Gold Fever

Guest post by Willis Eschenbach

I first met my friend Mel in the Army nuthouse. I wrote about him before, and the nuthouse, in a piece called “It’s Not About Me“. I hadn’t seen him for a couple months. One day he blew into Santa Cruz. He said he’d met an old man up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Mel got along with old men, especially the kind of reclusive crazy old geezers that lived somewhere far off up in the mountains. And there was a reason for that.

gold panWashing a pan of gravel and sand to separate the gold. SOURCE

When Mel was a kid, he was a hunter. He hunted anything that moved. He hunted with guns. He hunted with traps and snares. He hunted with bow and arrow. He did it properly, with all the licenses and permits required. In the summers he would go up into the Sierra Nevada mountains for a week at a time, carrying in his food, bow hunting and travelling. I hunted with him myself many times. He had thick glasses. I wore none and was unjustifiably proud of my eyesight. We’d be out hunting, walking slowly through the countryside scouting for game. He’d drawl “You saw that rabbit in the bushes, right?” I’d allow as how I might have missed it in all the excitement. “In that second bush, over there.” He’d point at a row of bushes fifty yards (metres) away. “Second bush?” I’d question, squinting. “I don’t see it.”

“Well, you can’t see the whole rabbit. But you see the ear kind of above that first branch, and part of the body?” “Oh, yeah, I see it now”, I’d say … and by then, I did see it. Most of the time, at least. He was that kind of hunter.

A few years later, when Mel and I were living in the high mesa country in New Mexico, I made a blowgun like we made when I was a kid. They were powerful. To make the dart, take a 12″ (300mm) piece of straight coat hanger wire. Tape a paper cone around it near one end. Sharpen the other end to a point. Take a piece of three-quarter inch (19 mm) copper pipe. Trim the cone on the dart to the diameter of the pipe. Insert dart A into pipe B. Blow. If you want real power put a snorkel mouthpiece on the pipe.

Mel saw the blowgun. He said “Let me try.” He blew a couple practice shots. He went out into the surrounding chaparral bush. He came back in an hour with a dead rabbit. It was delicious. He was that kind of hunter.

He’d told me how he had gotten so good at hunting. One year in the Sierras, he had just slipped the leash. Went off the reservation entirely. He had told me the story when we were in the nuthouse, not much to do there but swap stories.

He’d said he’d been bowhunting up in the Sierras for a week. The food he’d brought in was about gone. Some arrows were lost, some splintered. He only had a half-dozen or so left. He told me he’d said to himself “Screw it. I’m not going home. I’ve got my bow. I’ve got my knife. I’ve got flint and steel. I’ve got my bedroll. What else do I need? I’m going on.” And instead of turning his face back to the valley below, he turned and headed for the mountains above. He was seventeen.

At first it wasn’t too tough, he still had modern arrows with proper fletching and metal arrowheads. Before long, though, they were gone, lost, broken. He had to make his own arrows. He knew what he was doing, though, he used what we used as kids, deer sinew. The long sinews that lie along the deer backbone can be split to about the size and nearly the strength of dental floss. The Early Asian Immigrants to the US used deer sinew to lash the feathers and the arrowhead to the arrow shaft. Making arrowheads proved way too slow for Mel, though, so he took to simply fire-hardening his arrows. They lacked killing power for large game but would kill a squirrel or a bird.

otzi quiver and arrowsQuiver and finished and unfinished arrows belonging to Otzi the Iceman SOURCE

He said he lost weight steadily at first. After a while he was nothing but bone and muscle. After that, he said he stopped losing weight, and he also stopped thinking, and he started moving. He said he became just another carnivore in the forest. As his thinking subsided, his senses came to the fore. He said he could smell deer, and his head would snap around without volition when the odor hit his nostrils. He began to think like a deer.

His arrows were so primitive, though, that it would take him all day to kill a deer. He would shoot it and then follow it, shooting it again and again until he could finish it off with his knife. He could follow a deer using the slightest signs. A place where a hoof had scraped some pebbles, and he would note the undersides of the overturned pebbles were damp, and just how damp they were, to read the age of the track. A trail only visible from the corner of your eye, that vanishes when looked at directly, he’d follow it out of the corner of his eye for half a day. After shooting a deer he would trail it relentlessly and tirelessly, by signs, by feel, by smell, by intuition. He followed one deer for four days, sleeping around where he figured it might show up, until he finally found it again and killed it.

He got to where he simply knew where the deer were. He said he’d come over a ridge and see a valley below. He immediately knew that there were deer there, and that they were in a particular small copse of trees across the way. He came to trust his innate knowledge implicitly, stalking the trees blindly, carefully, without a sight of the imagined deer, hiding although he saw nothing to hide from, finally gaining a vantage point to find that yes, indeed, there were two deer in the copse of trees.

At some point he broke his bowstring, and had nothing to replace it. Deer sinew would do quite well, but carelessly, he hadn’t saved any long pieces, just short scraps for tying arrows. He considered going back down to the valley, back to the modern world. But he couldn’t bring himself to do it, it would be an admission of defeat.

So he turned away from the valley again, and looked back to the mountains. He went on, but without his bow he was quickly starving and losing strength. He knew had to kill a deer to string his bow.

So Mel sharpened his hunting knife on a stone. He scouted around, looking and discarding one location after another, until he found just the place he wanted—where a deer trail ran next to an area of jumbled small boulders, and where the wind was right. He hid close to the trail, at a time of day when the wind wouldn’t betray him. And he waited.

By that time he could wait without effort.

He waited, immobile, silent, deadly.

He did not think, he did not fidget, he did not worry.

He waited without motion or emotion.

The flies landed on him, and walked around. He waited.

A squirrel walked right past, and stopped and looked at him strangely, almost sure he was something to fear, but not quite able to put the whole picture together.

He waited.

And when, after an eternity of waiting, a deer finally came by, he bounded out of hiding, and lunged towards the deer. Startled, it turned and ran straight away from him, into the boulders. There, its long thin legs went between the rocks, and it had to pick its way along carefully to avoid the pits and holes, and he was racing to tackle it as soon as he stood up. He ran it down and jumped on it and cut its throat, a moment’s work for a man with his skill … and his hunger. He cleaned it and skinned it and ate part of the liver raw. He made camp and cooked some meat, and dried some meat, and rested up, and made a new bowstring from the backbone sinew. He had food. He had his knife. He had his bow again. Life was good.

He stayed on and on, the weeks turning to months. In the end the snows drove him out of the high country and back to civilization. He said he had trouble talking to people for a while. Not because he hadn’t been talking for so long, his voice was still working fine. But because so much of what they talked about, or bitched about, or praised to the skies seemed so trivial to him, so meaningless. He couldn’t think up a reply to such colossal inanities, he didn’t have any opinion at all on the Monkees or the White Sox. For a while after coming down from the mountains he was a man out of time, a nomadic subsistence hunter thrown back into a world of Hula Hoops and game shows. He never entirely lost that quality, Mel was always a little bit out of sync with the modern world.

Anyhow, that’s why Mel got along with old codgers in the mountains—he was one himself. And when he came by Santa Cruz that time, he told me he’d met an old man named Andy up in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Andy was a retired welder and all-round mechanic. He’d welded up a suction dredge and a gold separating machine of his own design. Andy needed a couple of young guys to run the gold dredge. Was I interested?

Now, I had a really great gig going right then in Santa Cruz. I was making and selling leather sandals for good money, plus making a bit of extra coin playing guitar and singing in the local clubs, and in between, chatting up the college babes from UCSC … but I didn’t hesitate. I’m a man that lives a lot by “rules of thumb” to guide my actions. This situation fit two of my rules:

1. Given a choice between security and adventure, always go for the adventure, duh.

2. Given a choice between something I’ve done and something I haven’t done, always pick the unknown, duh.

So on the very next day after Mel arrived, a bright day in early summer, I jumped into Mel’s truck with my bedroll and went gold mining in the Sierra Nevada mountains, home of California’s fabled Gold Rush, and the repository of untold amounts of gold to this very day.

gold suction dredge on surfaceGold dredging rig. Not our rig, but it looked a lot like that, with drum floats. SOURCE

Andy had no teeth, but he’d put his false choppers in when there was company. Me and Mel weren’t company. We were apprentices, learning both the welding and engineering skills and the gold mining trade. We camped out at his place, slept outdoors, ate beans. He was a great teacher, profane, could build or repair anything, funny, full of stories. For a month or so we helped him finish up the dredge. We tested the dredge pump and mounted it on a steel pontoon raft, along with his whiz-bang gold separator. It was a strange vessel and cargo, all angles and corners. He taught Mel and me to arc weld, I already knew how to run a cutting torch. We got to weld a good chunk of the easier stuff, Andy did the overhead welds and the pipes and the hard stuff. We mounted up the hookah compressor, and welded up a mount for the engine that drove it. Finally, after it was all built, we took the crazy-looking rig out to the river and tested it in various locations. Mel and I took off our apprentice welder masks, and put on our wetsuits and became underwater dredge operators. I was twenty-one. I was an idiot.

A suction dredge is like an underwater vacuum cleaner. It sucks up the water (and anything else) to the surface through a long hose. Sand, gravel, and (hopefully) gold are brought up with the water, and the gold is separated up where it comes out at the float. Most people those days used a three or four-inch dredge (75 – 100 mm) for gold mining in the river. It’s convenient, you can move it around easily, it’s small enough to get into cracks and between boulders, it’s selective. Maybe a six-inch dredge if you were really serious.

But none of that girly stuff for Andy, no way. He had built a 12″ dredge driven by a huge pump. A 12″ dredge hose is big, really big. And when the suction end is on the bottom of the river and it’s turned on, you don’t want to get too near it. It’s scary as hell. You get your hand in the wrong place, and it goes in and your forearm follows, and you are in a world of hurt … and of course we didn’t have any communications gear like people use now, just a rope to tug on with signals for what the diver or the tender wanted to communicate. By common agreement, if the guy below was jerking on the rope for all he was worth, that meant shut the suction off …

gold dredgingDredging for gold, looks like a four or five inch dredge SOURCE

We used a “hookah” rig to provide us with air underwater. A hookah is an air compressor that just pushes surface air through a hose down to someone underwater. No tanks to fill, no tanks to have run out of air, a constant supply … as long as the small gasoline engine running the compressor worked. Of course in the shallow water when the engine quit, we’d just drop the hose and come up to the surface. First couple of times the air cut off it was scary, but when I saw I just had to make it to the surface not far above, just drop everything and book it for home, it was no problem if you didn’t panic and make it a problem. In shallow water you can stay under for hours. We wore wetsuits, of course, the rivers are snow-fed.

Occasionally, particularly when I was really tired at the end of working for a long stint underwater, the ludicrous nature of my undertaking would hit me. I’d look around at the view. I was standing with homemade weighted boots on the bottom of a crystal-clear river, leaning into the current. Looking in front of me, I saw the endless water coming my way, with small organic material, grass and such, floating towards me in midwater. Looking up and behind me. I could see the dredge raft above, floating on the surface. Looking around me I could see trout hanging in mid-water, wondering just what the heck I thought I was doing. Looking down, I could see what I was doing, vacuuming the river bottom like some demented housewife who had decided that not only would her river water be sparkling clean, but that all the dirty old sand and gravel messing up the place should be vacuumed up off her river bottom as well. I felt like I’d fallen into some mad wonderland of Alice’s:

The Walrus and the Carpenter

Were walking close at hand:

They wept like anything to see

Such quantities of sand:

“If this were only cleared away,”

They said, “it would be grand!”

seven maids mopsSOURCE

“If seven maids with seven mops

Swept it for half a year,

Do you suppose,” the Walrus said,

“That they could get it clear?”

“I doubt it,” said the Carpenter,

And shed a bitter tear.

I felt like one of the seven maids, fully engaged in the impossible task of sweeping the river bottom clear of sand, only this being modern times I was using a vacuum cleaner instead of a mop …

We hunted for gold for a bit more than a month down there in the icy river bottom. Even with a wetsuit you get chilled, but the sun warmed us quickly once we came up. Weekends we had off. I liked to go exploring the river and the streams. I’d take my wetsuit, my mask, and my snorkel. I’d get in the stream and work my way up-current. All the streams there have fish in them, mostly some flavor of the salmon family – rainbow trout, steelhead, Dolly Varden, golden trout. Working in the river I’d noticed that the trout rarely look downstream. So when I went fish-watching I’d swim up through some running section to the bottom end of a pool. I’d arrive at the pool totally unnoticed by the up-stream-facing trout, with a window onto a world of wonder.

trout streamSOURCE

First off, the shift and ripple of the light was entrancing. I was always taken by the interplay of the subtle pastel colors. And all the life in and around the river, fish and crayfish and birds and insects of all types, and grasses and moss, life on all sides, life everlasting. Some of those streams were so clear that the trout appeared to be floating. I’d watch them silently, sometimes for hours, as they went about their piscine business. It was a magical window into another ecosystem. I saw how the young trout acted, and how the adult trout moved as the day changed. I saw the places where the big old lunkers liked to hide out. I saw how they fed, and what they fed on.

Actually, in addition to being able to study and learn about the home lives of the salmonid tribe, some of my favorite fish, I learned something curious in those streams about my father. My Dad was always a self-identified Conservative. At the time, I was always a self-identified Liberal … hey, it was the late 1960’s, no surprise.

What I was interested in, in part, were the big old fish in the stream, the massive lunkers. As a fisherman from youth, I wanted to learn more about their lives. What I saw was that when some new kind of food came down the stream, they didn’t bestir themselves. They let the sprat try out that stuff. Some smaller trout would rush out and gulp it down. And occasionally that food might contain a silent steel hook.

But every once in a while some particular kind of good, safe food would come floating downstream, I couldn’t tell what it was from where I was, but the big old fish would suddenly and majestically flash out of hiding. But even then, it didn’t gulp down the food like the young fish did. It stopped instantly, one moment moving and the next totally motionless, just in front of the food. It smelled the food and looked at it. Then it ate it and disappeared back under the tree stump, where the endless motion of the stream had carved a shadowy undercut. Or it didn’t eat it, it wasn’t USDA Grade A fish food for some reason, and then flashed back into the dark under-root world.

That was when I first understood an aspect of my fathers conservatism. He had found something that worked. He didn’t plan on trying new things. They might contain hooks.

I remembered him quoting to me “Be not the first to try the new untried, nor yet the last to put the old aside.” I never bought into that rule of thumb myself, I’ve always been a man to color outside the lines, I though of myself as the guy inventing the new untried … but I was happy that I could have a better understanding of my father. He was a lot older than me, from a Victorian time, and I didn’t understand him much back then.

So that summer I learned a lot of things. I love learning, and that time was a festival of learning, about gold and gold mining, about the lovely Sierra Nevada mining towns that Mark Twain wrote about, about being an unpaid apprentice to a sometimes crotchety old man, about my father. I learned to be a decent welder, maybe not pretty welds but strong as hell.

welder sparksI got comfortable working and hanging out for hours underwater, and I’ve been at ease and made money underwater and worked underwater many times since. I learned about trout streams and ponds and all their denizens and where they live, information I would use years later as a sport salmon fishing guide in Alaska. I found out how to swing a gold pan in that funny circular manner, almost rolling the dirt inside out over the lip, shaking any gold down and down, eventually to see if there was any precious thin line of gold color down in the corner along with the black sand.

I became accustomed to the underwater geography of rivers, how the waters move and swirl in their depths, where the sandbars build up, what the cut-bank looks like below the waterline, always valuable information when running a small boat up and down a river as I have done many times since.

I had a chance to see gold in situ underwater, a rare sight indeed, and to recognize a few of the kinds of places that gold likes to hide. I also regret to report that I learned to recognize lots and lots of kinds of places where gold apparently doesn’t like to hide.

When Mel was diving, I did the tending on top, and vice versa. As a result I learned to run and adjust and repair a hookah compressor, both the compressor itself and the small gas engine that powered it.

I learned what it was like to have my best friend’s well-being and perhaps even life depend on my attention to detail as his tender, his lifeline at the surface … and how it feels from the other side, as the diver at the bottom of the river depending entirely on Mel paying attention. It leads to a curious bond of brotherhood to trade responsibility back and forth like that, a simple honesty of thought and action.

I became practiced in how to launch a big godawful clumsy steel barge into a flowing river and get it back out of the water in one piece. I was shown how to clean out a sluice box and soon grew proficient. I learned how to wash out the “miners moss”, the carpet lining under the riffles of the sluice box that actually catches the gold. I learned how to anchor a clumsy craft in moving waters, how to move a clunky great dredge hose underwater against a strong current, and a hundred other useful things large and small. It was the world’s best school of marine and manual arts a man could ever wish for.

The deal was shares, of course, as it generally is in gold mining of that nature. Mel and I were each to get 20% of the take. At the end of the summer, about a month of which was spent actually dredging, our total was a bit over five ounces of gold. My share was a bit over an ounce. These days gold is at $1,650 per ounce, five ounces would be over eight grand. Not bad for an old man with a self-designed gold separator and two young bucks building for two months and dredging for just over a month … even if we did eat beans.

There was, of course, one tiny complication, one cloud the size of a man’s hand on the horizon.

In those days gold was still price controlled, before Nixon took the US off the gold standard. It could only be sold for its official US Government set value, which from memory was about thirty bucks an ounce at that time … so the five ounces were only worth $150 bucks or so.

But then, I’ve never been a man who was in it for the money, and it’s a good thing I wasn’t, too, since I only made thirty bucks. Me … I considered that I was getting paid for going to school, and as a result I didn’t care if the pay scale wasn’t all that attractive.

Or at least that’s what I told myself, whereas in fact of course I’d have much preferred to make my fortune dredging gold. I’d been envisioning returning rich, lighting my cigars with hundred dollar bills. I figured that really would have made the eyes of the college babes light up … ah, well, I was young and foolish, and earth-shaking wealth never was a big goal of mine, and in that regard I was quite successful—I went off to mine for gold, and by heaven, I did find gold, and I found more gold, and I kept right on finding gold until I couldn’t afford to find any more.

So, suitably chastened in the financial realm, which is a polite way of saying flat busted except for a small glass jar containing about thirty dollars worth of gold, but a satisfied man nonetheless, with a world of knowledge I didn’t have before, I arrived back in Santa Cruz.

I picked up my leather-working tools, my knives and skives and edgers, dug out my Barge sole cement from where I’d stowed it away before I went off to strike it rich, and took up earning money again making and selling nice leather sandals, and resumed singing in the clubs, and of course chatting up the babes, can’t forget that … and in addition, this time around picking up a little extra money now and again doing simple welding jobs, and repairing small engines and compressors if they weren’t too badly broken … and dreaming about maybe somehow finding some other underwater work, in that mysterious realm below the surface …

gold books

SOURCE

… so in Santa Cruz, life went on after the gold rush. The real gold was what I’d learned and stowed away in my experience that summer, that’s lasted and been of immense value to me throughout my lifetime.

My conclusion after my summer of hard work for little gold?

Always choose the adventure over the everyday, always go for the gold—because even if you don’t find but thirty bucks worth, and you come back flat busted to the exact same place you started, you end up so much richer than when you left … but hey, that’s just me.

w.

…  another chapter for Willis’s autobiography, entitled “Retire Early … And Often” …

Advertisements

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Edwin Cottey

Pure gold…………………

Maybe two books????? Maybe a Pulitizer. This stuff reminds me of “Blue Highways”. If you’ve never read that masterpiece find a copy.
Brovo Willis!!!!

blogagog

So, if I’m reading this correctly, you did time in an insane asylum?

Mak Aurel

blogagog,
if you kept up to date you’d know.

Elizabeth

Ot At this rate (with Greens break up) I would not be surprised if the Australian Labor offers to rescind the Carbon Tax to win the next election.
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/julia-gillard-shrugs-off-greens-split-saying-theyve-simply-reverted-to-type/story-fn59niix-1226581962176

Ok, that was great! A good read and solid imagery of the particular kind of crazy that kids today could learn from…

Erik Christensen

@blogagog
Bethesda Navy Mental Hospital, another great read, Thank You much Willis, You are Gold
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/28/its-not-about-me/

Willis, we’ve probably met, or certainly should have. Family had property, and I summered, in Capitola and rock climbed at Castle Rock before the state got it. Tahitian princess girlfriend went to Cabrillo College and lived on Wharf Rd., across from Venetian Court.
Friends had a placer claim on the Merced River, near Bagby, just down from Ol’ Pete’s, the Basque hermit, flat. The hunters would shoot across the river at the deer feeding in Pete’s garden, and Pete would shoot back. The sheriff would take Pete’s guns and he’d disappear for a day to come back with a few more. Then he’d go up to the bar and drink double-shots. We’d meet him wandering home. I think black-sand was 75¢ per pound, Pete’s major income. I joined the Navy in ’69 and moved east.

James Bull

I like you have learnt much by being curious and wanting to know things, not because it was directly to do with my job or linked to what I was doing at the time, but because I want to know how things work or are done. My first tries at things aren’t always successful or pretty but do the necessary. I have watched skilled craftsmen/women asked questions and had a go and so add to the store of things I can call on should the need arise, most people are more than willing to talk about and explain what they are doing if they know that you want to know and are not just being polite and feigning interest.
James Bull

Dr. Paul Mackey

Blogagog – if so Wilis you are in good company. Was Richard Feynman not refused entrance to the US army by an Army Shrink? – see “Surely You Must be Joking Mr Feynman”. After that he went on to Los Alamos – now that is logic!
Great Piece – please write an autobiography!

Mike Fowle

Great, great story. Your comment about vacuum cleaning the river bed truly made me laugh out loud.

tgmccoy

My Granpa Anderson was a Miner, he had a placer and hard rock operation up in the
area of Granite, Oregon. He wanted to be one of those old guys you were talking about, Willis
both first and second wives wouldn’t let him…His height of glory would’ve been to roam the hills with a mule,.30-.30 and a gold pan
He went for the adventure..
when he was allowed to…

You really need to write a book, if you haven’t already made that decision.

I remembered him quoting to me “Be not the first to try the new untried, nor yet the last to put the old aside.” I never bought into that rule of thumb myself, I’ve always been a man to color outside the lines, I though of myself as the guy inventing the new untried …

Nothing wrong being an inventor, but in the software world our version of this is “Pioneers catch arrows”.

Dave

Blogagog>
See this one for details:
http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/28/its-not-about-me/

Gary Hladik

I catch an occasional episode of The Discovery Channel’s “Bering Sea Gold”. I don’t know how much of it is real and how much is scripted, but dredging for gold seems like a tough way to make a living.
I also recall that the ones who make the most money in a gold rush are the ones who sell the miners their tools and supplies (beans). I suppose they miss most of the adventure, though. 🙂

mfo

Willis you dang nearly broke my laptop. I got half way through the story and my Toshiba decided to have one of its frequent naps. Its refusal to wake up nearly had me hurling it out the window. Fortunately it’s decided to behave. :o)
This should be compulsory reading for youngsters before they take their first big steps into the foreboding world away from the cosy comforts of town, friends, family and mundane work. Let them learn about the great value of adventure and experience, and learn to take risks and make that leap into the unknown.
In fact WUWT should be read by all young people. Colleges, where climate is concerned, seem to be teaching youngsters how not to think, how not to question and how not to challenge prevailing views. They are being indoctrinated to blindly accept whatever the rogues and fraudsters, they are compelled to follow, wish them to believe.
I’ve taken risks, gone against the grain, and frequently fallen A over T; but occasionally reaped the wonderful rewards which come from risks working out well. Such successes outweigh all the failures.
As an aside, I’ve spent time in the highlands with the stalkers counting and then culling red deer. Even in that relatively small environment, with many helpers, who know the hills intimately, and a well tried system, arriving at an accurate number is nigh on impossible. So It always amuses me to read of scientists claiming an accurate calculation of polar bear numbers.

Andy Wehrle

Willis,
BZ my friend. (BZ – naval code for well done.) In any case, you have captured the sheer joy of hunting – both game and gold.
I particularly like your two rules of thumb for life. They are great when you are young and stupid and unattached. As I’ve grown older, my definition of adventure has changed along with the major changes in my life – wife, kids, mortgage, blah, blah, blah.
But those rules of the road have remained in my heart, sometimes buried deep beneath daily necessity. But now, in my early later years, with many of the responsibilities and obligations fulfilled, the joy of adventure seeps back into my life. The adventures are now mostly armchair, but the spirit is still there, the joy, bubbling just below the surface. Thanks for hooking me up once again.
Andy

SteamboatJon

Mr. Eschenback – Thank you for sharing another interesting thread to the colorful and varied tapestry of your life.
“blogagog” – As to time spent at an “asylum”, follow the link provided by Mr. Eschenback in the second sentence.

Mark Folkestad

Your autobiography snippets are treasures. Thanks. Just a few years ago, I spent a week out in the Black Hills, winding up with about a third of an ounce of gold, which I kept in a plastic snuffer bottle. While I was unloading my conversion van at home, a neighbor’s dog jumped into my van, nosing around. She grabbed the snuffer bottle and went running, faster than I could. I eventually found the chewed bottle scraps. I couldn’t figure out whether the best way to recover the gold was to gather her poop or the top layer of soil in the entire neighborhood and pan it out, so I just let it go. Ouch.

Josh C

Question for ya Willis: Where abouts in Alaska did you Guide? I was born and raised on the Kenai, and the family has had a sport fishing lodge on the coast of Lake Clark National Park for nearly 30 years.

Ken Finney

@blogagog:
Read this post http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/28/its-not-about-me/ for info about the nut house. Then you won’t have to worry about whether you are reading anything correctly…

Monica

Wonderful story – great read – fascinating life!

jorgekafkazar

Didn’t want to read it. Couldn’t stop myself. Dang.

M Simon

When you were living in the Haight I was living across the bay in Berzerkeley working for a HPLC company as a part time electronic engineer:
http://classicalvalues.com/2013/02/cbd-science-hplc-analysis/
My brother was living on Haight street. About early ’68. So I had lots of reasons to visit “The City” besides trips to the Fillmore. Where I once bought some yogurt from Bill Graham – “Ten Year After” was playing. Along with Butterfield. We both were of the opinion that Ten Years After was on the rise and Butterfield was on the decline.
Interesting that our paths have almost crossed so many times.

M Simon

How I got introduced to computers:
http://www.ecnmag.com/blogs/2012/04/resource-one
BTW my little claim to fame is that I designed the I/O board that went into the world’s first BBS.
http://classicalvalues.com/2012/05/computer-history/

As a gold miner- Awesome article!!! I love the woods….

Willis Eschenbach

Josh C says:
February 20, 2013 at 7:43 am

Question for ya Willis: Where abouts in Alaska did you Guide? I was born and raised on the Kenai, and the family has had a sport fishing lodge on the coast of Lake Clark National Park for nearly 30 years.

Stay tuned, your timing is good, my next chapter is about fishing the mighty Kenai. I fished at RW’s, I suspect you know it, on the riverbend next to where they host the Kenai Classic.
w.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

Hate to bring science and economics and math into such a wonderful discussion, however…
Is it worthwhile yet to extract gold from seawater? Some years back the electricity would cost several times the worth of gold extracted. Gold is now many times increased in cost, electricity also is more expensive, but it looks like the gold increase is several times that of the electricity.
And with a flexible enough process, there are many other valuable elements worth extracting. For example, uranium from seawater isn’t much more expensive than from mining, last I heard. As a combined process, where the bulk of the energy is already being used towards the gold extraction?
If you don’t mind the capital investment, they make sealed solar panels for marine environments. For the initial work, you can use “free” electricity with simple barge-type units that do bulk extraction, every couple of days you pull out the mineral-encrusted electrodes and replace with cleaned/new ones, then send the scrapings off for processing. For a nice sunny location, you could park them at the Solomon Islands or thereabouts, and hire someone to tend them for only $10 or so a day…

Don Monfort

I hadn’t seen that story about your wartime Army career, Willis. I wonder what the Captain would have thought of you taking the oath and then worming your way out.

Big D in TX

Willis, I don’t know if you have ever killed a deer quite in the manner described above, but I have, many years ago, in a similar circumstance…
I also used to hunt with a friend when I was young, on some land his family owned in the middle of nowhere, TX. As kids growing up in scouting, we had learned plenty of values regarding the preservation of nature. One of the more obscure, but certainly entertaining to the young male mind, had to do with urination when outdoors. The colloquial “Gotta pee, find a tree; if it’s brown, dig it down” was apparently only half-true: we were told that if the option is available, we should always prefer to go on a rock, and not any plant life. This was because the area was particularly low in certain nutrients for the local fauna, and once dry, human urine was beloved by animals for its salt content, particularly deer. Someone had determined that campers’ bathroom-going habits were in fact responsible for the defoliation and debarking of any and all flora that happened to be within a few yards of the trail or campsite, because once we had moved on, the wildlife would move in with voracious appetite.
Anyway, the fun facts made their impression – piss = deer bait. And so, armed with that knowledge, a backpack each of food rations that only a greedy dentist could prescribe, and the unequaled confidence of a late teenager, we set out into the woods one cold morning. We wanted to prove to ourselves that we were “real men”. Apparently the “real manly” way to hunt was to forsake guns, bows, and all other wussy technology, and to instead use a knife and nothing more. The plan was simple. Step 1, pee on a tree. Step 2, climb said tree. Step 3, wait… …and Step 4, when the inevitable deer approached to lick and nibble it up, jump down out of the tree, land on the deer, bring it to the ground, slit its throat, and collect our winnings from the packing plant in the form of spiced sausage, flank steak, and other tasty bits. And by God, the plan worked. Sort of.
We found a neat spot just off a game trail where two tall trees stood about eight feet apart, and had large branches that practically interlocked about twelve feet off the ground. Of course it became a competition between us, as we each baited our respective trunks, as to who would attract a deer first, and score the kill. The wager? The loser had to haul the carcass out of the woods without the winner’s help, if he wanted to share the spoils. With step 1 and 2 completed, we moved on to step 3… step 3 lasted an awful long time, and we repeated step 1 a few times for good measure. Finally night fell. Step 3 continued. The moon rose. The moon began to fall. More step 3.
Now at this point, I was pretty tired. Normally I had no problem staying awake late, and even going 2 or 3 days on end if I was keeping busy. I still only sleep 4-5 hours a night – just never needed much of the stuff. But a day long sugar rush had come down, and something like 18 hours lying stiff on a branch was wearing on me. Every so often my friend and I would catch eyes and hand signal “OK” – we seemed to be doing more of it – or was it less? – to remind ourselves and each other that we were still awake. When we both heard the ephemeral sound of a bush branch swishing back into place after being brushed aside, we had to exchange glances again, and vigorously motioned with our eyes toward the direction hence we thought the sound had come. Adrenaline began to pump and all senses maxed out, straining for sight, sound, or smell of the culprit. Then came the quintessential twig snap. No question, it was coming from behind me. I could only listen to the approach, and watch my friend’s stare, afraid to shift and make noise trying to catch a glance myself.
I had won the bet, the deer came to my tree, and soon I too was watching it sniff and lick the bark. Whether it was the soft moonbeams that illuminated the scene, or the distance above from which I viewed it, I horribly misjudged the size of it. Next thing you know, a 140 lb. kid flies out of a tree at what he thinks is a 150 lb. doe, which is actually a 300+ lb. buck. I closed the eight feet from branch to back rather quickly, and crumpled on on him. The deer buckled and its front legs went down. Confused, and with a dazed human wrapped around it, who had probably done more damage to himself in his opening strike, the buck attempted to bring a leg up and lunge forward. In doing so, I started to slide off to one side, and clamped my knees down hard, bareback on the beast. The deer laboriously began to drag us through the underbrush. With my legs secure, I freed one hand and reached for my knife… it was gone. The leather thong that kept it in its sheath had come undone, and somewhere in the last few seconds of violent motion, my bowie blade abandoned me.
Meanwhile, my friend clambered down from his perch, and began to chase after us, hollering all manner of unprintable phrases. Over the next several yards, in-between swears, I remember hearing him say something along the lines of “bring the head down”, and images of roping calves flashed through my mind. I hugged the neck tight and released my legs, swinging around in front. With my full weight now applying some proper leverage, we both came crashing down in an undignified heap of flesh and fur.
I’ve heard rabbits shriek and pigs squeal, but I had never heard anything like this deer. Struggling to hold it to the ground, the animal thrashed about and made unnatural, hoarse screams, intersparsed with snorts and snarls. I didn’t know deer could make noise like that, and I felt like I was wrestling with a demon, not dinner. An eternity passed – about 2 seconds – and my friend tackled us with an impractical dive-bomb maneuver, aiming to hold down the legs. With the prey finally overpowered, I was able to pull my boot knife and silence his desperate cries… I’ll spare the grisly details.
Thus concludes the 100% true story of how I got a tiny, unimpressive scar on my chest (one hoof nicked me when we collapsed on the ground). I did keep a foot, for luck and memories I guess, but recently gave that away to another friend who lost everything… (google Bastrop fire).

Willis Eschenbach

Don Monfort says:
February 20, 2013 at 10:27 am

I hadn’t seen that story about your wartime Army career, Willis. I wonder what the Captain would have thought of you taking the oath and then worming your way out.

“Wormed my way out”??? There might be a worm in this discussion between you and me, Don, but I’m damn sure it’s not me … have you checked the mirror lately?
Come back after you wash your mouth and your puerile assumptions out with soap, go read the concluding paragraphs of the story again, grow a spine, stop making baseless accusations, and we’ll talk about it.
The Vietnam War was not some kind of bozo-simple yes/no, good/bad kind of deal, that’s a childish and unsustainable point of view of the complexities of the real world. There were no right answers, only wrong ones. My choice was between keeping my word, which of course was given under duress and threat of jail, or killing some guys with different color skins halfway around the planet.
You are claiming I should have just gone and killed a bunch of peasants fighting to throw foreign invaders out of their country, in order to keep a promise exacted under duress?
… you sure that’s the high moral ground you’re worming your way up to?
w.

Willis Eschenbach

kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
February 20, 2013 at 10:26 am

Hate to bring science and economics and math into such a wonderful discussion, however…
Is it worthwhile yet to extract gold from seawater? Some years back the electricity would cost several times the worth of gold extracted. Gold is now many times increased in cost, electricity also is more expensive, but it looks like the gold increase is several times that of the electricity.

Excellent question, KD, don’t know the answer. I suspect in future we’ll get more and more elements and chemicals from the ocean. The Japanese are (were? Fukushima …) working with genetically engineered sea sponges to see if they can extract uranium from seawater …
w.

Willis Eschenbach

Don Monfort says:
February 20, 2013 at 10:27 am

Don, please be clear that I do not think you are a worm. I simply wanted you to see the effect that words can have, to encourage you to be a bit more judicious in your word choices …
In friendship,
w.

Don Monfort

I read your lame rationalization for your dishonorable behavior, Willis. Not impressed. You didn’t answer my question. I will rephrase it: What would the Captain think of your taking the oath and then worming your way out with a fake suicide attempt and other irresponsible childish shenanigans?
Look Willis, the facts are that you joined up to avoid landing in a rifle company. OK, so far. You then did not have the intestinal fortitude or the common decency to live up to your commitment, despite landing in about the most cushy position that the Army could provide. If I had been your CO, you would have been sent to Leavenworth, instead of Letterman. You should have been punished and then dishonorably discharged, and you know it. You are a shirker and a malingerer. You took an oath to serve your country and you refused to do your duty.
There were honorable paths to take, if your beef was with the legitimacy of the war. Conscientious objector; but you could have ended up in a rifle company as a medic and been killed, as many were. You were way too smart for that. You could have refused to take the oath and gone to jail, on principle. You had no such principle. You could have bugged out to Canada, or Sweden. If you had any self-discipline at all, you could have stayed in college and gotten a deferment. And so on, and so on.
The next time you get all indignant at someone for allegedly calling you a liar, or for some other insult real or imagined, and you invoke the legacy of the Captain as you fiercely defend your “honor”, I am going to have a very big laugh. Same goes for when you give your courage lecture, to those who choose to post anonymously.

Don Monfort

I just posted a reply to Willis that appears to have been immediately rejected. What about that moderator? Is this Willis’ blog now?

tobias

Thanks another 9.9999999 (PI factor involved here ) % great story

tobias

Oh crap see what a wrong decimal point can do of course meant 99.999999%

Jenn Oates

My life has been so boring. 🙂

u.k.(us)

@ Willis,
Give them an inch, they’ll take a mile.
I almost posted a comment noting how you had reined in the cowboy,
re: Don Monfort’s comments.
Had a bad feeling.

nvw

Gold dredging can be dangerous. This story of a man who lost his life in Hatcher Pass, Alaska last year running a small river dredge.
http://www.frontiersman.com/news/gold-dredger-drowns-in-willow-creek/article_13ba85f0-aeb6-11e1-8966-001a4bcf887a.html

Harvey Harrison

Willis: I have bad news for you, as if you haven’t figured it out already, you have been cursed by the Muse. It is your fate to be an author. You are an author and a good one too. Pay no heed to the critics but as Andy Warhol said ‘Just measure it in inches and gloat.’
If a major agent or publisher has not picked you up then shame on them. Anthony has given you great exposure and that cannot be underestimated. For those who say you are off topic go back and read the banner of the website ‘…the puzzling things in life…’ believe me you are one of them.
To my mind one of the best was your tale of the Solomon Irregulars and the Japanese. You do not dwell upon it but threaded all through it is absolute terror of patrols just plain vanishing never to be seen again. I just know that the power of rumour far outweighed the actual casualties. By the time those stories made it back to base the eight men had become eighty, and entire division, a whole army group. The effect on the Japanese Army must have been devastating; morale would plummet, every man would be sleeping with his gun at his side blasting away at things that go bump in the night, sleep deprived sentries very likely to shoot their own returning patrols… Such stressed out troops are prone to friendly fire, suicide and atrocity; that sounds just like Afghanistan and the terror of IEDs. The parable is not lost on me.
Keep up the good work for I suspect you wrote yourself sane.
Note about comments: Read the damn post before commenting. Think, open a word processor, compose, spell correct, re-read and then post. ‘Better to remain silent and be thought a fool rather than opening your mouth and remove all doubt.’ Or in a more modern form ‘Tweet in haste; regret at leisure.’

eyesonu

My conclusion after my summer of hard work for little gold?
Always choose the adventure over the everyday, always go for the gold—because even if you don’t find but thirty bucks worth, and you come back flat busted to the exact same place you started, you end up so much richer than when you left … but hey, that’s just me.
w.
=================
I’m with you all the way! I gave up on finding “gold” … but … just maybe one more chance. My dogs deserve better. I owe it to them to try just one more time.

john coghlan

awesome….like always 😉

Joe Sumrall

Lovely story. By the way, I own a pan for separating out the gold. Have yet to use it.
Here’s a video that reminded of you snorkeling the creek and observing the fish. Called Crusing in Jacob’s Well (near Austin, TX)

wsbriggs

I’ve never understood why people who otherwise felt it honorable for objectors to have done whatever it took to avoid being conscripted into Hitlers, Sadaam’s, Stalin’s, Tito’s, Musselini’s, Mao’s, or George III’s army, feel that conscription when [b]we[/b] do it is just hunky dory.
Extortion at the point of a gun is extortion, doing it for a “good cause” doesn’t change that. Failure to “maintain commitments” made under duress is not a breech of honor. Honor doesn’t require the point of a gun. /liberatrian rant

u.k.(us)

Don Monfort says:
February 20, 2013 at 1:39 pm
“Same goes for when you give your courage lecture, to those who choose to post anonymously.”
===============
Anonymous, might include yourself, any personal contact information seems to be lacking.
Anonymous, et al.

Sista

A story that encourages us to acknowledge how beautiful nature is. Thank you for this great post.

JP Miller

Hey, Willis, I just read an article in “Today’s Retirement” about a Ralph Eschenbach who grew up on a small northern California ranch and who invented some of the early GPS technology, selling his patents to and joining Trimble Navigation. Sounds like he might be your older brother (even looks a little like you — adjusting for age in the photo you shared recently of a young you and Me’en). He also met his wife, a pediatrician, on a plane going to do charity work in Mexico — sounds a little like your story! Not sure if you want to reveal whether he is or not, just thought he sounded like you, just a little older and more commercially/ mainstream-oriented.

Don Monfort

What a man that briggs. He merely echoes the same BS moral equivalency argument that Willis uses as one of his excuses for his failure to honor his oath. Thank him for his support, Willis.
And u.k.? Your lips are flapping, but you aren’t saying anything. If you are trying to defend Willis, you should make some effort to be coherent.
It looks like mostly the moral equivalency types here. I suppose we won’t be hearing from any more of the knuckleheaded cannon fodder types, who knuckled under to the tyrants and answered the call to duty. I guess a lot of us are not interested in climate soap opera blogs, and a lot of us are dead.

kadaka (KD Knoebel)

Willis,
With all the hubbub I went to re-read the “It’s not about me” piece. Has it really been two years? Who slipped that extra year in the number?
Got to the end, hadn’t seen that Update before…
And there’s an undated note that it’s from your autobiography?
Dear God, how much stuff that you’ve written long ago is now tucked into your book? I’ve never gone through the WUWT archives from before I landed here just before the first Climategate, the science has been moving fast enough that the growing “mistakes” in the old pieces and comments are annoying. What “lost gems” have now been retroactively gathered into the Great Tome of Eschenbach’s Lore, that I must now somehow locate and read to fill in the gaps?
At the Very Least, can you go and date those retroactive autobiography notices? People have been asking you for AGES to write all the stories, compile the autobiography… And now those comments are right under the notice that you have an autobiography (in progress). Do you have any idea how many people you’ve just made look stupid, asking for something that looks like it already existed?
As to what you did way back then… I didn’t like what I read first time, only read it that once and decided to ignore it. This much later, still about the same.
But unlike some here, I’ll acknowledge I too once suffered from testosterone poisoning. In my 30’s I heard some greyheads talking about some idiot, and one said to remember that a young man’s brain doesn’t start working to 26. Son of a bugger, that’s true, that’s about when the fog lifted for me.
You were young and stupid, which couldn’t be helped. You made some ignorant choices, not knowing any better.
But unlike others, you didn’t run off. You didn’t follow the example of a certain presidential adviser and protest violence with violence.
You went straight at the military, made it between just you and them, and worked with them to do whatever you could do to discharge the debt the military said you owed them.
You made some pretty idiotic choices. Can’t say I respect them. I think I understand why you thought they were good. I absolutely don’t think “you won”.
But you were sticking by your principles while trying to resolve the obligation. And I can… leave it alone at that.