Monday, June 8, 2009

The Moose's Caboose

When I was kid, we lived in a small cottage, for lack of a better word, in the countryside of Pennsylvania. We had a coal furnace and running water but you took your showers in the basement by the furnace to keep warm during that exercise. Eventually we had "inside plumbing" too but there was an outhouse (yes, to the Sears Catalog thing) outside. Most all of us have become spoiled by our comforts nowadays and I can't help but wonder if a simpler time may have been a better time. I suppose perspective is the controlling factor. Here in Chicken, life is a lot like it was for me in the old homestead. I like it like that. Maybe not all year long and in the winter, but for now it is exceptional. Power to the camp is via a generator during the day. 20 Amps each- like one plug in the sheet rock in the wall of your house. You must be selective about the appliances you need and the appliances you want. There is no waste. Because there is no extra for the "extras." If you want water, you can go fetch it from the generator driven pump on the water tank which we tote in every day from a well nearby by truck. There is no wasted water, or you're out until we fill the tank. Brush teeth fast. Wash quick. Take a shower in the quarter driven, propane heated shower house- ah luxury! Shower quick. Most of us dry camp. Only a few sites with even the 20 amp electric. The nice thing about the out house is you don't have to flush; just close the lid and exit when finished. The seat may be a tad cool in the early morning hours, but they are kept oh so clean- even to the point where tourists comment about "the cleanest outhouses in the world." Well, yea! This is Chicken! Everything is special, even if it is simple, basic, the old-fashioned way.

But back to my point. Back in the Oley Valley, there was a caboose that was used as a residence down in the valley. For reasons I no longer recall (but mother and dad will refresh my memory when they read this for sure) we called it the Moose's Caboose. Maybe just because it rhymed and sounded nice. Like I said, those were simpler times. And that was the first thing that popped into my mind this morning when the moose and her newborn calf came dashing across the camp parking area, right smack down the side of the coach and disappeared with lightning speed into the willow brush at the back (the caboose, don't you see?) of the coach. It happened at high noon. Which, by the way, is only slightly "lighter" than midnight now, since sunset tonight was scheduled for 11:59 PM. I'd come back from the Myers Fork Gold Claim operated by the Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost. I had taken some folks up and guided them to some producing spots earlier in the morning in the cool drizzle and rain. I was wet for sure and a bit cool when I returned and had come back to the coach for some dry duds and the bottoms to my rain gear. With one foot in the pants to the rain suit and hopping on the other foot while trying to suit up, it is NOT possible to bound across the floor quickly enough to grab a camera and take a picture of a mother/daughter moose team moving at full tilt. Trust me, I now know this to be true. But it was another special moment on the Chicken Tour and if you were here and paying attention at exactly the right moment- you caught the action as well. Even if you didn't see the moose coming...perhaps you might see the moose's caboose!

I gave quite a few panning lessons today in the afternoon. We have a lot of European clients passing through and I enjoy them all. Gold panning is new to most all of them so helping them find gold in their pan is very rewarding all the way around. But sometimes something gets lost in the translation, as they say. So today when I finished my lesson with a very lovely German couple, and told them to give it a try on their own while I observed, the gentleman went and took a big shovel full of dirt off the paydirt pile, carried it over to his pan, but instead of depositing the load into the pan he proceded to dump the full shovel into the panning trough.
Too late. Gold sinks to the bottom of whatever it can when placed in water and this was no exception. We all had a big laugh! I have a new line to my panning lessons now. The gold gets "washed" in the pan, not the trough!
As I was finishing up with lessons for the day around 8 o'clock, boss man Mike came out and said he wished to do one more demo for all those at the panning troughs with me. That was something new. He said he knew I had already taught them to pan, but he wanted to do a "speed lesson" for them. So with a rather rascally smile on his face he carried his pan to the dirt pile and put a shovel full in it, came over to the trough, and said- "You don't have to pan slowly, you can go fast and the gold will stay in the pan." Well that's more than true for experienced panners but for novices- not so much. They are scared that they are throwing the gold out of the pan...and in fact some do. Anyway Mike panned his pan in under a minute, much to everyone's amazement. But what really sent them hooting and a hollering was that there was an ounce and a half nugget in the bottom of the pan when he was finished. Now this is a place where the panning dirt is NOT salted. There are no "fixes" here. It's real mining- you either find gold or you don't (trust me, though, everyone does!) But this was a nugget- the biggest that has been found here by tourists, by "pay to play" customers and Mike, in a masterful display of showmanship, dropped it in the pan for the sheer joy of the moment. I took it as a stroke of genius and personally I hope he repeats the event at least weekly. You see a nugget like that once in your life, you will think about it for the rest of your life. Ain't no doubt in my mind! No one that got Mike's demo quit panning until well into the wee hours.....

Continuing our That Was Then series, two years ago we were in Fairbanks seeing the sites and taking it all in. Some of the best values for your buck and some of the best all Alaskan introduction activities to be had in the state are in Fairbanks, so if you're headed North To Alaska, this should be on you "must read" list:

Fun With Fairbanks

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