This time of year, up high, we get the first really brisk nights of the year. Winter's coming for sure.
I've never been one to read the Farmer's Almanac to determine the weather. I judge the weather more on whether the downstream claim owner, Bob Flanagan, is still working. When Bob pulls his equipment for the season I figure he knows something I don't and I start wrapping up for the year.
I was a little concerned when I hadn't seen Bob for over a week. This time of year he's usually going full guns trying to get the last few weeks of dredging in before the first snows arrive. I figured he may have already pulled out for the year and just didn't tell me.
Neither of us is much for updating status on Facebook or Snapagram or whatever people use these days. We rely more on just telling the other person if we're going to be gone for a while. Not seeing Bob for over a week made me wonder whether he's downstream stuck under a boulder, or maybe crawling up the trail with a double fractured leg or something. But, the trail is pretty steep and there's no point walking it for no reason as most people can survive at least a week without assistance but if he didn't show for a few more days I might go take a look.
Bob's claim, The Biscuit, is just downstream from my claim on Starvation Creek. His claim is better than mine and produces more gold, and I'm always tempted to drift my dredge a little over the boundary line to see just how rich it really is, but I never know when Bob might show up, or decide to work the upper part so it makes it a little risky to high grade him just yet, at least not without seeing buzzards circling.
Bob always claim he works twice as long, moves more boulders and works deeper in the creek, sometimes going entire days without poking his head above water.
I argue my gold keeps moving down onto his claim, and some percentage of his take rightfully belongs to me.
This has been an ongoing dispute between us and I always close by telling him he doesn't know the mining law as well as I do and I'll cite the case Knickerbocker versus the Forest Service, 1892 as my case law on the issue. He always responds I'm making this up so its unlikely we'll settle this issue this mining season. All the same I've been keeping track of how much gold I think he owes me.
If Bob's working his claim he's usually here on the gravel bar this time of night panning out his take for the day so I was a little surprised to see him come dragging down the trail looking a little worse for the wear.
Now both of us are at that age you may call seasoned, or some may call old so our normal look is a little worse for the wear, but typically one of us isn't sporting a black eye. Blackened fingers from being crushed under rocks, sure, but usually not a big old shiner.
So, Bob walks up and grabs the folding chair I have reserved for him. Not that there's a big rush on chairs down on Starvation Creek, and I can't recall anyone else ever being on the bar, but I still keep it reserved just in case. I closely study his eye, it's quite the shiner and me not being the most discrete person just have to ask.
"Well?" I ask as he tries unsuccessfully to find a level spot for the legs.
"I'm not giving you any of my gold if that's what you're asking." He replies.
"No, what's with the eye?"
"Monday Night Football." He says.
"And?" I pursue.
"You know I'm a 49er fan."
"Aren't we all." I respond.
"The football team, not the miners."
"So you lost a bet, or ran into someone who wasn't such a fan?" I continue.
"You know they play the National Anthem at the start of the game, right? Apparently some of the boys down at the VFW don't take kindly to someone not standing for the National Anthem."
"You're talking about the quarterback guy, Kaepernick?" I ask.
"So what's a multi-millionaire quarterback got to do with you getting a shiner?"
"I had to support him protesting injustice."
"So you didn't stand?"
"Right, and that's when a Korean War vet in a wheelchair hit me upside the head with his cane."
"I've never known you to be a big civil rights protestor." I say.
"Civil rights? I was joining his protest against injustice to miners."
"Why's that?" I ask seeing if that was whiskey I smelled or maybe just mountain misery.
"Did you know 100% of people arrested for dredging without a permit have been white men?" He says.
"Could be that's who was doing the illegal dredging." I reply.
"By population statistics white men make up only 19% of California's population but 100% of arrests have been white men. You'd almost think they're profiling." Bob says.
"Look, we know there are some dredgers who are Hispanic, Asian and Black. You and I both know some, right?"
"So why are 100% of arrests just white men? It's injustice, and injustice anywhere is intolerable, so I'm with Kaepernick."
"It could be only white men are dumb enough to get busted dredging." I tell Bob.
"Or it could be profiling." Bob responds. "I think they should round up some Hispanic dredgers and probably a Black dredger for good measure and arrest them to ensure there's no injustice."
"What if they're not dredging?"
"Doesn't matter, arrest them anyways because they probably have an intent to commit the crime and that way we'll get the statistics right."
"So you're saying it's more important to get the statistics right than to actually catch the guys doing the crime?" I respond.
"Right. I think they ought to look through old dredge permits, find someone with the last name of Hernandez and go arrest him. he's probably got an unregistered dredge hidden away in the garage or down on the river."
"OK, I'm not following you now."
"Didn't they say in sworn testimony dredges have the potential to stir up mercury which could then float downstream, up and over the dams, then down another 40 miles of river and get sucked up past the filters into the city water system and harm mothers and children? Bob asks.
"They did." I respond.
"Then don't you think the end justifies the means? So what if we round up a few Hernandez's who didn't actually do anything. With a threat like this you really need to make sure you've got the statistics right and right now the statistics don't match the population facts."
"You mean like planting a dredge on Hernandez's claim?"
"So we plant a dredge on Hernandez's claim, then call in a CALTIP. They call in the dredge SWAT team, do a sweep of the San Joaquin River, arrest Hernandez and we're safe for another few months up here on Starvation Creek."
"Then we'll finally have justice." Bob says as he stands up to check on his camping gear. "Oh," he says as he walks away, "Next time I think I'll stand up for the National Anthem down at the VFW."
"You may want to do the same on loggers night at Murphy's Bar." I say as he walks away.