by Melissa Forney 2015
In a mountainous, woodsy wilderness lived five gold miners. They lived in Old Hawk’s roomy cabin and spent most of their lives looking for gold.
Each miner had his own way.
Sam chipped away with his pickax in a dusty cave. Occasionally, he found a speck of gold, which he carefully swept into the pouch that hung from his belt.
Ed panned for gold in a secret stream he had discovered once while hiking with his dog, Amos. Gathering up a pan of water and gravel from the bottom of the stream, he swished it around in the sunlight, looking for a sparkle. When he found tiny chips of gold that sunk to the bottom of his wide pan, he dropped them one by one into his leather pouch.
Lars and Pongo, the two brothers in the group, used a more dangerous method. They blasted with dynamite and then ran the mounds of freshly turned earth through a series of water troughs. Sometimes they found a flake of gold here or a speck there, and into their pouches it would go.
Old Hawk had tried all of these methods and a few more. He, too, had a pouch of gold dust. Nowadays, however, he mostly enjoyed cooking for the others, sitting on the porch, or remembering the way his wife had gathered wildflowers and tucked them in her hair.
The gold miners were great friends and stuck by each other through thick or thin. When Sam broke his leg late one fall, Old Hawk tended to him like a baby until the leg finally healed. Sam
passed the winter listening to Old Hawk’s stories and eating sourdough biscuits with Fireweed honey. He knitted warm socks for Old Hawk in return.
Sometimes Lars hiked into town and picked up an occasional side of bacon or sassafras tea for Old Hawk and a fresh skein of yarn for Sam. He bought a small sack of peppermint sticks for the
others. When Ed’s dog, Amos, took a swipe from a grizz, Pongo stitched him up prettier than any city slicker doctor ever thought about doing.
Once, after an avalanche, Ed and Lars helped dig Pongo out of the outhouse. There was Pongo, warm as toast in a pair of Sam’s woolen socks, reading the Sears and Roebuck catalog.
And so it went.
Life in the wilderness wasn’t too bad. If Pongo wanted to bathe in the creek after a hard day’s work, he shucked off all of his clothes and jumped in the clear, icy water, skinny dipping to his heart’s content.
Ed and his dog, Amos, mined for half a day and fished for half a day. Since he knew the stream so well, Ed also knew where the biggest fish liked to hide when the sun was overhead. He brought stringers of fish home for Old Hawk to fry. Amos whined while the fish were in the frying skillet.
Lars enjoyed reading, and his favorite spot to read was a sunny knoll that overlooked the green valley below. Sometimes Sam joined him. They swapped good books and laughed out loud at the funny parts and wiped their eyes if the story was sad.
The miners enjoyed friendly arguments, and they disagreed on many subjects. But on one thing, they all agreed: blackberry cobbler.
Old Hawk was famous for his blackberry cobbler. He picked plump, juicy berries from the bushes that grew in the woods behind the cabin. As the cobbler baked, the smell of butter and sugar and blackberries went straight up the chimney and wafted out over the trees. When the miners smelled the cobbler, they came running.
Most evenings, the miners came home to Old Hawk’s cabin to eat barbecued bear-ribs or moose-kebabs. They washed it down with gallons of iced tea. In the evenings, they played Tiddlywinks or listened to Old Hawk’s stories. If he was feeling frisky, Pongo wiped off his fiddle with a red bandana and played a few of the old songs. He liked “Pig in the Parlor,” and “Hot Off the Griddle,” but “Sweet Tallulah” was everybody’s favorite.
When dinner had been especially tasty, Ed and Lars danced. Ed put on the flowered apron that had belonged to Old Hawk’s wife and tied a scarf around his head. No matter how many times the men saw this, they snickered and cackled like hens.
Old Hawk said, “Ed, you are almost as pretty as my missus.”
After the fire burned low, the miners sat around, dreaming of the day when they would strike it rich by finding huge chunks of gleaming gold.
“Heck,” Ed said. “We ain’t found enough gold to fill a thimble.”
“Not even enough for a gold tooth,” said Lars.
The five of them would sigh, shake their pouches, and shuffle off to bed.
One spring day, a stranger hiked over the mountain and through the wilderness. He had long white hair and a tattered beard, and he was dressed in buckskins and leather boots. For an old geezer he sure could move.
As it happened, Old Hawk was taking a fresh blackberry cobbler out of the oven at that very moment, and the smell drifted out over the tops of the trees and down the trails. The stranger followed the smell until he was near the front porch.
“Hallooooooo!” shouted the stranger.
Old Hawk opened the door and called, “Hallooooooo!”
“Could it be that I smell blackberry cobbler?” called the stranger.
“You’ve got a good sniffer,” said Old Hawk. He was pleased. “Won’t you join me?” “That I will,” said the stranger. He stomped the trail dirt off his boots and climbed the steps into the cabin. More stamping was heard outside.
The miners were delighted to have a visitor. As they ate the blackberry cobbler, they enjoyed his tales of adventure. Old Hawk was especially glad because for once he could be a listener.
The stranger fascinated the miners with his tales. He had enjoyed a picnic on the banks of the Nile. He had ridden a hot-air balloon over the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Once, in the Amazon, he’d helped capture a giant anaconda. The best story by far was the time he had saved the life of the king of Zamboanga.
When the cobbler was gone and the stories were told, the six men sat contentedly by the fire, picking blackberry seeds from their teeth. The stranger rested in Old Hawk’s best chair, the maple rocker his wife had brought out in the wagon.
A comfortable silence fell. The fire sizzled and popped.
“Shucks,” said Pongo. “My toothpick’s busted.”
Sure enough, the bent toothpick hung from his fingers.
“Useless,” muttered Sam. “Just like my bum leg.“
“Useless,” agreed Old Hawk. “Wore out and old like me.”
“Never struck it rich,” said Lars. “Useless.” He shook his leather pouch to make his point.
The gold dust barely whispered.
“Useless,” agreed Ed, and his dog, Amos, echoed a pitiful whine.
The stranger pulled his hands through his long, snowy beard. “Useless?” he said. “Nonsense. I don’t believe it.”
The miners quieted.
“What’s that you say?” asked Lars, cupping his hand up to his one good ear.
“I said, my good fellow, that you’re not useless. No one, no thing…is ever really useless,”
answered the stranger. “Not if you look at it right.”
The miners thought on that a spell.
“But we’re five old miners who never got rich,” said Sam.
“We’ve been mining for gold for years and only found specks,” said Lars.
“And I tell you, you ARE rich, and you don’t even know it,” said the stranger.
He looked from face to face in the flickering firelight. “Put that broken toothpick down on the
table, Pongo.” Pongo did as he was told.
“Now everyone do the same. That’s it. Bend those toothpicks right in the middle. Good. Put them together like so…”
Taking the five toothpicks, he made sure each one was snapped in the middle,
almost broken in two. He placed the toothpicks in the center of the table so they touched like the spokes of a wheel. The stranger straightened up to let the men see.
“Get close, Gentlemen.”
The miners scooted their chairs up to the table and leaned in. The only sound was the
gurgle of Amos’s stomach.
“Why, that ain’t nothin,” said Pongo. “What’s so special about that?”
“Ah,” said the stranger. “Watch closely.”
He spooned a few drops of water into the center of the toothpicks
The toothpicks started to twitch. Slowly, steadily, they spread and widened, pushing against
each other. They pushed and stretched until they formed…
“A star,” whispered Pongo. “Tarnation!”
“Wouldn’t Eleanor have loved that,” said Old Hawk. He shook his head in wonder.
“Why, I’ll be hornswoggled and dipped in molasses,” said Lars.
The stranger spoke.
“If a broken toothpick can make something beautiful, imagine what the five of you can do.”
The miners were confused.
“No, no, my friend,” said Lars. “We ain’t like that star.”
“Never struck it rich.”
“We’ve been mining for 40 years, and all we ever got was itty, bitty specks.”
Ed lifted his pouch as proof.
“Wonderful friends ARE gold,” said the stranger.
The miners looked at each other. They thought about good times and bad. They remembered
Old Hawk’s wife, Eleanor. They recalled picnics by the river and playing horseshoes on sunny
afternoons. Patching the cabin roof together and finding honey in the hollow tree. Soon they were
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for any of you,” Ed said. He looked at each face.
“You’ve stood by my side through thick and thin,” said Pongo.
The miners agreed, nodding. They almost didn’t notice that the stranger stood at the
cabin door to leave.
“That cobbler was more delicious than the one I ate with Teddy Roosevelt,” he said, “and I thank
you kindly.” He leaned forward. “Little treasures in a cup have a way of adding up.”
And before they could wave, he was gone.
The fire crackled and a log fell in half. Bright sparks shot up the chimney. The men chewed on
the stranger’s words, their ideas stirring like water about to boil. After many ticks of the clock,
Pongo flailed his arms in the air and slapped his leg. The others looked at him like he was crazy. “Tittle leasures,” he said.
“Tittle leasures?” Lars repeated.
“Say what?” Sam asked.
“Little treasures,” said Old Hawk. “His tongue got tangled. He means little treasures.”
Pongo grinned from ear to ear. The miners still didn’t get it.
“Tittle leasures,” Pongo said, shaking his pouch. “I mean, little treasures.”
The miners stared at Pongo.
“Little treasures in a cup…” Sam said.
“Have a way of………adding up.” Ed finished.
Everyone jumped at once.
They opened the leather cords that held their pouches shut. They poured the dust and
specks and chips and flecks of gold into a large cup on the wooden table. Forty years of gold filled
the cup, spilled over the sides, and mounded up all around in an enormous, shining pile. The miners’
eyes widened to the size of silver dollars.
“Hoo hoo!” Ed shouted. He spun Amos in his arms.
“Little treasures in a cup have a way of adding up!”
Pongo ran for his fiddle.
The miners danced. The cabin rocked and thumped. Sparks shot up the chimney.
“Did you see that little bitty pile of broken toothpicks turn into a star?” asked Lars.
“Broken sticks made something beautiful,” said Sam.
“I ain’t useless,” Ed said.
“Me, neither,” Lars said.
The toe-tapping tune of “Pig in the Parlor” filled the cabin. The men kept time with the stomp of
their boots and the clap of rough, miner hands. Soon Lars and Sam danced to “Sweet Tallulah.”
Amos thumped his tail and howled.
The pile on the table shimmered in the firelight, but the faces of five friends gleamed brighter