As we traverse the current COVID-19 environment, it occurs to me that the mining community doesn’t fall into a single social or political “life” class. We are (or were in many cases) tradesman, craftsman, safety personnel, geologists, or someone who performs at some level of government service. Many of us have college degrees, certifications and licenses where 40-60 hour workweeks are also the norm.
What does this have to do with the current condition we and our families find ourselves in? We as miners understand and are conditioned to hard work, we have a disciplined work ethic and perseverance that comes from overcoming the rigors of both mining and daily life.
There are several types of mining we pursue and different intensity levels – some of us are collection miners, finding great pleasure and satisfaction in hunting down that elusive nugget or pocket of gold while many of us supplement our income with larger scale operations that provide monetary value each month. Whether we choose metal detecting or dredging, highbanking or sluicing, or just prospecting a new location using a trusty pan - our mining endeavors are as varied and interesting as we want to make it!
-> SEARCH PLACES NEAR YOU TO PROSPECT FOR GOLD
One thing we do share in common is the need to protect ourselves, our loved ones and fellow mining partners from harm. Both in the rigors of mining, and now the Coronavirus and other pathogens that surround us every day.
The new buzz phrase “social distancing”, forces us to create and maintain a physical, emotional and social safe zone for interaction with those around us. Many of us are now required to “shelter in place”. Boredom, frustration and isolation begin to take over our lives compounded by the fear created by the endless bombardment of news media coverage. What are we as miners supposed to do?
Back in the day my grandfather called it horse sense, i.e. possessing a levelheaded sensibility, a strong wit and routinely applied wisdom. It is time to dwell on what we can do rather than on what we can’t.
For many years I have one day a week pursued my passion for mining. “Mining Thursday” has become a mainstay in my routine and has become both an emotional and monetary fulfilling activity. All this despite having a physical condition - a chronic lung condition and asthma, which puts me in the high risk category according to the CDC. And while I understand that I would most likely not survive a bout with COVID-19, I choose to continue to mine and enjoy the outdoor adventure, and choose to do it responsibly as I have been for many years.
I have decided to create a mining trip “habit”, something that you can share with your trusted mining partners, spouses and children. It has three basic parts – preparation, sanitation and working together despite physical space limitations.
Preparation is by far the most important part of your mining habit. You cannot depend on outside sources such as convenience stores, fast food restaurants and ATM machines – Everything must be done at home. If you forget something you have no safe way to pick it up en route.
- Create equipment checklists. This will be your outline for each type of mining trip. Write down required mining equipment, tools and specialty items such as batteries. Add contingency items to cover unplanned situations.
- Create a separate checklist for personal items. Include medications, clothing, sunscreen/bug spray and other necessary items. Also add emergency gear like extra coats and blankets for unseen emergencies.
- Prepare an ice chest with desired food items, snacks and water. Using the ice chest for everything eliminates the chance of leaving loose bags of items on the counter.
Stage all items together and load vehicle in one pass. Pre-loading of items can cause problems you can’t afford to have. Once vehicle is loaded, check items against your list to verify nothing has been missed. Take a moment to add anything extra you might need. Add them to the list.
My setup for running stream gravels. Ice chest has snacks and water for the day.
Carry all forms of personal sanitation and hygiene - Hand sanitizer, 91% alcohol, and biodegradable soap and paper towels will allow you to keep your face, mouth and hands clean. Wash several times a day and anytime you are eating or drinking. As an at-risk person I have committed this regimen to a “lifestyle habit”. It is extremely important during the pandemic but is just as critical during cold and flu season.
Working with a Trusted Partner
Mining alone is fairly straight forward since there is minimal risk. You travel alone to your chosen mining destination, carry your equipment to the site and prepare and run material without much risk. As long as no one violates your safe space all is well. What about a mining partner? Now things become more difficult.
Your mining partner must have committed to the same level of public space avoidance, sanitation and maintenance of personal space. That is why I use the phrase “trusted partner” – a person you can trust to mitigate the risks that both of you can be exposed to.
Your mining trips together become task oriented rather than working together. Prospecting can be done by one and verified by the other. Once mining has begun, one digs and classifies and the other runs material. For added safety I now carry the bucket of material to within fifteen feet of the sluice and my buddy carries it to the sluice. We still carry on great conversations about gold or a new piece of equipment or detector but we do it while we work at a safe distance.
At the end of the day I let my partner pickup his equipment and work out towards his vehicle then I collect mine and do the same. Smiles and last words about the great day we had are exchanged from rolled down drivers side windows as we prepare to leave. We alternate who gets the day’s cons so there are no safe space issues.
I look forward to the day when things get back to normal and we can all relax – It will take some time so we must be prepared to maintain our diligence. I will of course maintain the same sanitary practice even as I return to my favorite stores and public places.
I suggest you get back to mining, either by yourself or with a trusted partner. There is nothing better than enjoying the fruits of your labor!
-> JOIN THE GPAA AND GET ACCESS TO MORE THAN 50,000 ACRES OF GOLD-BEARING PROPERTY
Kevin Bell is a GPAA Member and GPAA State Director for the State of California