Sunday, August 26, 2018

Panning for Gold

The image of panning for gold has never been a particularly glamorous one. Overall it is closely associated with a blunt, raw and decidedly earthy process. It does however evoke an element of determined conviction, a commitment to which surpasses the lesser intangible preoccupations of life.  In spite of its sometimes vulgar portrayal it characteristically promotes an elemental need.

Gold panning is a form of placer mining (mining of a stream bed of alluvial deposits) and traditional mining (a method involving the use of simple manual tools such as shovels, pickaxes, hammers, chisels and pans) that extracts gold from a placer deposit using a pan. The process is one of the simplest ways to extract gold and is popular with geology enthusiasts especially because of its low cost and relative simplicity.  In South Australia, fossicking is defined as "the gathering of minerals as a recreation; and without any intention to sell the minerals or to utilize them for a commercial purpose". What drives our innermost needs is seldom purely financial.

Gold panning is an uncomplicated process. Once a suitable placer deposit is located, some alluvial deposits are scooped into a pan where it is then gently agitated in water and the gold sinks to the bottom of the pan. Materials with a low specific gravity are allowed to spill out of the pan, whereas materials with a higher specific gravity sink to the bottom of the sediment during agitation and remain within the pan for examination and collection by the prospector. This operation contrasts for example with the production of cream which is composed of the higher butterfat layer skimmed from the top of milk before homogenization.  In un-homogenized milk, the fat, which is less dense, will eventually rise to the top.

Panning for gold is more about the process or objective than the object - very often a glimpse at discovery rather than the discovery itself. But it invariably proves at least that there are but two ways to get down a river; viz., either you know where to go or you know where not to go. The demonstrable and the metaphorical activity involves a cleansing element associated with intense but careful agitation to achieve its purification. In addition panning for gold - though never guaranteed to be a completely successful adventure - has at least the distinction of being accessible to almost anyone not just the esoteric, privileged or strictly commercial classes.

As a confessed member of the body of common people I relish the opportunity to improve my being by cultivating my experience generally.  Like the prospectors I am in search of the most valuable return possible. It is for me a convenient accident of aging that I willingly distance myself from unnecessary fluff and complication in preference for what is clear, plain and worthy.  Like prospecting however the undertaking is at times demanding and admits to the employment of little if any tinsel. It is this unforgiving necessity which fires the superficial cracks that when punishingly cooled will reveal the hidden gems.

In the search for gold one must naturally be alive to the possibility of discovery of other important components.  There are frequently redeeming qualities in almost any encounter.  Investigation isn't merely a matter of isolating either compelling or eclipsing knowledge. The product of alluvium for example is a mixture of many resources, a complete deposit of clay, silt, sand and gravel left by flowing streams in a river valley producing fertile soil. Although a cosmopolitan choice is critical, we mustn't allow this to cloud or diminish our well defined ambition.  There is nothing ambivalent about perfection. Nothing competes with the real thing nor is there any room for synthetics.

1 comment:

  1. Fact check: "a confessed member of the body of common people.

    I am afraid the time when panning resulted in large gold nuggets is over. Digging at Alyea's is much more satisfying for a confessed member of the body of common people.