While on a travel writing assignment in Northern British Columbia I was introduced to a group of people working for a mining exploration company prospecting for gold near a decommissioned mine. Like most city people, I know very little about mining beyond the bad press those companies get when they cut corners, or become lax and irresponsible, causing damage to the environments they work in.
So it was interesting to meet some of these people in person, and to hear about their work. The geologists and technicians took me on a tour of their small warehouse, showing me their collection of “core samples” – cylinders of rock that have been cut and extracted from below ground with a diamond drill.
The samples are examined to find significant concentrations of gold in a given location. If enough of the metal turns up in the cores to justify the high cost of extracting it, a mining operation ensues. The photo below shows a core sample with trace amounts of gold mixed in with the rock on the left of the core.
The people I met were fairly non-challant about their work, which they regarded as fairly regular, even mundane; similar to how archaeologists sometimes demystify their undertakings when speaking to laypeople. But, like with archaeologists, I could discern the slightest sense of repressed expectation and excitement hanging in the air around them. Their work is a bit like playing the slots.
When I stepped back and looked at the whole picture mentally, and considered all of the physical, organizational and emotional effort going into finding a metal with little intrinsic worth beyond its artificially-endowed symbolism of profound wealth, the entire operation seemed a bit surreal.
As I was leaving, I asked a senior manager of the company what the next step was if, and when, they found enough gold to justify mining it. He told me that they would likely sell the claim to another company that would do the physical mining.
When I asked what other geographical areas they planned to prospect after hypothetically selling off this one, the man looked at me with a bit of surprise.
“None,” he said, grinning. “Part of the point of doing all this is that we hope to never have to work again.”