The Placer Age

Lark Explains Geology

Ragtail stopped at the edge of a gulch and shaded his eyes with his hand as he looked uphill and down.
“Going down will be the easiest way around it,” Lark said.
Ragtail’s response was a grunt.
“Don’t make no sense, you being difficult.” Lark swung his arm in a wide loop. “The quicker we reach the outcroppings in the foothills, the sooner we strike color.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“What do you mean?”
Ragtail put his arm around Damn Donkey’s neck. The beast liked to have the base of his ears scratched. It was a routine the pair had developed when Ragtail needed to cogitate.
“First off,” he said, “we can follow the wash to the foothills. We might find water and good spots for some placer mining.”
Lark shook his head. “You gotta have a running stream for placer mining.”
“Shows what you know.”
“I know a lot.” Lark dropped his pack and tapped on the palm of one hand with the forefinger of the other. “If’n you knew the fine science of geology, you’d know that the dust settles through the dirt in layers. Been so since the beginning of time. They call the layers “ages” like the Iron Age or the Bronze Age. Those are the layers you dig in to git iron or bronze.”
Lark paused to shake out his kerchief and wipe his face. “Now if you want placer gold, you gotta dig for it in the placer age layer.”
Ragtail balked at being lectured to, especially from the likes of Lark, but the man was making sense. “How do you know if you’re at the placer age?”
“Well, it’s hard, ain’t it, gold being a bashful metal. But they say there’s supposed to be bones from long-ago critters buried in it.”
“You ain’t making sense. Do you see any critters, new or old stampeding around here?”
“I had to think on that,” Lark admitted. “They was supposed to have big buzzards in those days. I reckon those huge birds flew out to the desert to dry their wings. They probably brought a bone along to chew on while they aired out.”
Ragtail had to give Lark credit. It sounded like an educated assessment. “Okay,” he said, “but I still want to follow the wash and look for gold droppings on the bedrock where running water would pool up.”
Lark shouldered his load. “Fair enough.”
Ragtail watched a Turkey Vulture gliding on air currents. The large bird roamed in wide circles, coming back over them with a casual flip of its wide-spread wings. How many critters had fed the scavenger? What did he do with their bones?
Ragtail guessed it didn’t matter. Man or beast had to leave his bones somewhere. Maybe something ought to come from them.
Why was he thinking like this? Doggone that Lark. Putting the science in was taking the fun away of being in the desert with Damn Donkey and the excitement of discovery ahead of them.
He should have shot the yodeling interloper when he first saw him.
Will Ragtail find the Placer Age? What do you think? Leave a comment.

Writing Fiction is published on Wednesdays.
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