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As told to Joe Scheckler
As Told to Me in My Tent on the beach, 6 miles West of Nome, June 2005
June of 2005 found me mining on the public beaches West of Nome.
For miles on each side of Nome the beaches had been declared open to mining for the general public, which allowed anyone the opportunity to work unoccupied areas. I was set up a little above the beach on the tundra at about miles6 west of Nome with a large tent, mining equipment and a burning desire to find Gold.
The temperatures were a little above freezing, and so in the evenings, after the drudgery of clean up, beach miners tended to congregate and talk in the shelter of the tents.
A number of times in the preceding weeks I had seen, and later became quite friendly with, a quiet, very intelligent and quite interesting miner. I had seen him driving in a large, now privately owned military truck along the beaches from time to time and we would always take the time to stop and talk.
He would work alone in one area, then another, then yet another with well made, yet small, home made equipment. Robin was a friendly gent and I invited him back to my tent to share a bit of “refreshment” whenever we met. As we spent a couple of evenings together I slowly learned he and his brother's fascinating story.
Robin and his brother Mark would both travel from the Anchorage area and rendezvous in Nome about the third week of June each summer. They would then travel north from Nome to their family claims nearly 100 miles away. Each drove a heavily modified military truck to transport supplies and help one another ¬ since the last 30 miles was totally cross country and they could only rely on each other to get out of endless scary-bad situations.
They both would work their claim with “Yellow Iron” during the summer and this is where the story begins:
Robin and Mark would work independently, yet close to each other on their claims and then, after the workday was over, they would both return to their cabin.
As Robin explained it, at the end of the work day he would leave his work area and begin the trip, by foot, back to the cabin, stopping at a large rock alongside the stream. There, on the rock he would have a bar of soap kept so that he could wash off most of the day’s grime and a towel to dry himself. After washing up Robin would replace the soap on the rock, weigh down the towel to stop any wind from blowing it away and continue the short way back to the cabin. Every day this routine would continue ¬ until…..
One day, as usual, Robin knocked off from work in the early evening and made his way to his welcome wash-up spot ¬ and the soap was gone.
“Oh well, I guess Mark needed it for some reason,” Robin thought to himself. He made his way back to the cabin, took another bar of soap from the larder and put it aside as a replacement for the first one the next morning.
The next day Robin replaced the soap, continued along to work and forgot the incident.
He knew, of course, that it had to be Mark that had taken the soap because there weren’t any other humans for many, many miles around. He also was certain that there had to be a really good reason for Mark to take it, although it was curious that Mark hadn't just gotten a bar from the larder.
That evening when Robin returned to the rock, again tired and grimy, he found that his soap was once again missing. It was one very unhappy miner who returned to the cabin that evening ¬ with the festering irritation beginning to grow as happens when two men work in solitude for long times.
“The Silent Treatment” began on Robin’s part and things deteriorated.
The next day the soap was replaced again, yet the irritation grew.
“Why would Mark take my soap instead of getting his own?”
“We have plenty.”
“It’s obvious that Mark took it¬ there isn’t anyone else here!”
“He knows how much I like to wash up before getting back to the cabin ¬ he’s just doing this to irritate me.”
Day after day this daily missing soap situation continued. Over two weeks the festering irritation turned into hate and that hate grew and grew beyond all reason. No words were exchanged, and the tension grew to the breaking point between the two brothers.
Finally the loss of yet another bar of soap from his rock pushed Robin over the brink of reason. He threw down his gloves in frustration and lost all control.
Robin sprinted to the cabin, burst through the door, glared in wide eyed hatred at Mark and raced to the kitchen area. As Robin’s hand reached for a kitchen knife all reason left him and he passed into blind rage.
Startled, as you can imagine, Mark ran outside the cabin to get away from his suddenly crazed brother - who was hot on his heels with the knife clutched in his hand.
Mark screamed at Robin trying to snap him out of his rage and the startled Robin suddenly regained his reason.
Both brothers just stood there panting and in silent disbelief in what had just almost happened.
At that point, having returned to normality, they turned to a sudden loud screeching sound that came from Robin’s wash-up rock.
There, with one of Robin’s gloves in its beak, was a startled Magpie ¬ or as they are often called in the North Country –“Camp Robber”. The large bird had been the daily thief - and Mark’s sudden shout had startled the Magpie in mid theft of the glove.
Both brothers sprinted to catch the bird and a few frantic minutes later all those bars of soap had been recovered from the bird's nest.
While these sorts of things do sound a bit over the edge at times,¬ a few days later Mark arrived in my camp and confirmed every single word exactly as Robin had told it.