"" Writer's Wanderings: Panning For Gold

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Panning For Gold


How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to choose understanding rather than silver! Proverbs 16:16 (NIV)

            The great Gold Rush in Alaska in the late 1800s helped to make Fairbanks a center for gold mining and a supply station for those testing their good fortune in the rivers and mountainsides in the area. It was here that our pre-cruise tour of Alaska began.
At ten in the evening, the sun still provided light as our bus from the airport pulled into hotel parking lot. While one imagines Alaska to be cold and snowy, it is actually quite comfortable in July and August and can even get into the upper eighties on a sunny day in the interior near Fairbanks.
Despite the time difference from home, we fought to stay awake a bit longer to explore the grounds and catch up with other members of our group who had arrived earlier. We buzzed with excitement about our excursion to the Eldorado Gold Mine the next day and some of us may have even wondered as we rested our heads that night if we would strike it rich when we learned to pan for gold.
After breakfast the next morning, we boarded buses for the trip through wooded hills full of rugged terrain and pine trees. We watched for moose and other wild life native to Alaska and, as if on cue, they appeared at intervals during our drive to the gold mining area.
Upon our arrival at the Eldorado Gold Mine, we boarded an open-sided train for a trek through the territory that is still mined today. At one point, we entered a permafrost tunnel and a guide explained to us the various mineral and rock formations that tend to produce the most gold.
Our next stop was the giant sluice box where the folks of Eldorado Gold Mine still search for gold. As water is poured over the sluice box filled with soil, gold, a heavy metal, falls to the bottom and separates from gravel and other materials that are washed away. It is the same principle as panning for gold but much more can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time. Guides thoroughly briefed us on the procedure of panning for our own gold and eagerly we set off to our luck.
The Eldorado operation is set up for the leisure tourist. We sat on stools at large troughs of water, warmed to keep the visitors happy, and swirled the materials from our “poke,” a little pouch of dirt and stones taken from the same pile where the gold was mined through the giant sluice. I could imagine a crusty old miner from times past as he spied our lavish setup—a whoop and a holler and a shake of the head as he led his donkey away for some serious panning.
It took a little patience, some rhythm and coordination to begin to slosh the water around in the pan and not lose everything. As the pan is shaken, the gold falls to the bottom. The larger stones can be removed and what is left is sludge that needs to be rinsed and rinsed and rinsed again as the pan is gently swirled partially submerged in the water. Eventually what is left in the bottom of the pan is purple and black sand and little flecks of gold—or if you are very fortunate, a gold nugget.
There were no gold nuggets in my pan but what a thrill it was to find little shiny flakes of gold stuck to the bottom. I carefully picked each miniscule flake out and dropped it into a small vial that was provided us. When we were done, I had perhaps a couple of dollars worth of gold flecks. It cost me another fifteen dollars to get them mounted into a small globe on a gold chain to show off my great gold discovery.
How much richer would we be if we used the same patience and diligence to wash away the sludge of everyday life to find God’s precious metals of wisdom and understanding?
May we see the wealth of wisdom in your grace, Father. May it enrich our lives and spill over into the lives of those around us.

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