Working the distillery, I interact with people who hold a wide range of political views. Usually as long as they do not digress to abuse or bigotry, I just nod and shake my head. The fun times are when people of differing opinions get each other going and still more fun when people who consider each other friends find out how much they disagree on politics or other subjects — yet remain friends.
A similar phenomenon and one that I think is somewhat connected is how after 16 years here in the county I have yet to find an adult who lives in Ouray County because they have to. Certainly there are people who live in the county despite not being able to afford it and many who can afford to live anywhere they want live here in OC until health or something else drives them out. I have always thought that people who live here identify with being rugged mountain loving individualists and with those who built these towns and mines. Of course mines make me think of gold and gold is the subject of this month’s Science.
It’s estimated that there is enough gold in Earth’s core to cover Earth up to your knees. But you will never see any of Earth’s gold here on the surface — nor will anyone you ever know. Because, you see, when good old Earth was formed some 4.5 billion years ago, early on it can be thought of as a spinning ball of hot molten stuff. This stuff happens to be quite dense because it is rich in iron and nickel — which sinks to the bottom of a liquid. This is good for us because the magnetic field created from the movement of all of that liquid metal (like swirling a cup of coffee in your hand) creates a shield around the earth called the magnetosphere which protects our atmosphere from being stripped away by solar winds. Remember kids: atmosphere stripping = bad!
Now, as any miner can tell you, gold is even denser than iron — so all of Earth’s gold long ago sank to the core of the planet and is unavailable to us. But wait! What the heck is all that stuff hanging around the necks of millions of Italian Americans and gansta rappers? Well, that gold and all the gold you have ever seen was formed in the collision of neutron stars and found its way to Earth as meteors around four billion years ago — long after the crust was formed on the earth. Therefore all the gold that we have ever mined is understood to be meteor gold. The gold finds its way into rock formations as precious metal rich lava formed from volcanic action and tectonic activity in the crust and mantle of the planet.
In the world as a whole, almost 4,000 tons of gold are produced yearly. By comparison, there is less than a tenth of a microgram in a gram of hair and only one to two parts per 10 billion can be found in sea water. BTW, no one has yet figured out a way for the extraction of gold from water to pay — though many have tried and some ingenious fraudsters have made quite a bit of money from naïve investors.
In industry, gold is used for everything from non-corroding wire to radiation protection on the visors of astronauts, to gold bearing antibodies in medical studies. Of course in Ouray we are more likely to think of gold as being used to make jewelry. And one of the interesting things about jewelry, as explained to me by David Houtz (The Rocky Mountain Jewelry Man), is that pure gold is too soft for everyday wear so jewelers often mix (alloy) pure gold with copper, silver, platinum and even aluminum or iron. The amount of gold in an alloy is described in carats — 24 carat is pure gold, 18 carat is 75 percent gold and 14 carat is around 58 percent gold. So even though pure gold is considered the ‘precious’ part, it is the alloyed metals that give the jewelry its distinctive, color, character and strength.
And back in the distillery one of my favorite customers, Gus Ross, suggests that the reason people around here take so little concern with political and social opinions when choosing who to friend is that (in OC at least) the important thing is not what one believes regarding the world at large, but whether one will be there for you when you need them to be. Everything else, he says, is really just entertainment. But possibly the differences in opinion are more than just entertainment. Maybe they give strength, color and character to the gold that we can find here in the mountains.
Dr. Joe Alaimo is the owner of Ouray Vet and partner of Trail Town Still. The savior of small animals, thirsty people everywhere and a fairly dangerous man with a garlic press.