On Prospecting

(Or, How to Grow a Gold Mine – Part 1)

On my very first day of prospecting for gold in Africa I was wandering through the heat whirring bush over unpaved, unnamed, dusty reddish trails, which during the raining season turn from the thickest dust into the direst, boot-dragging mud with myriads of giant black pollywogs paddling in the deeper puddles. We, my African friend and partner Fou and me, were out there in November shortly after the season. He wanted to show me places where the children occasionally find a nugget in the ditches besides the paths after it had rained.

Suddenly I saw a movement on the ground out of the corner of my eye. It was a single huge ant, nearly as long as the tip of my little finger, with a golden glimmering abdomen, climbing down its sandy anthill. Well, if this wasn’t a sign, what was? Quickly I filled my calabash made from an old scooped out gourd with the ants’ excavation and then went to the nearest pool to wash it. After a few minutes I saw three little pieces of gold no bigger than a grain of salt, swimming amongst the black sand at the bottom of my improvised pan.

I felt like screaming and dancing and of course I felt so incredibly rich. I already saw myself on top of my dreams sitting on a throne in my mansion, a bottle of champagne in my hands, a stupid grin on my face and a big vault full of gold in the cellar. If someone had told me that it would be at least seven years before I would even come close to this fantasy I wouldn’t have believed him. But I will never forget the enormous joy I felt that day. The kind of joy and fun and love you want to feel again and again once you’ve felt it for your very first time at your first find of gold.

Later on we went back to Fou’s small village at the edge of the Sahel zone. Home in our little greyish hut made out of clay and cowpats (which gave it a bit of a furry surface without smelling too badly) I took out my loupe to calmly have a closer look at my findings. If you carefully listen to and closely look at the gold it will tell you the story of its lifetime. You will begin to understand where it came from and where its relatives are hidden.

Mine were nicely rounded and showed a bright shiny golden yellow colour, which told me they had been transported and rolled over for many, many raining seasons from their mother lode through runlets into ditches and rivers until they finally ended up as part of a sandy anthill. If instead they were flattened, crumpled, with a silvery yellowish shine I would have guessed transportation by a glacier but this was somehow highly unlikely in the middle of Africa! A more crystalline structure on the other hand would have told me I was maybe not too far away from its original source.

However, once you have seen colour in the pan you are on the right track, somewhere, more or less far from the point where you are standing, is more gold or even the mother lode. You just have to find it. A piece of cake! It won’t take too long, just a few days, or months, or years.

From now on you will wash every anthill, crack pieces of termite hills, look at the excavations from every toad, mouse or rat hole, search the bottom of ditches and rivers and mark the position of all findings on your GPS and maps. This work is not about the amount of gold you find, it is about the proof of gold in general. That’s prospecting!

If asked about three things for prospecting I would say they were passion, a good pair of hiking boots and lots of patience, plus, of course enough money to do so because prospecting costs money. Think of mining for gold as a workshop where you do your work for a living. Prospecting would then be the foundation to that workshop, the base of all you will build on and therefor it can’t be strong enough or done without too much care.

My advice for all forthcoming prospectors is, ask the experts but eventually become one yourself. If you walk too long in someone else’s footprints it will be hard to leave your own ones. Always be curious, never stop asking and finding your answers. Eventually prospecting is nothing else but wandering through the fields with a bucket and a scoop, digging concentric holes like a mole and looking for what is in them. The proof of gold is what you are after and once you’ve got it then you start the exploration to find out how much more is there, if it is worth mining and all that this will mean.

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