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Full Circle

Day 5: Nome

Michael Palin - Full CircleI drive a little way out of town along the beaches to search for what remains of the Golden Sands of Nome which once attracted a stinking tented city of thirty thousand prospectors. Today, under cold grey skies, the description seems only ironic. The foreshore is grubby, more grey than gold, and there is a tidemark of bleached wood spars which I imagine must have been swept over from Russia, as there are no trees here.

But these unpromising surroundings do not deter eternal optimists like whippet-thin Andy and his thirteen-year-old son Rob. They sleep in a little shelter on the beach and pan laboriously by hand. Rob is sensible and articulate and after a brief conversation convinces me that there is absolutely nothing more normal than to spend an entire summer with your father, scraping grains of gold off a windswept Alaskan beach. He regards the financial rewards as quite sufficient enough to compensate for the lack of school chums. He reckons he can clear six and a half thousand dollars in a good summer.

Further down the beach, an Englishman by the name of Stan Cook uses sea water out of a high-pressure hose to dig out the sand. He's scoured a snaking six-foot channel down the beach but scoffs at suggestions of environmental damage.

'One storm'll put all this lot back.'

When I ask him how much gold he's found he laughs coyly, 'If I told you I'd be lying.'

Stan and the other half-dozen prospectors working this stretch may appear to be oddball recluses but he assures me that most of them meet up in the pub at the end of a day. And lie to each other.

On the way back, in a desolate landscape, broken by rickety cabins jacked up on oil-drums and discarded dredge buckets from previous gold mining activities, we stop for a beer at the Safety Bay Inn run by a lady with two-tone vanilla and chocolate-coloured hair. Dollar bills are stuck on the ceiling and the lavatories are marked 'Women' and 'Animals'.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 5
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: Nome - Alaska
  • Book page no: 19

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