Fool's Gold

Fool's Gold

A Story by Carol Cashes
"

This is how I felt when I first returned to the Gulf Coast after living almost twenty years in the Pacific Northwest.

"

Fool’s Gold

 

In the beginning, she stayed in a constant state of railing at the gods, the powers that be, fate--whatever was keeping her just this side of whatever she was after.  Her last marriage had been a good one up until the end, when a series of unforeseen events led to choosing her life or her death.  Her  automobile was the best she'd owned in her adult life, current model and reliable, but it would never have been her first choice and would remain a practical matter.  She enjoyed her job, but was over-qualified for the Receptionist position she was hired as,  and she chafed at the copy jobs and endless envelope stuffing.  Sizable deposits were made to the savings account, yet it  never seemed to grow.  But the primary sticking point was that she could not be farther from the gold-bearing waters she loved without living on a tropical island.  The differences between the Pacific Northwest mountains and the Gulf Coast were many and glaring.

 

The only times she could remember being truly at peace,  with herself and the world around her,  was in those beloved high mountain waters, those wild places where brief prospecting would reveal "color", and she would dig, methodically and ever deeper in pursuit of gold.  It  wasn't really  the value of the gold, or the centuries-old fascination for the shiny metal that pulled at her.  No,  the attraction   lay in finding and extracting that which had known no human hands until hers pulled it from the river.  The invigorating smells, sounds, and feel of rough mountainous terrain had always, even from her first encounter, felt  as natural as skin, like her natural habitat and she felt its absence much as she would a limb.  She had a natural gift for finding gold - easily grasping the concepts of "reading" a river and the surrounding terrain, knowing that gold is nineteen times heavier than water and what that meant in the practical process.  She discovered a natural, inborn ability to pan away the soil, rocks and clay, swirling the debris in an outward motion until nothing remained. Nothing but the black sand that shone brilliantly in the sunlight and seemed determined to conceal the gold.  Now the real “hunt” began:  revealing and removing the gold from the magnetic material held her undivided attention until she instinctively knew all had been extracted.  The once-shiny black sand would become dull and without purpose or value " no different from the soils, rocks and clay initially discarded.  Even the roar of the swift and swollen river faded from her hearing and only thoughts of gold would occupy her conscious mind.   When daylight faded, she carefully inspected her vials of water filled with gold flakes and nuggets, always surprised at the amount accumulated in a day’s panning as she had no concept of time so fully absorbed was she .   It was not until she stretched stiff and aching limbs that she realized ten or more hours had been devoted to the river and its elusive treasure  

 

Springtime so far from her elements, both the mountains and the gold, was the hardest to endure. Spring was when scouting expeditions determined the amount of winter snow run-off, melted snow that would flood the rivers, eroding the riverbanks and moving large masses of soil and other materials from the high country.  In known gold-bearing areas, this gave birth to new gold each spring, bringing it  down the mountains through the fast-moving river waters.  The amount of “flood gold” found indicated the presence of larger nuggets, pieces that remained nestled firmly underground until the combination of earth movements and melting snow dislodged and transported them down the rivers.  Potential sites were noted,  marked on maps, and the itinerary  for the coming summer’s prospecting began to take shape " vacation days were requested and approved, lists of supplies written and rewritten,   equipment checked and replaced as needed, even meals and menus were discussed and evaluated for feasibility.  These preparations were undertaken as seriously as the actual prospecting, and the first outing was as fraught with anticipation as Christmas to a small child.

 

The effort required for the primitive camping that mountainous areas commanded neither  discouraged nor deterred her, and she took great pride in creating comfort in what appeared to others as untamed, even daunting places: pitching the tent,  setting up the campfire and cooking area, gathering firewood, allowing the wilderness to dominate and set the decor of her camp.  Even her home displayed one or more collections of what was really nothing more than sticks and stones - all found and kept for some unique characteristic known only to her.  Her affinity for this environment and its natural accessories allowed her to see at once the arrangement specific to each campsite.  Not unlike a kind of  feng-shui  for wooded areas, her campsites always had a symmetry " an unconscious design that she instinctively perceived and efficiently arranged. 

 

In the evenings, with a hot and hearty meal eaten and utensils washed and put in their place, the aroma of strong “hobo” coffee competed with the smell of the carefully tended campfire and large Ponderosa Pines.  While slowly savoring the rich coffee, the heat of the campfire warmed and eased her aching muscles, pulling her into a relaxed and complacent state many sought from alcohol and drugs.  With no artificial light to interfere and the high elevation of the mountains,  the stars appeared to shine as millions of small floodlights, lighting the woods like a full moon on a cloudless evening.  She would then plan  the following day " where she would dig,  what areas to rework that could still be hiding gold, always from arrival to departure her thoughts remain focused on the gold: finding, retrieving, and finding more.  When her mind finally admitted exhaustion, and after she carefully banked the fire, she succumbed to sleep that too often eluded her in the comfort of her home, and was always as deep and natural as the sleep of children who are fed, nurtured and loved.

 

She missed all of these things, from the smell of the campfire to the water-filled vials held up to the sun to catch all of her gold’s glory, from the hearty one-skillet breakfasts to the glare of the sun on the river’s fast-moving current, from the welcome warmth of her sleeping bag to the firewood gathering forays into the wild, wooded terrain.    Her mind began to convince her heart to be patient, that a trip could be planned soon - maybe next year " and with the passing of each year, she finally began to fear that she was losing interest.  This saddened her and she wept for several days, every spring, grieving the loss of this once passionate pursuit.   In time, she convinced herself that she was being  foolish; there were, after all, more important things in life. She floated into the summers, worked through the week,  sunbathed in her backyard with pitchers of fruity, exotic cocktails, and read book after book…after book. Her passion for books increased ten-fold by the absence of her first love.  It began as a poor substitute, but soon became her personal fool’s gold, that shiny metal too many times mistaken by amateurs and those who desperately needed to believe as real gold.  She tried to convince herself that knowing it was fool’s gold, pinning no high hopes on its redemptive value, and receiving none,  that she was different from the amateurs and desperate believers. Her heart always knew the truth:  everything now would  always be her personal fool’s gold.


© 2017 Carol Cashes



Author's Note

Carol Cashes
Wrote this a few months after I returned to my hometown after many years out West. I really did prospect and discovered I had a natural instinct for reading the water and finding gold. I still miss it.

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Reviews

It was one of the happiest times of my life up there. So I can empahise a lot. I still live in the mountains but in the more ancient ones of the highlands of Scotland. I've seen people panning up here as well however.
There is far more to your story I feel than just looking for gold. There is the real difference between solitude and lonely. I know where I would be more lonely.
An incerdible story so well told.

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Thank you for reading this and yes, it's about much more than prospecting. I am grateful that you r.. read more
To forsake one's first love seems almost sinful.
On the other hand, such a virtual obsession often literally steals unnoticed portions of your life. That "focus" requires huge trance-like time investments.
Enthralling narrative!

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Thanks for reading this. My forsaking this "first love" has more to do with an aging body than lack.. read more
Jimmy Yetts

3 Months Ago

Didn't say you lacked focus, Carol, just said that focus was expensive.
Thanks!
Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Noted. Maybe my response was flavored by my current lack of "focus" due to my suddenly and swiftly .. read more
Oh, the hypnotic, all-consuming hunger for gold. Even though a love of wealth didn't make it into my dna, I still understand the allure. As a kid, wandering and exploring the woods and streams, my eyes always searched for lost treasures, be they arrowheads, musket balls or the occasional sparkle of fool's gold.
You, my lady, are that rare breed of female that loves adventure. God would do well to make more like you. Having spent time in the Pacific northwest too, I extra-enjoyed this story. Oh, to wake up in the morning, look out the window and see those Cascades again!

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Back in the day, I was all about adventure--if the heights (not elevation) weren't too high, the sna.. read more
Wonderful way to express one's dreams and experiences with following a dream and what may happen along the way.
Nice work!
:)
"In the evenings, with a hot and hearty meal eaten and utensils washed and put in their place, the aroma of strong “hobo” coffee competed with the smell of the carefully tended campfire and large Ponderosa Pines. While slowly savoring the rich coffee, the heat of the campfire warmed and eased her aching muscles, pulling her into a relaxed and complacent state many sought from alcohol and drugs. With no artificial light to interfere and the high elevation of the mountains, the stars appeared to shine as millions of small floodlights, lighting the woods like a full moon on a cloudless evening."--this section means a lot as I read it!

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Thank you for reading this little reflection of a part of my life now in the past. I miss the stars.. read more
Josie E. Cook M. A.

3 Months Ago

I enjoyed reading this short story about it!
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MCS
Great read. Having spent some time in the Yukon one gets a feeling of what it must have been like during the gold rush.

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

I'm glad I missed the "rush", that era was fraught with danger and fear. There is a real and physic.. read more
Always wanted to prospect for gold.
Though it must be hard work with a lot of tough times. Up in the highlands of Scotland, they pan for gold. It seems to be quite profitable.
I suppose you sum it up. You have to know the river.

Posted 3 Months Ago


Paul Bell

3 Months Ago

Gold is going great just now.
Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Yeah...I know. That was in 1993 and $3,000 paid all our expenses for the summer. However, the valu.. read more
Paul Bell

3 Months Ago

Has in Britain. Though the pound is crap.
Fascinating, well and skillfully-penned story of a nostalgic time in your life and your quite unique talent for "reading a river" and gold-panning in the Pacific Northwest. Rich with detail, descriptive passages, and natural imagery that bring the story to life in the reader's mind. Amazed by this!

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Thank you so much for reading this. My aging body pre-aches when I think about maybe trying it agai.. read more
Annette Pisano Higley

3 Months Ago

I enjoy reading your stories very much. They are so very well-written. I think they are good enough.. read more
A delightful read indeed & one that provides a whole heap of insights into another world entirely that exists across the pond....Cheers & All Good Things from over here...N

Posted 3 Months Ago


Carol Cashes

3 Months Ago

Thanks for reading this little snippet. Gold prospecting is a foreign world to many on this side of.. read more
Neville Pettitt

3 Months Ago

God bless ya pen my fine literary friend....N

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Added on July 3, 2017
Last Updated on July 3, 2017
Tags: fiction

Author

Carol Cashes
Carol Cashes

Biloxi, MS



About
I'm very cynical, jaded, just this side of bitter and the only reason I haven't crossed that line is a good man loves me. I am extremely empathetic, but seldom sympathetic. I can be a ferociously lo.. more..

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