Peninsula Views: Devils Head Diary

Unexpected Gifts


I always try to follow the family credo, “do what you can with what you got” and “show appreciation for gifts — especially unexpected gifts.”

My better half and I used to spend weekends panning for gold. The primary attraction was wading in mountain streams. Curiously, people look askance at waders, but it is socially acceptable if you carry a fishing pole or a gold-panning pan. Unfortunately, gold-panning pans are regarded as an invitation to chat, so we frequently took buckets of black sand home where we could pan in peace.

One time, David and some buddies were invited to try their luck at a claim on the upper Skagit River. He brought home a bucket of black sand for me. It was a surprisingly rich haul. I had found several large gold flakes in the swirling sand before I noticed a strange, clear circle in the bottom of the pan. When I reached in to retrieve it, it felt like a diamond and looked like a rather large solitaire. I put it in my pocket and continued to keep up the rhythmic swirl and slosh, only pausing to collect gold flakes and reload the pan because I was focused on panning for gold, not diamonds.

My overactive imagination kicked in as I pondered the sadness of losing such a treasure. I had questions: How did a diamond end up in that particular stretch of the Skagit? How could the stone be returned to its rightful owner?

A few minutes later, another clear spot appeared in the sand and sure enough it was another cut stone. Now this was a different kettle of fish. How did two diamonds end up in the same bucket?
Obviously, a crime was committed, but the only proof was two diamonds in a bucket of black sand. New problem: How to report this crime?

Imagine calling the sheriff and saying, “Well, probably it was a heist, probably the culprits buried the loot along the Skagit, probably the robbery happened years ago, probably the river bank eroded and collapsed, probably the purloined treasure tumbled in the rapids, smashed against boulders and scattered loose gems for miles up and down the river.”

That evening I told David the sad, romantic story about the lost diamond and then went into the more elaborate tale of the heist. His only comment was, “You mean that you just found two diamonds, squirreled them away, and didn’t even tell me? Were you going to keep them a secret?”

My only excuse was, “It didn’t occur to me, I wasn’t panning for diamonds. I was panning for gold.”

I took the two stones to a friend who was a gemologist and several days later she had a verdict. She reported that I should treat them like they were real diamonds because they were such high quality no one would ever guess they were zircon.

Relieved of the anxiety about reporting a crime and returning stolen diamonds, I could hardly wait to share the good news with David. His reaction was unexpected. He laughed so hard he could hardly stand, much less talk. After he recovered, he confessed. One of the guys asked why he was carting off a bucket of sand. David told him that his wife liked to pan. The guy said, “Let’s give her a thrill,” and tossed the stones in the bucket as he explained that he had bought a box of industrial diamonds at an airport auction.

The joke was on me, but such a good one, I had no other choice but to have them set in real gold to memorialize his trickery and honor my Mama’s teaching. I did what I could with what I had and made a lasting symbol that demonstrates my appreciation for the unexpected gift.

The drop really is one of my favorite pieces of jewelry — wearing it never fails to bring a smile, or maybe it’s a smirk.

Award-winning columnist Carolyn Wiley lives quietly, for the most part, in Longbranch.