Retirement should be a period when you freely explore whims, dreams and interests that you didn't have time for during your working life. I try to keep busy. For example, I fish, I read two books a week and I garden. But I also use my time to explore.
And nothing defines my need to explore more than the search for Gold. I"m not a gold bug -- someone whose life is consumed by the need to accumulate or dream of amassing 22 carat finds. But rather I view gold prospecting as a natural outgrowth of my love of and passion for California's quite palpable history.
My interest in gold was fueled as a youngster by two key figures in my life; a maternal grandfather, William K. Sele, and a paternal Uncle, Mont A.Forbes. Both men were literally towering figures whose keen eyes looked at gold not from the perspective of its potential wealth, but rather it's impact on society and locale. My grandfather was a wildlands surveyor who learned geophysics, geology, geometry and trig from his children's text books. But more important he was an extremely curious man, a trait I share and which he encouraged. He also knew as much about where you might find gold in and near mountains as any geologist I've ever met.
My Uncle Mont was a science teacher who taught me what conditions had to be met in order for gold to make its way to the surface--where it's called "placer gold." Uncle Mont was a hard taskmaster and very logical. Without realizing it, I learned that gold finding is a process of reasoning and most of all observation. In other words, it's an activity that's physically and mentally challenging.
So, when I'm out fishing up on some Sierra stream or creek, or up on my beloved San Gabriel River's East Fork, I spend a lot of time looking down at a stream bed, or using my field glasses to look at geologic formations on the sides of mountains looking for auferious "tells" signalling potential gold finds.
The one thing about Gold is that you need to know where to look for it. First, it's heavy enough that even in small quantities, it will settle at the very bottom of gravel or sand pockets, most often against bed rock. Gold can and will make it's way into crevices in rocky stream courses that trap solid particles during seasonal flood cycles. digging out and washing material from those crevices-- called "sniping." is an effective strategy for finding placer gold flakes or small nuggets.
My favorite gold "sniping" tool is a long handled ice cream soda spoon that I have modified by sharpening its outer edges to make it easier to excavate caked mud tpacked into crevices that had been submerged during a river's flood stage. I scoop out the detritus ands dump it into a one gallon Ziploc bag. When sniping you need to pay attention to the excavated material. If gold is present, you'll begin to see color as you empty the crevice. If you're real lucky, the amount of color you find will increase as you near the bottom of the crevice. If the crevice has caught nuggets, you'll find them at the very bottom. I wash the material when I"m satisfied I've emptied the hole.
I've emptied more river crevices on the East Fork of the upper San Gabriel than I care to admit and done the same on the south Fork of the American and on Bear Creek in Northern California. I don't make money looking for gold, but I've come to appreciate some of the dreams and realities that continue to shape California. Oh I've also caught a mess or two of mighty fine looking rainbow and brook trout while I'm scouring a stream course for gold. And that's just as satisfying to me as finding a few tiny nuggets.
The allure of gold in all its forms or promises is what continues to fuel the hopes and dreams of many Californians. And looking back, the process of being an observer and reporting on the search for "golden dreams" was more emotionally satisfying to me than ever finding shiny minerals. But the gold is still out there and I still smile seeing entrepreneurs hunt it down in all it's forms. Jim Forbes, wistfully on 12/08/2007 from a rainy mountaintop in rural California.