Panning for a nugget of help

?Some day they?ll open up your world, shake it down to the drawing board.? ??Hand Me Down,? Matchbox 20

The Garden of the Gods gift shop in Manitou Springs, Colo., has a deck on the back side with tables and chairs set under shade trees, an art show patio, a tiny babbling brook and a miniature gold panning station.

With its touristy trinkets, resident patio squirrel, glass root beer bottles and perfect view, this spot has become a favorite of ours in the last couple of years. We have bought our Colorado T-shirts and coffee mugs there, paid 50 cents for a machine to smash and press the state flag into a penny, and declared ?our table? for all future visits, chosen for its prime location between the water, patio doorway and gift shop entrance.

The only thing in that place I wouldn?t shell out money for was the gold panning experience. I had already blown a couple bucks on smashed pennies and at least 15 more on root beer. I?m not completely irresponsible.

I hadn?t thought about the gold-panning station since we left last July?until a couple days ago, when thinking about a friend struggling through some personal issues sparked an image.

I envisioned shaking a series of problems ?down to the drawing board,? like the lyrics above say. And as minds do, that thought led to another, the related image of panning?or what I saw as shaking?for gold.

With my chosen lack of experience with how panning works, I pictured a sieve or a screen, with the gravel and sand sifting out through tiny holes, leaving only gold nuggets on top. That, in turn, led to Google, where I could find out what that ?screen? was called.

And it is at this point in the story where my ignorance shows up. It?s not a screen with holes. It?s a solid pan. (Gold panning…who would suspect?)

Once I started reading on the method of gold panning, I knew if I was looking for the perfect analogy to shaking problems down to the drawing board, this was my lucky day. I wanted to help my friend figure things out. Find a fresh perspective.

When I stumbled onto this particular website about gold panning in Canada, I knew I was reading about more than hunkering over a stream with a round pan full of dirty water.

I will paraphrase the website?s steps to gold panning, 100 percent confident that anyone who needs to will hear the double meaning in each one as it applies to shaking something?whatever that might be?down to the drawing board.

Step 1: Look for gold trap, a place along the stream where the current slows down enough for the gold to settle. It can settle on the downstream side of logs or boulders or curves in the stream. The thought is that Mother Nature, following a big storm, may have loosened the gold lodged in high places, and now it?s flowing downstream, getting stuck in spots where you can reach it.

Step 2: Keep in mind that the shiny stuff in your pan may not be gold. Fools gold is brassy in color. Don?t get discouraged, keep practicing. Sooner or later, that flash in your pan will be the real deal.

Step 3: Gold can be found in many forms: nuggets, lumps, flat flecks or feather shaped crystals. No matter the size or type, having the right equipment and technique makes panning much easier.

Step 4: Gold is heavier than gravel. That?s why it can be collected in a pan when the right techniques are used. All you need is optimism and patience. It can take time after time of repetitive movements to work the gold to the bottom center of the pan, while the gravel and dirt are washed away. The angles, the techniques, the movements are critical, exact and take time

Step 5: The size of pan you use is not all that critical as long as it is comfortable for your hands and allows you to shake it so the gold settles downward, allowing you to wash the lighter material off the top. After that the heavier concentrates will remain in your pan and with practice, you will see a gleam of gold at the bottom.

I think I will budget gold panning into our next mountain vacation. Right now the whole process just seems like too good an experience to miss out on, in more ways than one.

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