Memories of “Discovering Gold!”

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A couple weekends ago, my short story reading project led me to read Jack London’s short story “All Gold Canyon.” I own an ebook of London’s complete works and added this tale to my 52-story roster for 2013 reading. I chose it because of its tantalizing title and because it was one I hadn’t read before. I was not disappointed.

***Mild Spoiler Alert*** (this story is in the public domain and may be read/found for free online in many places – like this one.)

The story begins with the protagonist, a solitary prospector, coming upon a pristine canyon in the Southwestern U.S. The canyon is singular in its unspoiled natural beauty, and London’s description of it is a real tour de force. The prospector takes out a pan and begins testing the dirt for traces of gold. As  you could imagine by the story’s title, he is not disappointed either. Things go well and eventually he finds the source of the gold deposit. Extracting the gold won’t be that easy, though, as he must deal with natural obstacles as well as a nefarious “claim-jumper” before the story ends.

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All Gold Canyon struck a chord with me because it invoked some fond memories. The story includes a pretty lengthy description of the panning for gold, maybe more than I’d ever heard or read about that practice before. At that point in the story, a recollection from childhood hit me and for several minutes I became lost in “the realm of memory“…

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When I was growing up, my family had some LP records from a series called “My First Golden Record Library” that my two brothers and I listened to often, and of these our undisputed favorite was one titled “Adventures that Built America.” (album jacket pictured above) This record sounds somewhat cheesy when listened to today (a few years ago my Mom burned a copy to CD for me), but at the time it was high, “adventure” – for lack of a better word. It contained five individual tracks where the listener would ‘actively participate’ (there were quiet spots on the record where we were supposed to respond. The breathless narrator would urge us with “Say, ’yes,’ adventurer!” – or whatever the situation called for.) There were five separate adventures on the record, starting with Christopher Columbus discovering America (“You’ve sighted land, Adventurer!”) and moving on to Paul Revere’s ride, The Pony Express, and the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk. There was also one about the California Gold Rush that started with its discovery at Sutter’s Mill (pictured below) in 1848.

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The sound effects were great, and in the Gold Rush “episode” the listener is part of a wagon-riding, claim-grabbing rush. Even as I’m typing this, I can hear the water swishing as the listener is panning for gold (“You’ve discovered gold, Adventurer!”). Re-listening to this record today – some ’drive-by’ research indicates it was produced in 1962 – it sounds pretty corny and campy. Complete with its often breathless narrator, over the top songs and music, it’s a wonder I didn’t grow up and become a great patriot of some kind…

(below: panning for gold)

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Have you read any of Jack London’s shorter works?  You’re missing out if you haven’t.  Which are your favorites or which do you recommend?  Are you a member of the generation that grew up listening to records like “Adventures that Built America?” Do you enjoy it when your reading opens a portal backward in time and into your own “realm of memory?”  I’d love to hear about it…

(Below: author Jack London)

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