The summer of 2017, while our seventh or eighth consecutive car camping adventure, was fresh and lively, like a new birth. Trailing our eleven-year-old car was a small U-haul trailer, packed with all of our belongings. We departed Chicago with a 4x5x4 container of things, and drove west.
We had suspect confidence that the car would pull the trailer. Would it be best to travel the main highways? Would the car tug the container of goods up and over the Rocky Mountains? The Sierras? Could I navigate gas stations? Restaurant parking lots? I had no experience driving with a hitched trailer, and I could not back-up or reverse direction without the trailer coiling in the opposite direction that I had intended.
We drove to the nearest highway entrance ramp, departing in the mid-day traffic of a Chicago thorofare. I may have touched 45 MPH as we kept to the right, along with the trucks, broken cars, and old people.
The exit was both hasty and planned, inspired by a decade of westward summer camping explorations.
A few summers back, we began working a gold claim in California’s Sierra Nevadas, near the old 49er path, now named California State Route 49. Four of us, naive and excited, set up camp in a secluded NFS campground near the claim, left on our own with memories of 20 minute tutorial on how to pan for gold.
It was June, and it was cold. My friends, while boasting all sorts of REI camping gear, lacked the warm clothing necessary for the mornings and nights. We laughed and crowded the campfire.
We were told that panning is a meditation, a method for practicing sensing, an opportunity to put ourselves in a “place” where the gold could be present, an action that could reveal mysteries, un-earthing burried treasures, our own and those of the ancient earth we searched within.
We had no idea what we were doing. To guide us, we were given three aphorisms: “gold is heavy,” “the river you are looking at is not the river that brought the gold,” and “gold is where you find it.” With these three phrases and brand new panning gear, we set to work. Eight or more hours each day, we searched the rivers. Tricked into paying close attention to the pyrite that masqueraded as gold; Sucking black sand into our snifter bottles; sucking water and gravel burried under rocks with our hand dredge; while the lure of gold sucked and focused our attention. Elated, disappointed, self-aware.
At night we roasted corn and beef over a campfire, and began to notice an intimacy revealing itself. As intimacy grew to include us, we began to share. Sharing observations and perceptions among ourselves sparked, igniting each of us. Together we dared to melt the icy cold with stories, confessions, and secrets.