That pile of rock and dirt still sits in the back corner of our yard,
and it still may be some gold in there, but there’s no telling because the kids haven’t dug through it in about forever. The last time they did (I can’t remember when it was, only that they were both a whole lot shorter), my son came running into the house with what looked like a piece of gravel.
Swore it was gold.
I told him the same thing I’d told him a thousand times before:
How it all started was they’d seen a TV show about prospectors out West. One of them had struck it rich. The kids, young enough to believe if that sort of thing could happen to some guy in California then it surely could happen to them all the way in Virginia, decided they would have a go at it. They used the yellow plastic sifters we’d gotten at the beach that summer and went on out to the creek beside the house. It lasted about half an hour. Wasn’t so much the sifting they minded, it was the snakes.
But that pile of dirt and rocks at the end of our yard was well away from any lingering serpents, plus there was the fact it sat near enough to the neighbor’s oak to give them shade from the sun. There my two kids parked themselves for most of a whole summer. They separated dirt from rock and rock from what they called “maybes,” pebbles which gave off something of a shine and so would be studied later. Took them a few weeks, but that whole pile ended up being moved a good three feet.
Sometimes I’d sit on the back porch and watch them. There was an order to the kids’ work, a methodical examining which carried a strong current of patience beneath. Neither of them minded getting dirty or sweaty in the process.
“You gotta get down in all that muck,” my son told me one day, “because that’s the only way you’ll find the gold.”
To my knowledge that vein of leftover driveway gravel and leaves scattered by the wind didn’t pan out. My kids never did find their gold. Something other came along to capture their attention. Dragons, I believe it was. My daughter had read a book about dragons, which are vastly superior to gold, and so her and her brother spent the next few months out in the woods rather than in our rock pile, looking for dens and nests and serpent eggs.
I thought about their search for treasure this evening when I had the dog out and her sniffer led us both to the end of the yard in a meandering sort of way. Thought maybe I’d go inside and ask the kids if they remember the summer they spent sitting out there panning and sifting. I guessed they maybe would. If not, I would remind them.
Because there’s a lesson in that old pile, I think. One both of my kids would do well to remember.
They’re both getting toward that age when the world can lose a bit of its color. Things don’t seem so wondrous anymore. There are obligations and responsibilities. Things that have to get done. Adulthood is looming, for both of them. There will come a time when they’ll find much of the world is one sort of muck or another. Living can be a messy business. No one can get from one end of it to the other without getting a little dirty in the process.
But what I want them to know is there’s still treasure in there, treasure everywhere, so long as they’re both willing to put a little work into finding it. Won’t always be easy. Sometimes you’ll grab whole handfuls of days and months and even years and find little in there that sparkles. But you’ll always find something, that’s what I’m going to tell them. You’ll always find enough to keep you going.