As he walked along the hillside, his right hand with its wrinkled palm was turned uphill to feel the pull. He had done this same thing for years, yet his pulse quickened each time the magnetic pull began to entice him to come closer. Nugget was a true prospector at heart and no amount of years added to his life would ever change this fact.
He walked on for a few more paces and then his right hand began to tingle. He was getting close to gold and was pulling at it with minimal effort to locate it. Up the hillside underneath a sedimentary rock about the size of his small refrigerator at home hid the treasure. As he approached the rock, he began to pull harder at the gold to pinpoint it. To the right of the rock, a little over fourteen inches from where he knelt was the hiding place of this golden treasure.
Pulling his wide-brimmed hat off, he squinted up at the sun and called out to it, “Thought I was gonna miss it, didn’t ya?” A small chuckle escaped his lips as the crow’s feet increased their presence around his eyes. He used the cuff of his white and brown plaid shirt sleeve to remove the salty sweat building upon his brow daring to flood down into his hazel eyes.
Nugget was a man of the land. The muscles of his body had been shaped years ago by the hard work needed to sustain his way of life in southern Arizona. Being in his late sixties had only slowed his movements slightly as he continued to walk his land every day looking for more treasures. He knew the vast acres he owned better than any of his fore fathers before him because Nugget held a secret. He knew how to pull the gold from the ground like opposite sides of magnetic fields yearning and pulling for each other. He couldn’t walk past any type of natural metal without it whispering to him and begging him to come closer.
Gold was the easiest for Nugget to find and manipulate, not to mention the main staple that kept him going through the tough economic times. He could even remember a time when he traded his gold for water. The remaining residents of Vapid Meadows were practical people, not vain when it came to commerce.
Reaching around and unclasping the heavy canvas bag he used for holding his haul of the day, Nugget placed it on the ground in front of him. Other prospectors would need to bring along a shovel, bucket, screen, pan, and sucker bottle to get the gold out of the ground and into their hands. Nugget always counted himself lucky that he didn’t need all that equipment, not to mention access to water in order to pan out the fines. Nugget only needed his canvas bag to hold his pieces that he pulled.
This was a big secret that Nugget held closely because it not only meant that he could pull gold long into his later years, but he also didn’t want anyone else to force his hand at finding it. There are a lot of greedy people in the world but Nugget strived to be one of the most humble around.
Placing his right hand palm down on the ground, he slowly moved in counter-clockwise circles barely disturbing the ground surface at all. Within a minute of doing this, he felt a soft thump as the gold surfaced directly into his palm. Closing his hand around the mass and upturning his palm, his fingers slowly uncurled revealing a rough and misshapen, dusty bit of gold. Taking a big breath and blowing off the dirt and dust, he began rolling the lump between his palms. He started out slowly at first and soon picked up the pace to a dizzying speed and within a few moments the lump of gold was now a smooth ball the size of a marble.
Holding it up so the sunlight danced along its surface, he was pleased with his find. This amount would have taken other prospectors hours to collect and Nugget did it within fifteen minutes. A hearty chuckle burst from him as he dropped the golden ball into his bag and began lightly pulling the area to see if there were any other pieces worth pulling. Only sensing loads of fines to the left of the rock, he decided to call this area good for now. It always took more energy than he seemed to have these days to pull gold that was more than a few feet down. Fines took time to gather because there needed to be a sizable amount to make it worth the effort and Nugget was late in his years with a certain amount of laziness beginning to creep into his bones.
With his bag in hand, he pushed himself off the rock and stood on the hillside taking in the scenery for a moment before heading on. This area of his land wasn’t the most appealing to anyone except him because he was looking below the surface. The landscape was full of the drought resistant plants that populated the area. The dry bed at the bottom was only useful when the skies opened up with generosity and flooded the area with more water than the plants could ever use.
His late wife would always comment, “It isn’t much to look at is it? But then again, neither are you my love.” She meant it with all the love she could posses for Nugget. It had been twenty years since she left him alone in the world and he never could adjust to life fully without her. Although the years were adding up, the wound remained ever fresh for him.
Loose rocks skipped ahead of Nugget as he made his way down the hillside. It was always hard for him to come here because of all the memories that connected back to Helen. However, the amount of gold he was able to pull consistently from this area always called him back. With his head hung low, he made his way back to his shop.
As he came to the front door, he paused and looked up at the old weather-beaten sign above the door. Helen and him had made the sign years ago out of scrap wood that was left over from a remodel of their kitchen cabinets. Faded hand-painted lettering read, NUGGET’S TRINKETS. It was a simple sign that had a simple purpose, serving as the store signage for customers.
He pulled a small ring of keys from his pocket and worked the lock open. As he pushed through the doorway, the small bell above gave its familiar tinkle letting him know someone had entered the shop. Closing the door gave the bell another chance to sound its call to all that could hear.
“Yes, yes. I’m in already.” Those that did business with Nugget knew that he was a different person when Helen was still alive. Now, they put up with his strange quirks with a sympathetic smile riding the corners of their lips because they knew he still struggled with her loss.
Nugget placed his hat on the set of hooks by the door and turned to face his all too familiar shop. At a first glance within the door, a person would think that they were in a rock museum instead of a jewelry shop. It was a standoffish log cabin on the outside covered with white washed cob to protect it from the harsh weather. The next nearest building was one hundred yards away and deteriorating under the elements. The people of Vapid Meadows enjoyed their privacy and kept it with vast acres of land surrounding their houses instead of tall fences.
When Nugget was first building up his clientele in the earlier years of their business, Helen had them participate in a local trade show. This caught the attention of several jewelry dealers of Tucson that happened to be at the show. Many of the larger jewelers in Tucson, Arizona now sent a representative to him weekly to buy gold because he provided 22 karat or better. He refused to add a large mark-up to the price because he felt that he didn’t do that much to it besides cleaning it with some spit and roll it into a ball. Commission offers from them were turned down as well because he knew it would only lead to more work than he ever wanted to commit to.
Nugget’s shop was as humble as he was. It was bare wood on the inside and lit with Edison style lights hanging from the ceiling. A twinkle of light would catch your eye on every shelf in the small, quaint 400 square foot shop. Along the left wall was large clusters of crystals and minerals. Spikes of quartz and calcium carbonate erupted out among the shelves like little disturbed porcupines. Clumps of amethyst with their deep purples complimented the unpolished rubies nearby. Blues, greens; browns, blacks; and every color you could ever think of littered the shelves in all shapes and sizes.
In the middle of the room sat Nugget’s desk constructed of solid maple. The surface was scratched and the knobs of the drawers had lost their luster years ago from the amount of service they provided him. It was littered with brown paper balls of various sizes and shapes contradicting Helen’s advice to keep a tidy shop. His reasoning was that if you have something of value, you should hide it in plain sight and no one will ever find it. The safe he kept in the corner would draw any thieving eyes to it allowing his true treasure to lie unsuspected on his desktop. The safe merely held his tax records and other useless paperwork he hoarded over the years.
Along the back wall was his living quarters which he separated with a piece of string that held a sign aloft that read, PLEASE RESPECT MY SPACE.
With a big sigh he walked to the desk. Collapsing in the chair and opening the top right drawer, he removed a single sheet of brown paper. Unclasping his bag and dropping it in the middle of the desk, he took out the ball of gold and rolled the paper around it and tossed it on the desk with the others.
The bell tinkled announcing someone’s arrival. It was a young woman in her mid-thirties with straight black hair pulled into a loose braid over her left shoulder. He assumed she wasn’t from around Vapid Meadows because she wore cutoff shorts and a low cut tank top that was dangerously close to revealing things that shouldn’t be seen. Vapid Meadows was a conservative area in beliefs and the residents only bared their skin to wash after a long day in the desert. As she pushed up her aviator framed sunglasses she asked, “Do you have a restroom?”
“Not in here I don’t. It’s around back, ya can’t miss it unless you’re blind. I assume you’re not blind since you don’t have one of those tapping sticks with ya.” Nugget replied as he rocked gently in his chair.
“No, I got 20/20 vision from my mom. Around back you said?”
“Yep, go back out the front door and make two lefts or two rights and you’re there.”
“Thank you.” As she left, Nugget could see that she had a small cloth backpack tucked away in the small of her back. Within a second, Nugget knew that the buckles were a cheaper grade of brass and that she had a handful of loose change in the side pocket of the backpack.
Outside, the woman pulled her sunglasses back down over her eyes as she looked to the right and left, “I guess it doesn’t matter which way I go.” Taking a left, she made her way around the building to Nugget’s bath house.
It was a small building with white washed cob on the outside and a simple door. As she stepped through the door, the simplicity of the room surprised her. On the right was the crude but effective facilities she sought after. Dropping her backpack to the floor after latching the door, she hurriedly took to it. The man inside the shop was indeed a simple and kind man. Anyone else would turn her away or tell her to squat in a bush, but not this man, he was different.
Light from the skylight was all that was needed to illuminate the room during the day and various candles were in holders with wax stalactites hanging below. Looking around the room while she relaxed, she noticed that in the corner to her right was a hand-made tub. Small smooth stones the size of her thumbnail were inset into the front of it to catch the light spilling into the room.
With her task completed, she walked to the wash basin. It was a simple bowl and pitcher of water on a large shelf accented above by an oval mirror. A bar of simple soap lay on the wooden shelf by the pitcher. As she picked up the bar, she caught the scent of lavender. It reminded her of the home she grew up in and the flowers that would bloom around it.
She quickly pushed aside these memories and washed her hands. Grabbing her backpack, she unlatched the door and made her way back to the shop front to thank the man again.
Coming back into the shop, the little bell above the door announced her arrival.
“Hey! You made it out okay.”
This made her a bit uncomfortable, where she was from people didn’t make comments like this after one relieved themselves. Shifting her weight to her left foot she said, “Yeah, I just wanted to thank you again for your kindness. It’s nice to know there is still nice people in this world. The tub is pretty, did you make it yourself?”
“Oh, that old thing? My wife and I made it years ago. It didn’t stink in there did it?” There was a genuine concern to his voice.
“All I could smell was the warm wood.”
Nugget let out a sigh as he wiped his forehead, “That’s good because I got to thinking about it and remembered that I had some chili the other night and…”
“No, no, really. It was fine.” This guy has been out in the sun too much, she thought to herself. “Look, I need to be going now. I’ve got somewhere to be at one.” She turned to leave.
“Well, if you leave now, you might get there before midnight. You’re walking right?” Nugget was a little eccentric but no fool. “Why don’t you stay a bit and enjoy some tea with me and quit your lying. It’s already 2 o’clock and the nearest town is forty miles from here.”
This stopped her in her tracks. Without turning around she asked, “Earl Grey?”
She reached up and removed her sunglasses as she turned to face him, “Alright. But just one sugar please.”
“One sugar for one name.”
She took a moment to answer, “My name is Kara. And you?”
“I must need to repaint the sign out front more than I thought, th’ name’s Nugget. Come on in here and I’ll get the water going. You drink water with your tea right?”
Was he teasing or being serious? A small laugh came from Kara as she answered, “Yes. I typically drink water with my tea. It gets a little strong without it.”
“I’ll have to try that sometime.” Nugget shuddered at the thought of putting straight tea in his mouth and got up to go prepare the tea. “So where you from young lady?”
Wandering towards the colorful crystals and minerals Kara responded nonchalantly, “It doesn’t matter because I won’t be going back.”
“I see. I gotta warn ya though, you need to be careful walking out there. Had you been a few miles south of me, you wouldn’t have found anyone around to take shelter with. It’s not so much the heat factor as much as a lack of water that I’m concerned about. You don’t look like you’re outfitted for walking around in the desert with those shorty-shorts of yours. Although, hitch hiking shouldn’t be much of an issue provided you don’t turn into a lobster first.”
“What? You don’t think I can handle myself out there?” She picked up a small ruby and examined it.
Nugget had his back to her and was mumbling to himself.
Kara giggled softly as she removed her backpack and placed it on the floor. Nugget reminded her of a client that she worked with before she left the city. She was sorry for ever taking pity on Brandon and his addictions. He caused her to lose her job after slipping her something in a drink one evening. Luckily for her, Brandon passed out on the floor of her apartment. The company was strict on enforcing the rules concerning associates using narcotics and having social interactions with clients. Had she kept herself removed from Brandon, she would still be in the comforts of her apartment in the city with a rewarding job allowing her to make a difference in the lives of others. Placing the ruby back where it belonged and she turned her attention to the other wall and its contents.
This wall was lined with reinforced shelving supporting large lumps and clusters of metals. As she walked closer to it, she recognized several of them in their raw state; copper, silver, and gold being the most evident to her. She tried moving one she didn’t recognize but the dense weight prevented her. Her curiosity was soon captivated by a unique rock she had never seen before.
In the middle of all the metal clusters, there was on a shelf by itself, a multicolored rock.
It was unlike anything she had ever seen. Hues of blue, purple; yellow, green; and gold illuminated its surface. It was layered almost in a pyramid style with its right angles and broadening formation.
“Bismuth,” a voice behind her said.
A small, uncontrolled scream pierced the air as she spun around to face the voice.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” Nugget apologetically said as he held up his hands in a surrendering manner.
Catching her breath, Kara reassured him, “No. It’s okay, I just got lost in the moment that’s all. You’re pretty quiet for an old man.”
Shrugging, “I’ve had time to practice I guess.” Pointing to the rock, “It’s called bismuth.”
Kara let her gaze go back to it as she stepped towards it, “Is this real?”
“Pick it up. Just be gentle with it as you handle it.”
As she held it in her hands, she turned it over and over completely mesmerized by its shapes and colors. “How is this possible? This can’t be natural.”
Nugget put his hands in his pockets and began to rock back and forth on his heels and toes as he began to explain, “It’s natural and at the same time, it’s not natural.”
Kara cocked an eyebrow at the statement, “It’s real but it’s fake? That doesn’t make sense. It has to be one or the other.”
A chuckle sounded from Nugget, “What you are seeing is bismuth, but not in its natural form. I made this crystal from a block of bismuth in its raw form by heating it to its melting point and allowing it to partially cool. While in its raw form, it is rather bland actually. Just a plain silver in color and nothing great to look at. But, after heating and cooling it, we are able to morph its appearance to this.”
She turned the rock over in her hands as she thought about it. “So you changed it on purpose? Why would you want to do that? Why not leave it in its natural state?”
Nugget took a step towards the shelves and pulled off a silver colored rock. Turning to face her, he opened his left hand and asked, “May I?”
She gently placed the bismuth crystal in his open hand.
Extending his right hand so she could see, “This is raw bismuth. Rather dull in color and shape. It hasn’t had to face any difficulties in life so far to shape its character.” He pulled back his hand and then extended his open left hand, “This is a bismuth crystal. Gorgeous colors, wonderful shapes, and textures. It has been through trials of heat and flames. After surviving the fire, it developed this unique color scheme and texture.” Now he held out both on equal plains, “On the one hand, we have a new person. They are just developing in life and haven’t endured any trials. On the other, we see someone that has been around and survived what life has thrown them and developed their character from the experiences.”
Kara reached out and took back the bismuth crystal and used a finger to point at it, “But why does it develop these right angles? That doesn’t seem natural to me.”
Nugget used his hands as visuals while he explained, “Like so many of us in life, these angles represent a choice they made. They didn’t like the way they were headed, so they made a conscious choice to change. As with all choices in life, we can either go right or left. Each of these individual shafts represent a part of our life that eventually suffers a change. You can see that several of them make several directional changes before eventually finding where they want to end at. I believe that many people are just like this bismuth crystal. We are unhappy with the direction our life is going, so we change a bit here and a bit there until our entire being is different from what first entered the fires of life.”
As he spoke, Kara’s face became downcast and her gaze fixed on the crystal as she listened to his words. “I don’t think that everyone is capable of being this beautiful though. Some of us are scarred and scratched. Ugly.”
Nugget reached up and raised her chin, “I know that many people can be brittle and delicate at times. But life is both delicate and harsh, exactly like the fires that produce these bismuth crystals. No one that enters the fire comes out the same as they were before. Some will be burned and scarred perhaps, but others can shine with a brilliance beyond any that the world has ever seen. Only the Creator knows the full potential of those put to the test. However, our inner beauty can not and will not shine until we face the trials this life hurls at us.”
A tear trickled down Kara’s cheek as she managed to choke out, “But it’s so hard sometimes.”
“Yes. Life is hard. I once was married to the most amazing woman God ever created. We had plans of growing old together and making fun of how wrinkly the other was getting. I didn’t get these crow’s feet around my eyes because we took life seriously. I got these and other wrinkles because we endured the trials life threw at us.”
“Where is she now?”
Nugget’s eyes began watering up and reddening as he slowly answered her, “Death… called her away many years ago. Back when she was younger… and less wrinkled than I am now.” A smile lifted the corners of his mouth as the memory of his late wife warmed his heart.
Kara was trying to keep herself from breaking down, “I’m sorry that you had to go through that.”
“I am too. I live out here alone now because I didn’t take her passing well. I blamed myself for God’s intent and purpose for her. She is the reason I can smile and laugh today. She taught me to love others despite their flaws on the surface because she could see their inner beauty when I couldn’t.”
The kettle on the stove began its shrieking, alerting others that the water was at the desired temperature. Nugget placed his raw bismuth on the shelf and took the crystal from Kara, “Would you mind getting that?”
“Sure,” she said handing the crystal to him. She wiped her eyes trying to regain her composure as she made her way into the kitchen ducking under the string holding the sign.
With the kettle silenced, she looked in the cupboards until she found the mugs. Placing two mugs on the counter and finding a pair of spoons, she dropped a tea bag in each mug. “Where is your sugar?” Kara called out over her shoulder as she poured the water.
“When Helen was around, I would point to my lips and say, ‘I got your sugar right here!’ But for you, it’s on the table.”
Kara took the two mugs to the small fold up table mounted to the wall and sat on the accompanying stool. She looked across the room and noticed Nugget crouched over her backpack. “Hey, get out of there.”
Nugget’s head lifted as he had been caught, “I was just leaving a couple of things in there that will help you out.”
“Uh-huh. Leave my stuff alone and get over here and drink your tea.” A playful, scolding tone highlighted her words.
As Nugget came closer, a relieved look showed on his face, “Oh good, you put water in mine.”
“Of course.” A smile stretched Kara’s face as she removed her tea bag and pressed it against the inside of the mug. Nugget pushed forward a small glass bowl with a lid. Lifting the lid off, she saw a brown, grainy substance inside. She cocked an eyebrow at Nugget in a questioning manner.
“Coconut sugar. Same as regular sugar, only better.”
Kara spooned out roughly half a teaspoon and stirred it into her tea. She placed the lid back on it and slid it back to the middle of the table. “So what did you put in my bag?” she asked picking up the mug and warming her hands with it.
Nugget climbed up on the opposite stool and removed his tea bag and placed in on a napkin. Blowing on the tea, he took a slow sip and placed the cup back on the table. “Two things: enough gold nuggets to get you home, and the bismuth crystal.”
Kara voice held a solemn tone to it, “Why did you do that? I didn’t ask you for anything?”
Waving a finger in the air, “That’s not true, you asked to use my bath house. So that constitutes me giving you a few gifts and hopefully some advice.”
“The only thing people ever give me when I ask to use their restroom is a hard time and sometimes some paper.”
A look of fear overtook Nugget’s face, “There was paper in there, right?”
She let out a giggle as she answered, “Yes. Thank you for keeping paper stocked in your bath house.”
“Don’t scare me like that.” He exhaled heavily as he brought his tea to his lips.
“What makes you think that I’ll go back?
“Just like the crystal, eventually you find where you want to end.”
“Is that why you gave me the crystal? So I will know where to end?”
Nugget raised his eyes to met hers, “I’m giving the crystal to you so that you will remember that your inner beauty will not shine until you pass through your trials.”
“And the gold?”
“I can find all I need out here. I won’t miss what I gave you.”
“How much?” she asked looking over her mug as the steam trickled towards the ceiling.
A big smile lit up Nugget’s face, “You will know when you sell it. God has blessed me with gold on this land, so I will pass on that blessing to you.”
A sense of humility overcame Kara, no one had ever been this kind to her. “Thank you.”
“No trouble at all. How is your tea?”