When I was 16, after we'd moved back to Methford from Washington, dad got a gold claim. I used to mess up and call it a gold mine, and that's obviously not the same thing. Anyway, he got this gold claim outside of Merlin - far outside - or somewhere thereabouts, and was going to slowly make a fortune. You can, right now, still go out to the Rogue and the Applegate and pan for gold and find a few flakes, though you do have to watch out for the fool's gold. The way the gold claim works, best as I understand, is that you get a lease from the BLM for 99 years. You can then sublease your claim, or sell it outright, which is how dad got his. What you find is yours, of course, and you can't do much to the land itself, but this claim came with a small trailer so one could conceivably spend the night out there.

In this process dad met a few cronies, and he learned the ropes pretty quickly, the ropes being simply etiquette and safety. There's bears and cougars out here, plus the rattlesnakes (and black widows; those are relatively shy, though I'm sure the trailer was riddled with them), plus the drug dealers. In southern Oregon it's meth and weed for the most part - was true back then, is true now (though sadly heroin seems to be making a comeback). So for the animals you took a gun (in dad's case, a Russian-made SKS he later sold for a pittance of its value because he was out of booze money), and for the growers/dealers you kept an eye out for PVC pipes, what they'd use for irrigation, and avoid them.

I only went up to the claim once myself. Now, I'm biased, I think southern Oregon is one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. and definitely the most beautiful part of Oregon itself. But, still, the claim was objectively beautiful - golden grass, dark green oaks, crystal-clear creek, the dampest, loamiest dirt ever. There was a massive quartz boulder up the creek a ways, and dad was convinced this was the key to the gold (heaven forbid he just pan the creek, slowly amassing gold flakes; he had to find the mother lode a.s.a.p.). As we walked up the trail beside the creek, we hopped over a few bear or cougar scats - probably bear, as they were large and full of half-digested berries, but oddly I never tried to figure this out. I'm sure there's a Guide to Wildlife Shit, but I never did bother to study up.

We got to the quartz boulder, and part of the slope around it had washed off in a recent rainstorm, leaving a new face exposed and churning the dirt up around it. I saw a gleam in the dirt, stuck my finger out, and came away with a single gold flake. I called my parents back and they got all excited - dad hadn't found any actual gold yet, but he had the little sample bottles ready and had me carefully transfer the flake into a bottle. We walked on, encouraged, then went off the trail a ways where dad showed us a pile of PVC pipe that had recently appeared, making him a bit nervous. We saw nothing (definitely didn't smell tortillas, had a nice day, and left with our single gold flake and a new sense of hope.

Dad would go out to the claim now and then, go out with his cronies and have a few drinks, but that pile of PVC pipe was worrisome. He came back once or twice with stories about running across these guys, them giving him the evil eye and warning him off, how he and the other miners (panners?) were growing increasingly concerned. Then one day he came back and said the PVC pipe guys tried to run him off. I don't know exactly what happened, but one day dad came back from the claim, got some extra supplies, and only came back much later that night, reeking of whiskey and completely - completely - freaked out. The story was garbled, but the gist was that he'd met up with some of his gold-friends to protect his claim from the growers. There had been gunfire from both sides. There was entrenchment and ducking and weaving and shooting back and forth. He was rather afraid he'd killed someone but wouldn't say much more than that.

He didn't, though, go back. Much to my mother's relief (and my own). He claimed some paperwork saga - perhaps someone else over-filed the claim, perhaps his sublease/purchase of it wasn't legal in the first place, I don't know, and honestly I don't care. Even given dad's penchant for drama and exaggeration, I've rarely seen him as freaked out and nervous as he was that night.

For years that sample bottle with the single gold flake sat on our windowsill. Like so much else, it's lost now, but it remains the only piece of gold ever found by my family at that claim.

Bonus song:

This has been an entry for [livejournal.com profile] therealljidol. Please read, enjoy, and vote for the entries you like best!
My father played with my brother and me a lot as children - chess, checkers, '30s bank robbers*, baseball, basketball.... we didn't have a TV for some years, so mom read to us, and dad played games. When I was 6, we moved to a new town in a neighborhood full of my kids my age. All the neighbor kids loved my dad - they'd call him "dad," in fact, as did my classmates. We'd moved to this town so that my parents could attend college, and we lived exactly 1 block from said college, with access to all its fields and tracks and racquetball courts.

It was on one of those fields on a beautiful sunny day that dad organized all the neighbor kids for a game of baseball. Dad had played baseball as a kid and always insisted he could have made the minors, if he hadn't started smoking the dope (and dropping LSD and eventually shooting heroin, among other things) when he was 12. We grabbed our gloves and bats and balls and some mats for makeshift bases, and trooped out together to start a glorious game. If you've seen Sandlot, this game had that same sort of childhood fairytale sense around it. I was on second; I don't remember what was happening up at bat, but it wasn't going well, and I desperately wanted to steal third.

I was always a short kid, by the way. I couldn't run fast, but at least being low to the ground gave me a good center of gravity. If you've ever seen a Corgi run, that's about what I looked like - stubby little legs blurring forward. Dad was the second baseman. He knew what I wanted to do. He approved. He encouraged me. He whispered that he wouldn't try to tag me out, he'd help me get to third. He always liked the "get ahead no matter what" mentality, and being the second child, the unwanted daughter**, I desperately wanted his approval. And to win. I don't know what happened to my competitive spirit, but that day, oh I wanted to win.

After much hesitation, I went for it - my little Corgi legs took off. But I'd waited too long, hesitated just the right amount. I heard the crack of a bat, the soft whump of the ball landing in a glove, and mere nanoseconds later, the touch of the glove on my shoulder, dad tagging me out.

I burst out crying, to dad's great perplexity. While I sobbed and sniffled that he'd promised, he'd supported me, I was going to get to third, he hugged me and patted my back and said that I never should have trusted him; that's how the game is played. His refrain all through my childhood, "life isn't fair," was trotted out yet again, and the game went on.

Dad stopped playing chess with my brother, David, when David started beating him, sometime in grade school***. David and I kept playing, and as dad got busier and busier with school and work, we played together more and more often. Anything we could get our hands on, to alleviate the boredom and fill the time while our parents were busy. When I was about 9, David got a deck of cards and the Hoyle's book of card games. I had ADD as a child, although it wasn't diagnosed. The last thing I could do was concentrate on rules and explanations for anything. But there were something like 100 different card games in this book, and by gum, we were going to get through all of them.

It was David who taught me about cutting the cards while we learned to play a bewildering variety of poker games. It wasn't a big deal, simply a precaution, a normal part of the game. Every game we learned to play, card or board or computer, David would read the instructions while I fidgeted with the pieces or stared out the window, then explain the basics and walk me through a practice game before getting down to the details. No fuss, no flurry, he'd hand me the deck of cards to cut, not minding when I picked up all but two and cut it that way, or wanted to cut it a bunch of times because why not? David and I, we never cheated each other. It was just part of the game.

The thing is, life isn't fair. I get that. But life is also what you make it. You have to trust others enough to navigate through, but learning to take precautions, to protect yourself, to be cautious - that's important too, and it doesn't require making small children cry to teach that lesson.

Footnotes under the cut )
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The ability to wake up whenever I wanted and feel rejuvenated, even if it was just a 20-minute power nap.

I used to be able to take power naps, now I just doze for 20 minutes without falling asleep and hardly feeling refreshed, or I nap for a couple hours and feel awesome but just missed hours out of my day.

I'm still feeling like nothing is quite right with my world. I assume I will feel much better after this fiasco of a weekend is over with, and I can concentrate on work again.


eta: I slept last night! This is a strange and new sensation; usually when I have a deadline/appointment I can't sleep the night before for worrying about all the details, getting there on time, etc., which of course generally leads to me falling asleep totally exhausted at 5 a.m. and being frantic anyway :P Go figure. I've emailed dad, told him if I can find a ride to CJ I'll come find him, if not, don't take it personal. Paul's crazy enough to go with me, but a few other people have things like black belts :) So, who knows. I sort of doubt it will happen, but I feel much better knowing that I'm not hiding just to avoid 10 minutes of discomfort. I'm better than that. Also, I've got 45 minutes until my bus comes to take me to the next bus, and I've typed one wound clinic report, am totally ready, just hoping my bowels cooperate and the impending BM happens sooner, not later. I hate having to poop on the road.

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