THE RUSTY PAN
Back in the early ’80s, my brother and I got the idea that we wanted to float an Alaskan river that had never seen a raft. We heard about a remote creek that was running unseasonably high and talked an outfitter with a floatplane into dropping us at its headwaters. It would be a 14-day float to the take-out spot.
Halfway into the trip, we rounded a bend and there was an entire log cabin beached on a brushy sandbar. It must have been washed down from its original location in the spring runoff. After a week of seeing no signs of humans, we had to stop. We rummaged the place, feeling like trespassers even though it hadn’t been inhabited in decades. We found broken jars, tools, old cans, and even a rusted-out gold pan. We left that cabin just as we found it, still feeling like intruders. We knew the next high water would finish the task and return those hewn timbers to the river. My brother and I still talk about that find, and wonder about the old trapper and prospector who built the shack and lived way out there. And I still wish I’d kept his rusty old gold pan.