Public Parking
A journal for storytelling, arguments, and discovery through tangential conversations.
Meditations on Significance When There’s Gold Underfoot
Wednesday, March 6, 2024 | Jasper Wrinch

I’ve been listening for the sound of a drill driven under. It’s coming any day now. The rumble and the crack of an old vein being revitalized. Recovering ounces that were overlooked by the old timers. A mechanical curtain to the wind sweeping through the willow, so that the rust can once again be followed into the rock. Uncovering an old route into the mountain side, widening the adit, digging that hole deeper. Back into the wrecked earth, seeping. All this in a town sitting in a bowl at the end of the highway. At the head of a lake whose tarnished shore had its contours changed in a boom and whose sediment settled into an uneasy equilibrium in the bust. This generational bust it has been wallowing in. Populations un-ballooning, buildings slumping under the snow load, paint peeling and scraped away. To be refreshed by colour and sound added back into a landscape wrung. Footings finally squeezed under the foundationless mine homes, constructed quick and left to warp in the shifting ground, to hold them up for longer than the boom ever was. They say this is a way out, but I could have sworn I saw the theatre full on a Wednesday night, all within the bust. Not significant. 

I’ve been overwhelmed by jargon as of late. Reading and rereading and trying to parse what an allowable tolerance actually sounds like through crisp winter air. To listen to the sound of a hotel door jingling open while the windows rattle from a blast from below. Counting out the minutes between logging trucks sweeping past the pub, inserting ore trucks in the respite to get a feeling for the tables and charts that are said to be accessible and easier to understand. I’ve been trying to understand appendices and their application to the life of an eight-year-old, but I can’t help but feel the grit of fire-smoke on my teeth in mid-July and I don’t know how much more dust and debris a community can inhale before an allowable tolerance has been breached. Not significant. 

I’ve been watching clear cuts from the highway. Flashing by, so slow even parallax cannot slow them down long enough for me to feel the weight of hectares of fireweed burning without shade. An irregular lattice through the patchwork. I thought I saw an old headframe peer down at me from across the lake, but a truck loaded with new ore from old workings obscured my view. I trundled past the old cabins crumbling, on their way to becoming rebuilt, so a splinter of history can be pulled from an accumulation of a life. Picked over and drawn out from anthropological tailings. Washing away a hillside, again and again, so the story of an overflowing pan can be taken from the sluice as the hillside washes away. So footprints can no longer be claimed to have existed before the rush. So a lilting voice can maintain an archive of those who understood that itch and cast aside those who don’t. Not significant. 

I’ve been asking for conversation and have been answered by a column of figures and a clod of mineral-rich soil tumbling out of the ear of a stranger who keeps saying words like sustainability and economic development and mitigation. A power line cut across a caribou herd is marked down as medium risk, high importance, but the power must be brought over somehow. So the fleet of tunnel boring machines can be electrified, for the good of everyone except the caribou herd that has been cut across. So the remainder can breathe in air that is warming at a rate slower than it otherwise would have been if the tunnels had been bored by another means. Not significant but high uncertainty.

I’ve been feeling that desire to be a recluse. To retreat into the wilderness and commune with the trees, let the majesty of life vibrating without me charge a depleted corner of my urban self. I too want to peer into the babbling stream and pull out a nugget to keep, to bring that feeling wherever I go. To be guided over a ridge line and settle into the same vista that I’ve been looking at for weeks now, hanging on the wall. Because the painting captures a human concern far better than an assessment report ever could. A mountainside, scraped across with snow and a cloud cutting across the peak, a piercing blue sky, pine- and spruce-shaped silhouettes because the light was strong in the moment the easel was fixed in the moss. The recovery of a moment. The extraction of experience from a place that has plenty of experiences from which to extract. Not significant. 

I’ve been shocked at the moderation with which we are all going about our lives. I’ve seen smoke through a sea of trees that are all exactly the same age, heard the roar of a new waterfall crashing down on the roof of my van as it hurtled down a darkened highway, smelt the roasting of a billion shellfish in the sun the same day a town disappeared in a blaze. But we know that what may not be a good thing for the earth may be a good thing for a neighbour and who am I to tell you that you shouldn’t eat? Not significant but high uncertainty. 

It is how it has been, how it continues to be. An attachment, a dependence, a chronic fix to keep it all churning, to keep the cold at bay, to keep plates full of fish pulled from a lake a little farther away from the tailings. The desire to turn a stone into a prize has lived in these mountains far longer than the bureaucratic avenues of airing concern and the template replies. To those who have lost that desire, who have shed that itch: you seem to be forgetting that trees need to be cut. After a beetle has swept through a monoculture, a home must be warmed somehow in the high elevation. You seem to be forgetting that water must be drunk, but maybe it’s best if it is drawn from another branch of the stream, one that has been arsenic and sulphate-free for a few more years than the one rusting through town. You seem to be forgetting that gold is just a yellow-ish stone locked away in the ore. It must be crushed, smelted, polished and stacked far away from the hole left in the ground for any value to come of it. You seem to be forgetting that a living is to be taken from the ground. You seem to be forgetting that the sound of six billion dollars being dislodged or unearthed or recovered or extracted is far louder than a rural community could possibly be. Not significant. 


The above essay was written by Jasper Wrinch. It is a response to the recently issued BC Environmental Assessment Certificate issued to Osisko Development Corp.’s proposed underground gold mining project in Wells, BC.

Wrinch is a writer and musician living and working on Nex̱wlélex̱m and the unceded territory of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, otherwise known as Vancouver, BC.

Editorial Support by Emily Doucet.