The town of Mariposa, California, has a delightful walkway along the creek that bears the town name. The walkway and creek parallel Main Street, and as you stroll along it you hear the clear water gurgling and splashing as its journey away from the Sierra Mountains. The town has set aside an area in this creek side park for a small amphitheater for musical programs and events like the annual butterfly festival. The local native plant club has planted many of their favorites along the walkway, and has labeled them for those of us who are not in the know.
As I ambled along this walkway one day, I came across a baby stroller. It got my attention and I looked around, but couldn’t see the baby who had been pushed to this spot. Finally, looking over the side of the creek, I observed a woman about 25 years old with a little boy who might have been 3. They were 10 feet below me right on the edge of the creek. The woman was kneeling down and the little boy was standing with his hand on her shoulder. They were both looking into the clear water of the creek.
Looking more closely, I noticed the woman had a large pan in her hand. “Could she be panning for gold?” I asked myself?
As she washed the sand away, she was pointing something out to the little boy. Stuck in the creek bank behind her was a short spade. What a cute picture they made. I supposed I was observing a little local history lesson for the boy.
About an hour later I passed the spot on my way back to the hotel and was surprised to see the woman and boy still by the creek. The woman had moved upstream about 20 feet and was vigorously digging in the bank with her spade. The boy was playing along the creek not far from her. I became curious. This was either a very long history lesson, or there was more to her story than I had thought at first.
My curiosity got the best of me. I scrambled down the creek bank and walked over toward her. Looking up at my approach, she gave me a rather unwelcome stare.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said, “but I was watching from the bank and my curiosity got the better of me.”
“I’m working,” she said.
“It looked like you might be panning for gold.”
“If you are going to rob me, don’t waste your time. I haven’t gotten anything today,” she said.
“Oh, please don’t think I’m going to rob you. Like I said, I’m just curious and wouldn’t think of robbing you. Why are you panning for gold?”
She looked at me like I was an idiot for even asking that question. “Don’t you think people would pay money for gold?”
“Let me tell you my story and then maybe you’ll leave me alone. My husband works construction and is having a difficult time finding steady work right now. We have bills that we must pay and it’s hard to keep food on the table for little Eric here and keep a roof over our heads. I prayed to the Lord one day just before Christmas and asked Him to show me a way to help us until there is more work in construction. After praying I seemed to get a feeling that I should do something about gold. When I mentioned this to my husband he reminded me when we were in school here in Mariposa they taught us about the Gold Rush and how people panned gold out of the creeks. We decided I should give it a try. As I looked around for a place to pan, I noticed there was a little church meeting in that old building there. I figured if the Lord wanted me to pan for gold; He’d want me to do it by a church. So that’s what I’m doing. I hope this answers your questions because I need to work fast before it gets dark.”
“How is it working out?” I asked.
“We’re paying our bills.”
“Praise the Lord,” I said as I scrambled back up the bank leaving Eric and his mom to their work.
I have now worshiped in the little church meeting in the building by the creek. People at the church confirmed that people in Mariposa are still finding gold. Panning for it is not uncommon. The old saying is still true; there is gold in them thar hills!