I'm thinking you'd be shocked to know what I'm doing this week for relaxation and fun: I'm mining.
To all of my peeps who know I hail from the great state of Almost-Heaven-West-Virginia, just stop right there. I didn't come from THAT part of West Virginia. And who yearns for coal, anyhow? Like the only thing missing from my life was black lung disease? No, thank you. I'm talking about gem mining and rock hounding with others of my kind. You know what I'm talking about: geology nerds.
Living near the Great Smoky Mountains, there's just tons of opportunities to go geologically ga-ga and who am I to pass that up? The last thing in the world I want angry with me is a mountain that felt ignored. My family and I have stalked rubies, panned for gold, drooled over possible deposits of sapphire and hunted fossils. Why not? I'm amazed by nature below the ground. On top of that, literally, the scenery is beautiful, you'll most likely meet some new people and critters always show up. All the things I love. Plus mud.
We keep expanding our treks farther and farther away, and this week our target was emeralds in North Carolina. We drove to Hiddenite, NC, with a supply of old clothes and nasty yard shoes. The name should tell you something, too - HIDDENite. The hills are full of awesome gems and minerals... somewhere out there. You pay to get permits to search existing mines (if they are open to the public), sluice or grab your big tools and dig in an open pit that puts you closer to gem deposits...in theory. We decided to be lazy and sluice this time...hey, it's a vacation!
Sluicing is a big trough full of moving water. After getting buckets of soil brought out of the mines or the pit, I play weak female and get my hubby to carry it for me. This is the only time I do that - I've got a bum shoulder - but man, am I glad he will do it. A five gallon bucket of dirt and rock is heavy! Then, you slowly pour the dirt into a square screen and start to carefully wash it. Gems look like rocks, mostly. It's a slow, tedious search. The water is icy cold, I actually wonder why it's not frozen, and this is the point where Gonzo shouts, "Yow! Did you say you had plastic gloves? Give 'em to me, give 'em to me." He fake shivers to stress the point. I supply the gloves (I knew he'd need them!) and go back to my task of finding our fortune.
Two minutes later, he asks: "When are we eating lunch?" Ever ready, I had a Mom Glare on deck waiting for him. It hadn't been an hour since he last ate. Speaking of which, this kid is eating me out of house and home - I need to find a lot of gems!
My husband takes his time and works slowly, while I sit nearby going over each tiny bit of stuff on that screen while saying my rock hound mantra: "Rock...rock...dirt...rock...rock...rock...ooooh, what's this? Put him in the special pile. Rock....rock....rock....dirt...dirt...rock..."
When we start finding things, we get excited and compare our haul. Gonzo did find about seven low grade emeralds, I found a garnet and lots of cool quartz. We were excited about one crystal clear piece that was just beautiful. Gonzo also found the best piece of the day - a clear, stunning piece of smoky topaz.
Oh, I keep forgetting to mention the fifteen to eighteen gallons of rock and dirt we sorted that was basically your garden variety of rock...and dirt. A portion of that was on shoes, legs, derriere and pants. It was a good day. Good work - you get food again, son.
So, I'm not rich yet (if I pretend I do it to get fancy gems, it gets me more respect)...but I may be the stuff of legend as the person who carted rocks from all over back to Knoxville and started a hundred kids' rock collections. It's how geology nerds create more geology nerds. My husband won't keep carrying these buckets forever; I need back up.