This time four years ago, my friend Crazy Dave had come up from the Philly area, where he was living at the time, to help me out with a project, and ended up staying for a couple of weeks. One evening an old friend of Dave’s, Dr. D., stopped by for a brief visit. Dr. D. had been bitten by the gold mining bug, and the intensity with which he talked about panning for gold in the Appalachians was almost frightening. The following account appears in my manuscript Spoil (available for download as a .pdf document at my other site). I decided to convert it into prose – it reads better that way.
Rain interlaced with birdcalls, the god-forsaken moan of a cat in heat & without warning a crash of thunder, so close it’s simultaneous with the flash.
We lean over the porch railing, crane our necks, peering into the dusk. Some black or scarlet oak must still be shivering, its newly unfurled leaves as if in the throes of a proprietary wind, with the raw stripe–sapwood laid open from earth to sky–where the lightning-tree stretched one revelatory limb.
A heartbeat later the rain turns torrential. We have to pull our chairs close to talk.
Let me tell you, some of these eastern creeks can really tease honey from the rock says our visitor, hunched around his hunger like an inverted question mark, wire-thin arms tense with current. He pulls out his portable titanium sluice box & the green plastic pan–only eight dollars through the mail. Says there’s one thin seam that runs the length of the piedmont from Georgia to Maine: in plate tectonic theory, perhaps the very line where the continents tried to fuse. Somehow you need that heat, those exact pressures.
I decide to save for later my polite queries about his children, whom he’s just been up to visit. He’s busy unscrewing a vial full of dust, balances a grain on his fingertip. You don’t do it for the money, just the realization: it’s been lying there on that creekbed for ten thousand years.
He runs an anxious hand through thinning hair. Here, feel how heavy, how hard the gold itself tries–this little grain! to get under your skin.