Yesterday, more or less by accident, I wound up in Chicken, AK, when I wanted to be in Eagle. Turns out to be a good thing.
You see, Chicken is about gold. Tourist gold, yes, but actual, moil for it in the ground, muck and shovel and sluice gold. Gold, boys, gold.
It was my treat to photograph, interview, and enjoy a variety of gold miners as they went about their passionate pursuit of the yellow stuff.
I can't post pictures til tomorrow (limited bandwidth here, and I'd shut the whole thing down trying to upload). But I can tell you that Ginger and I bounced through a stream, hitched a ride on a 4-passenger ATV, and started checking out the proceedings on Myers Fork.
Take Francis Profitt, for instance (great name for a miner). He has mined gold, garnets, jade all over the world.... he's from New Zealand. He's been to Chicken before, this time with his wife on a work-some-mine-some contract with Mike.
Francis is a machine. In his 60s, he shovels relentlessly for 50 minutes, then cleans his sluice for 10. Today he's digging under an overhanging bank, and luckily happens to be out at the sluice when a section of it caves in, right where he's been digging. "It's OK," he grins. "I can hear it before it really gives way and can leave in time if I have to."
Downstream, an elderly couple are panning with a very simple sluice box. They are taking it slow, finding some flakes, and are utterly enjoying each other and their passionate pursuit of cold yellow metal.
A ways down the canyon, Larry, a colorful chap in a handlebar mustache and a fetching garbage-bag poncho, and a very experienced miner, has been coaching Chickie, a Texan who has been planning his couple of months as a miner for several years.
Eventually, Chickie and Larry laughingly show me how to pan for gold, and I come up with three small pieces after 30 arthritis-pursing minutes.
Ginger and I hike back to the car, visit again at the Chicken post office and figured out with Robyn how to get the package that didn't make it today to where I might be in a couple of weeks.
Then off to Tok, a see-saw ride that scared the bejeepers out of me for fear my heavily-laden rear suspension would just give up. But it didn't, and so ends a day in the gold fields of Chicken, Alaska.