I think we saw, maybe, four other cars the entire time. Now, out here, “commuting”, like at home, often involves certain “errands” along the way, to “buy groceries”, I suppose. Okay, we stopped to fish twice on the way to work.
Apparently, whatever I did yesterday, fishing-wise, worked, and today did not. I did not wear Vera Wang’s “Princess”, I just wore DEET, lots and lots of DEET. I’m not in any designer clothing, I’m actually in Levi’s 501’s and a (really cute, form fitting Target) plaid flannel shirt. Yes, I do have sequins on, it is requisite, but my sequins bedazzled, scooped neck t-shirt has not seen the light of day for the mosquitos. But, for whatever reason, the fish disapproved. Actually, I think there just weren’t any fish. At all.
The fishing holes we found were “roadside”, like yesterday’s, though yesterday’s had a well worn path between the road and the water. Today, no well worn path. That there was even a river down there was hard to determine. But, my man knows Alaska fishing holes like most men know sports statistics. We would park the car, and make our way down nearly vertical embankments for some undeterminable distance through vegetation so thick I lost sight of my man less than ten feet in front of me a couple of times. We basically just moved down the hillside, George of the Jungle style, from tree to tree to tree, using the small birch and black spruce trees as both a handhold and a foothold so as not to tumble down the hill (though I think if you were to tumble, you’d only roll downhill about six inches before being lodged against another tree, but you’d be buried in about four feet of brush, which, yes, we waded through. All of this to reach a lovely, meandering river, home to zero fish. “The fish are late this year,” I’ve been told. How rude. I hope they are able to get on standby for another flight and arrive soon, like while I’m here and hold a valid 14-day out-of-state fishing license.
When we arrived at Georgie’s gold mine, I was introduced and given a tour, including an overview of how the mining operation works. Introductions in Alaska are always pleasant and sincere, most folks are genuinely nice and very welcoming hosts and hostesses. Learning a little about their placer mining operation was very interesting, especially having lived in California’s gold country for several years, at one point a few miles from where gold was first discovered in 1849 and, also, having once owned a forty-acre parcel of remote forest property with its own hard rock gold mine. This type of large-scale placer mining is far different than what I’ve seen in the Sierra foothills of Northern California, but I haven’t visited any working, placer mine operations, only the single claim holder with a personal and portable operation.
While the actual work was being done, I was entertained by being taken to a nearby creek to pan for gold. I have the patience of a gnat, and adolescent gnat, when it comes to certain things; golf, fishing and gold panning. I have learned to embrace fishing, only because I have finally been taught the finer, more intellectual points and have discovered it requires quite a bit of knowledge and skill –my competitive spirit awakens. Gold panning, today, entertained me for about two swirls, until someone actually took the time to explain the nuances. I was then entertained for about twelve minutes, until Georgie himself, took a break from driving some big, yellow Tonka tractor thing back and forth and showed me five flecks of gold in his pan after only about fourteen seconds and three swirls. In kicked my competitive spirit and I am not the proud owner of an empty prescription bottle FULL of …. water. And at the bottom, several very small flecks of gold, small enough you have to squint to see them, but not so small you need a microscope. Almost, though. I will continue with my current plan for an early retirement, which, truthfully, is about “Plan H”, with Plans A through G having failed. Plan L may still pan out, no pun intended (Plan L being Lottery).
After the old slick plate was removed and the new one welded in its place in the trammel, the crew all returned to the cabin for a fantastic dinner. Another couple was visiting and we filled the table in the small cabin. Which wasn’t really all that small considering the story about it being trucked in from another town about eighty miles away.
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After dinner we retired to the sitting area and visited at length. I love meeting new folks, I love learning about new folks, I love their stories and I love finding something in common to share, a location and hobby or some experience. George, Georgie’s dad, and his wife grew up on the east coast, Ingrid in New Jersey and in Midtown Manhattan, one of my favorite stomping grounds. This we chatted about while panning. After dinner, during our conversation, Ingrid revealed, that much to her family’s shame and embarrassment, she was a geocacher. So, too, am I, so this fueled more lively conversation. It is after opportunities for experiences and meetings such as these that we come to appreciate the value, the richness of an ordinary day, ordinary events and ordinary people. Failing to realize and appreciate this value, this richness, prohibits us from taking our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. Today was extraordinary! Meetings that began cordial and with a handshake and a smile ended with big hugs around the room and the hope to return for another visit soon.