My Grandpa Chuck invited me to help him “dig for gold” every summer for as long as I could remember.
When I was young, I had gold fever, bad. I panned, picked, pounded and shoveled with intense focus. I was sure that any minute, we were going to strike it rich.
But as a man, I discovered my grandpa was helping me mine for many things more precious than gold. I became a wealthy man, indeed, when my Grandpa Chuck taught me to use a looking glass to find the Creator’s fingerprints left in the heart of a mountain back at the beginning of time.
A few years before my grandpa died last August, at age 97, I drove from Portland to his cabin north of Priest River, Idaho. I drove all night so I could have more weekend time with him.
I heard the deep thud and scuff of my grandpa’s boots on the cabin floor until he appeared in the doorway with a welcoming smile and a wave of his hand that bid me, “Come in.”
As I approached I could smell cooked bacon and freshly caught cutthroat trout. When my eyes had adjusted to the cool darkness of the miner’s shelter, I found two place settings and grandpa was just sliding the second trout onto my plate.
After we finished grace and began our meal, grandpa told me about the fight from the morning catch and yesterday’s diggings from the Blue Dragonfly, a mining claim he had been working for 45 years. He seemed driven by a profound hope that the next blow of his hammer would release a treasure left eons before.
All of his geological research, all of his blasting, chipping and shoveling, had been couched as his quest to find a gold nugget “the size of a man’s heart” that he would sell to take care of his wife and his children – and then later, he would tell me, to take care of his grandchildren’s education.
I had heard that plan, that dream, recited every summer since the first time I could follow him to the rim of that hole in the hillside. I loved that dream. It became my dream as well.
As a young man, however, I realized that grandpa knew the science, and he knew that his claim would never and could never produce anything more than tiny rivulets or veins tightly squeezed and guarded in unrelenting pressure from granite and iron-laden “country rock” of that region.
And it was then that I realized he was not digging for an actual gold nugget. He was really about the business of passing along a different kind of treasure, a different kind of inheritance.
My grandpa was digging for things precious and tucked in the seams and crevices of the human heart. His digging was as an act of faith and love, one of divine worship.
His church was the Blue Dragonfly, a tiny hole in the side of God’s earth. And unlike the stained glass windows of the cathedrals in Chartres or Paris which were cut and placed by inspired human hands, here in this secluded church, human hands were examining the Creator’s own stained glass.
As he worked, grandpa would toss samples in a coffee can, pieces that flashed or glittered as they fell, pieces that had caught his eye during the digging.
Later, he would pull his “looking glass” from his pocket and begin calling out the miraculous variety of minerals: pegmatite, calcite, iron pyrite, orange garnet, magnetite, galena, copper, nickel. Every so often he’d swear there was a sliver or grain of bright yellow gold.
Regardless of the listing, he’d say, “The Creator is an amazing artist, indeed. Lordy, would you just look at that.” And then he’d pass the rock to me.
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