Sunday, July 02, 2017

Auriferous Gravel

 I'm riding the California Zephyr, one of Amtrak's long distance passenger trains. I have a roomette--something akin to the images of the beds in 'Some Like it Hot.' From my window I can see some of the most stunning of American scenery on the way to San Francisco.
My travelling companions are books. The first, Bold Spirit, about a woman and her daughter who walked across America in mid nineteenth century. Her adventure was so resented by her family that her diary and her handwritten book about the trip were burnt. Her grandaughter, however, remembered the family stories and encouraged her son to write about it in his eighth grade essay. From that came the spark for the research and the story and the meta story about Helga Estby and the power of family stories. It's a good companion for the train trip for many reasons, not least of all, she and her daughter followed the train tracks on their walk as much as they could. From time to time I look out at the terrain and think how hard it would be even now for walking.

My other companions are a series of books--a gift from my daughter--Roadside Geologies for each of the five states I'm travelling across. It is from one of these I take the title of this post--auriferous gravel--gold-bearing rocks which washed out of the mountains and led to the 1848 discovery of gold and the '49ers. There is still auriferous gravel in the hills, my book notes. Some day perhaps it will wash out again, but I am reminded as the train slides through less picturesque parts of America that not everyone finds gold in America.

Red earth, recently graded, shimmered with the uneven glitter of broken bits of glass and metal as the train rolled through the wrong side of someone's small town. The area was a roadway, a no man's land, a short cut perhaps from somewhere to somewhere else. It seemed an odd place to find a tent. My first thought was of wild camping--why there with so many other places to choose?

And then I remembered that now as always America's bigness has included the gap between those with and those without.  In America as in other countries shanties are cleared and moved along only to return again with the wind like sand dunes.My friend in San Francisco conforms this. 'Some nonprofit got the idea to give them tents a few years ago.'


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