I wear my gold pouch with pride.
I’ve had it now for five years. That’s five trips to the Gold Fields of Coloma, five apple challenges, five dunkings into the South Fork of the American River, a few hundred students, and chaperones. It’s a bit faded now and turned up at the edges like a big leaf maple leaf in fall.
When I first was handed my pouch on my arrival at the Coloma Outdoor Discovery School (CODS), it was new, soft leather, the same pouch that all Greenhorns receive within their first few hours on the South Fork of the American River.
The gold pouch serves a few different purposes. Primarily it is a leather name tag, worn around the neck. Mine has the my miner’s name: Hawk Eye. Maybe a nod to MASH, a reference to birds or an allusion to my mother’s home state. It’s all of these but primarily it is a statement about seeing and perception. To be aware, to be present.
In our current time, our youth are inundated with artificial experience. Bright screens that can darken the mind. And our youth, I fear, will reap a whirlwind for not being “here now”.
But it the contents of the pouch that gives me hope. In my pouch is a vial filled with water. This is the container that Greenhorns use to keep their flakes of gold that they find while gold panning. Mine is empty because I seldom have time to pan for gold.
I am often asked by students to show them the gold in my vial and I tell them that the gold I find in Coloma is not contained in my vial but the gold is standing in front of me. That is my hope. That is our future.
While at CODS we learn what happened here in January 1848, setting off the largest migration of humans in history, indeed the world rushed in. But the Gold Rush that happens on the banks of the American River happens here everyday at CODS.
It is something undefinable, and unique to each individual student but it is certainly much more precious than the gold that was manically mined here after word spread of James Marshall’s discovery.
The real gold of Coloma is that fire that burns within, that we all, as educators, fan and tend to. As Yeats noted, “Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Just as it’s not about filling the vial with gold but really about igniting the desire to do something for our one and only planet and to be our best selfs.
And while we head back on the bus, many students sleep but that fire, that little pilot light, that always burns, is planted in them, ready to ignite!