Come, listen to my tale.
Donít be afraid. Sit down. Light a fire for it may become chilly. The wind often groans while the snow shapes itself into malevolent shadows.
But I digress.
My story begins the day the Excelsior sailed into San Francisco in 1897.
Her arrival caused an immediate stir, and I, drawn like a moth to a candle, found myself on the wharf, pushing and shoving, wanting a glimpse of the gold gathered from the streams of the Yukon.
Immediately, I was impassioned. I was young, strong, ambitious, and adventuresome. And poor.
My mother and I lived in near poverty; she sewed ladiesí garments, and I mucked the stalls at the livery stable. Gold to be had for the taking seemed an opportunity for me to provide the wherewithal to establish my mother in comfort, if not luxury.
A ticket was purchased with our tiny hoard and borrowed funds, and in due time, I was northbound, following the golden glow of inevitable prosperity.
Truly, what did I anticipate after our ship docked? The Chilcoot Trail, a mere twenty-eight miles long, was the recommended course to the gold fields. Did I expect an idyllic stroll to the edge of a bubbling stream where fist-sized nuggets gleamed next to fat trout, no less difficult to secure? Certainly not, but neither did I think it would require twenty trips to transport the mandated yearís supply of goods over the pass, slogging through quagmire under the scrutinizing eyes of the Northwest Mounted Police. However, pain paled as the siren call of gold beckoned, alluring and enticing.
I was unprepared for the squalidness of Prosperity, Yukon, with its muddy streets and slapped together buildings boasting sawdust floors and false fronts. Grizzled prospectors, spewing tobacco juice and hiding their ambition under hooded eyes, lined up at the claims office. I joined them, concealing my own feverish eagerness.
My claim lay eighteen miles northeast of Prosperity. I erected my tent and installed my tin stove, then made a bed with saplings and rope. I did little else in my impatience to discover the riches I knew were buried only yards away. I had sold most of my supplies in Prosperity, having every intention of quitting this place before winter and sailing southward with gold-lined pockets. What need had I for bacon, dried apples, and corn meal?
My initial attempts at gold-panning were pitiful. In spite of endless swirling, no flakes winked at me from the panís bottom. Day after day, I continued steadfastly, believing that sooner or later, the creek would relinquish its treasure into my waiting hands. And so it was, that one misty morning, a nugget appeared, bold and lustrous. Time stopped. With awe, I lifted the nugget, and it warmed in my hand, a radiant ember.
My strength was immediately renewed, and I thanked the Lord for the midnight sun that shone on my endeavours and lengthened my days.
More nuggets appeared, along with fine flakes of dust, and my cache grew steadily. I imagined my homecoming, a dutiful son presenting his mother with the means for a life of wealth.
Unnoticed, aspen leaves became bright coins that spiraled and spun to the ground, and golden-spired tamaracks reached for brilliant azure skies. The creekís edge was crusted with ice each day, yet I was oblivious and determined. One more nugget, one more gram of flakes. My supplies were nearly depleted; I had a tiny quantity of salt pork and flour left.
Finally, one morning, I awoke to an ominous stillness. The tent sagged, burdened with snow. I dug my way out, only to find my camp obliterated by knee-deep whiteness. The sky was leaden with the weight of another snowfall, and the wind was beginning to howl. I knew I must return to the safety of Prosperity straightaway.
What chance did I have with snow hindering my every step, the wind shrieking reprisals at me. My breath was dragged from me in ragged gasps. Do you blame me for resting one too many times? I became lost in dreams of my mother and my home on the Bay.
Now Iíve been resting under the northern lights for over a century, waiting to tell my story.
Look into my eyes. Do you see the gaping emptiness, the vacant shadows of misplaced hope, and the hollow dreams of illusive riches?
You will find my heavy leather pouch near where my heart used to be.
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