Pan­ning for a dif­fer­ent gold

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Eastern Pas­sages Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Media’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­ Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

Sun­day, I took the gold pan up the Beck­ford River, caught up in how dif­fer­ent the sides of the river are in fall.

The cusp of fall on the east coast of New­found­land is not the bril­liant won­der it is in other At­lantic prov­inces. No ap­ple trees re­veal­ing the harvest in bright reds and yel­lows. Few maples to turn with a blaze of colour, and the great­est change is watch­ing the birches and larches make the one-step shift into yel­low, as if re­veal­ing them­selves af­ter a sum­mer-long game of hide and seek.

But down near Branch on the south­ern Avalon, the bar­rens are chang­ing colour, a va­ri­ety of shades of colours — red, ochre, yel­low — blend­ing into a sin­gle pointil­list shade slightly to the pur­ple/mauve end of deep red. The oc­ca­sional swamp maple burns from the ground up in scar­let, but mostly, the river­side was a muted sym­phony lean­ing to­wards brown.

Pan­ning is a won­der­fully med­i­ta­tive thing: like fly fish­ing, rock­ing the pan be­comes a kind of mus­cle-mem­ory, but with­out the need for a fish­er­man’s sharp at­ten­tion for the strike. Pick out the big­ger rocks, flick gravel over the edge with your wrists, shake the pan to let the heav­ier gold thread down to the very bot­tom.

You can let your mind go, imag­ine that you might stop the rock­ing, swirling the pan that last time and see­ing the bot­tom light up with colour: at the same time, it’s easy to imag- ine that your suc­cess would bring noth­ing good to this com­fort­ing river, a river brown with peat and rolling steady over big rocks and long, side­ways shale ledges.

Trout­ing sea­son is over, so you can only watch when a few large, bold trout bolt back into the cur­rent from where they’ve been feed­ing in the shal­lows.

I found a spot near where a small, bright stream — a freshet, re­ally, a fine word that — broke out of the brush and fell over a small stone para­pet so that the wa­ter kicked out so far it seemed like a par­ody of a falls. It meant I could sit com­fort­ably on the rock and dip the pan into the stream easily. Nice not to have to squat un­til you feel the long ten­dons in your legs start to bind and lock.

Spoon up sand and rock with the edge of the black pan from a shal­low berm, caught be­low an s-bend rif­fle, rock, spill and think, rock, spill and think, while the par­tic­u­lar smell of a wet New­found­land au­tumn rises up all around you. The ris­ing damp that lets you know that in un­der bank-alders, there will be mush­rooms and other fungi rev­el­ling the ways flow­ers do in spring. A Canada jay, cu­ri­ous and head-tilt­ing, com­ing in too close for a look the way they do.

Another pan from a dif­fer­ent part of the river, a spot where the slow­ing wa­ter could be ex­pected to shed what­ever it was car­ry­ing, and then another. From the air, an ir­reg­u­lar zigzag across the river from wa­ter fea­ture to wa­ter fea­ture. In the bot­tom of the pan, small fine lozenges of stone: chalky whites and reds, seamed browns and si­en­nas, flakes of quartz and ly­ing mica. The pan black, the gravel set out like stars or plan­ets but in care­fully edged re­lief. Stars are too far to reach; â these tiny per­fect stones are too small to touch. Then, a rinse, the lit­tle uni­verse shaken free.

In the end, the only gold I end up pan­ning is a few bright yel­low leaves that had dropped into the wa­ter from a bog plant some­where up­stream, which then stuck to the sides of the pan. Another river next time; there are bet­ter choices, ones where there’s more quartz show­ing in the cliffs, places where a flake or two of placer might well ap­pear in that last thin whis­per at the bot­tom of the pan.

But the gold wasn’t re­ally the point. It never was. And there’s noth­ing re­ally wrong with that, is there?

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