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William “Bill” Porter, a freelance writer from Colorado Springs, CO with an interest in Guatemala and stories of human endeavor, contacted us last winter after general inquiries pointed him in our direction. He met with Robert Bookstein, Rio Suerte’s CEO and, later, other members of the firm to learn more about our activities and motivations. Intrigued by our story, he requested to know more about Rio Suerte and joined us in the field for several days to see our activities first hand. His narrative and description of what he found, with his insights and perspectives, follows. He has given us his kind permission to use his work and we welcome the opportunity to share it with our readers and site visitors. We thank Bill for not only his written efforts but also for the camaraderie he shared with us.

“Bill” Porter

So, You Want to Become a Millionaire

 

“Gold is a devilish sort of thing … You may have so much piled up that you

can’t carry it away, but the more you have, the more you will want to add …

You lose your character.”

. (Howard) from B. Traven’s ‘The Treasure of The Sierra Madre’

 

Imagine, if you will, you’re sitting in a conference rooms at the Real Intercontinental Hotel in Guatemala City attending a seminar on gold. You are sitting, let’s say, with thirty other people. Some of the men are wearing coats, ties, and pirated Rolex watches. Many of the ladies are wearing curve-hugging, black dresses with gold bracelets and matching earrings. But, don’t worry if you’ve come in ripped jeans and a pink, polka-dotted t-shirt. Rio Suerte doesn’t care what you wear. Rio Suerte only wants people willing to follow their dreams. Rio Suerte only wants people who believe in wish-fulfillment theories, foreplay, quantum leaps, and ‘tickling’ gold out of the ground. Could that be you? But even a Rio Suerte gold seminar might paint a misleading picture of alluvial gold mining.

One Friday morning I accompanied Robert Bookstein and three of his volunteer crew to Rio Suerte’s base of operations deep in Guatemala’s backwoods. Duane Haverkamp is Rio Suerte’s head engineer and fabricator. We piled into Duane’s Toyota pick-up truck, headed out of Antigua, and fought our way through Guatemala City traffic. In the afternoon the four men, two of them over seventy years old and another approaching that milepost, trudged and joked their way up and down a steep hillside overlooking the Platanos River. I wondered what motivated senior citizens to hike in the middle of a day’s heat when they should be rocking on the front porch of some rest home for the elderly. Maybe B. Traven’s old prospector Howard was right. Bookstein ended up wobbling back to the truck, breathing heavily and his legs pretty well shot. His colleagues stood around in the shade swigging Brahva beer, and pretending they didn’t notice. Finally, Frank Koster changed the hubs on the four-wheel drive vehicle, and Duane navigated a bumpy, deeply eroded dirt road to reach the cabin Rio Suerte calls home.

Base Camp

Pieced together with bamboo strips, wooden boards, and chicken wire, Rio Suerte’s dirt-floored headquarters will never be confused with a Park Avenue hotel. It perches like a lame duck on sloping ground on the upside of the dirt road that cuts through the tiny hamlet of Panajax. Located two hours north of Guatemala City, Rio Suerte’s base-camp sits in between three rivers: the Motagua, the Vacas, and the Platanos. The Vacas begins just west of Guatemala City, runs in a north-easterly direction, and is an outlet for that city’s untreated sewage, industrial waste, and garbage. It is filthy and has little to recommend it. After picking up the west-flowing Platanos, it soon joins the eastward flowing Motagua River which continues on to the Caribbean coast. Why the rivers ten miles apart run in opposite directions is explained by their straddling the Motagua Fault; the tectonic boundary between the North American and Caribbean Tectonic Plates. The fault, the rivers, the occasional earthquake, and thousands of years of flooding and erosion explain why the Rio Suerte group has set up camp here.

All the convenience of a gourmet kitchen!

The men spent the evening drinking beer, arguing about the purpose of tomorrow’s show and tell, and chain-smoking while standing in the cabin’s combination front porch, living room,   dining room, and kitchen. Chickens, ducks, and geese wandered in and out pecking at invisible scraps of food. Forty-three year old Frank, the cabin’s year round occupant, chased them out with a combination of kicks and expletives. In one corner of the room charred embers glowed red on a grill made from a discarded fifty-five gallon barrel. The embers threw out a warm heat on the already warm room. Frank’s four-legged, best friend “Hector”, hoping his master wouldn’t notice, laid under a nearby table. Frank alternately raged at him along with showering him with hugs and praise.

Duane, Bookstein, and Frank were drinking Brahva beer. The fourth member of the party, Mike Donley, who did his Ph.D. fieldwork in geomorphology in Guatemala during the 1960’s, sipped 5 year old Ron Botran and orange juice from a coffee cup. Duane, his white-beard neatly trimmed, listened to the argument while inhaling cheap Guatemalan cigarettes. Bookstein sank down onto a plastic chair, seemingly oblivious to those around him. All four men wore blue jeans streaked with dirt and sweat-stained t-shirts. Frank punctuated his point of view, as he always did, with exuberant “mutha-fuckas” in his German-accented English.

“They need to see gold. Mutha-fucka! They need to hold the damn shit in their hands.”

“They know gold is there. They need to see the High Banker,” Bookstein said, as he stared off at the distance.

“They weren’t really happy when we didn’t come up with something to show them the last time,” Mike said.

“Not happy? They were pissed!” Frank said.

“Last time there wasn’t much to show,” Duane said between puffs on his cigarette.

“The High Banker is the important thing,” Bookstein insisted.

The argument, like most arguments between men who are hot, tired, and have been drinking beer all day, persisted long past its due date. It kept going, in part, due to Bookstein’s partial deafness. Not always hearing what the others were saying he, on occasion, repeated himself. His argument masked, as everybody knew, the proverbial elephant in the living room. Contrary to the eloquent wording of Rio Suerte’s web-site (Riosuerte.com) and the men’s Antigua coffee shop conversations, there was no guarantee tomorrow’s show and tell would reveal gold. Rio Suerte’s web-site and business plan is a noble sounding document. It paints a rosy picture of alluvial gold mining in Guatemala.  Rio Suerte, however, has little desire to be the ones shoveling river bank dirt into buckets, lugging the buckets to the High Banker, and feeding the dirt into the machine. Part of the Rio Suerte business model is to partner with the locals, have the Guatemalans fall in love with the High Banker to the point where they’ll be willing to shovel dirt into it for a financial share in return for their time and effort. Rio Suerte will process the gold, but the Guatemalans will, hopefully, do most of the digging. The web-site tells how, ‘on the average’, six hours’ worth of shoveling dirt into the High Banker gasoline-powered sluice will reveal enough gold to quadruple the average daily incomes of the Guatemalan milpa farmers living by the river. ‘On the average’ is the key phrase here. The following day’s demonstration would be a one-shot, two-hour presentation and quest for success in demonstrating a shared efficiency.

“Mutha-fucka! We have to demonstrate the advantage to them. They’re the ones who do most of the physical work while we provide guidance, advice and equipment.”  Frank, unlike the others who would scoot back to Antigua, lived in Panajax.

“Not sure we have enough ice for the beer,” Duane said as he reached into the ice chest.

“Robert, Frank’s right,” Mike said.

As the evening wore on, the conversation veered toward Frank’s tales of smuggling beer into Guatemala, ex-wife stories, and the same dirty jokes told by men aged fifteen to seventy-five the world over. Finally, bedtime called. Mike headed to a hammock just outside the shack’s front side. Duane threw down a sleeping bag on top of a broken army cot. Frank bedded down in the cabin’s original nine by eighteen foot structure. Bookstein curled up in the backseat of Duane’s four by four Toyota pick-up truck.

Bookstein is a retired school teacher from Chicago who looks like an attorney: silver-lined black hair combed back over his head, Mediterranean-olive skin, big thick black glasses, and an angular, deeply lined face. He is aware his alluvial gold mining venture, pieced together like Frank’s shack, more closely resembles an attempt at herding cats than a sleek, corporate-driven gold mining operation.

Robert Bookstein

My first contact with the five foot, nine inch tall Bookstein occurred in an Antigua coffee shop where he sat slightly slumped against the back of his chair while bombarding me with facts and figures about alluvial gold mining. Talking gold is what Bookstein does all day long. He joked that people in Antigua call him ‘Ponzi Bob.’ He told me Guatemala has a long mining history. It stopped in the early 1800’s when the rulers of the recently established republic threw out the Jesuits. All of Guatemala’s “mining memory and skill-base”, Bookstein said, “disappeared when that happened.” He likewise acknowledged the modern controversy regarding mining and mine development projects in Guatemala. Bookstein believes the genius of Rio Suerte is that it will help convince Guatemalans they don’t need foreign-based companies to be in the gold business. “We are helping the Guatemalans realize they can do it themselves”, he said. Bookstein reports the people at the river support Rio Suerte’s efforts. He continued, “These people have gold in their consciousness. When it’s not agricultural season (rainy season), they mine the river.”

As a potential gold investor, you might want to know that Rio Suerte is a privately-held Guatemalan corporation founded in 2007 and capitalized with one ($USD) million dollars’ worth of shares. Its plan is to get listed on the Guatemalan Stock Exchange (the Bolsa de Valores Nacional). When asked how he established the value of a share, Bookstein said, “It’s an exercise in assessing one’s self-worth. It’s a measurement of my effort, commitment, cash out-lay, and luck.” He emphasized Rio Suerte is invested in teaching Guatemalans how to use the High Banker equipment and showing them where to dig.

Bookstein is a gold promoter who says he doesn’t want or need other people’s ‘stinkin’ investment dollars. Nor is he interested in talking to people who need to know “why” they should invest. If you need to know “why” you should invest in Rio Suerte, you’re already disqualified.

Early the next morning Duane and Frank loaded the High Banker, assorted hoses, shovels, buckets, and various tools into the back of his truck. With Frank in the passenger seat, and the rest of us in the back, Duane drove to a ford crossing the Platanos River. The unspoken anxiety of the previous night was now replaced by wondering whether any of the invited Guatemalans would even show up.

Frank offers guidance

Frank had spent a portion of the previous week and the prior evening driving up and down the area’s steep, deeply rutted, dirt roads drumming up interest for this morning’s demonstration. With evangelical zeal and entrepreneurial fervor, he stopped at three homesteads. In his German-accented Spanish laced with profanities, he reminded everybody of tomorrow’s demonstration. Frank is German-born, with a shaved head, a broad smile missing half of his teeth, and like the Energizer bunny, boundless energy. He is also Rio Suerte’s local ambassador. To help make financial ends meet, he grows some cash crops in a nearby field and makes periodic chicken bus runs to the Mexican border to smuggle back thirty odd cases of beer to sell to Antigua bar and restaurant owners. That night, in addition to drumming up business for the following day, he also delivered soda and alcohol to the residents, haggled over prices, and picked up returnable beer bottles.

At his Panajax homestead he raises Mallard and Muscovy ducks, geese, and chickens. He has rigged together a way to bring water down slope and over a kilometer to his home where he also grows parsley, oregano, onions, mangos, jocotes (fruit), and bell pepper plants. Frank marched me around his homestead while picking up freshly laid chicken eggs, watering his plants, and tending to his pink roses. He also expounded on the Mayan mythology associated with the Ceiba tree that grows in his yard and towers over his cabin.

Mike jokingly recounted that a mutual friend of the enterprise had remarked that Frank has been in more jails than he (the friend) had been in countries. “But just for stupid stuff,” Bookstein tells all who will listen. “The people at the river love him.” “Sure,” Mike joked again, “They love him so much they’ve beaten him up!” Bookstein did admit there is a chance Frank may drink too much and rumor also has it that Frank has a drug-ridden past. Still, he is an exuberant, gracious, albeit eccentric, host. He tends to the needs of his colleagues with the same exacting care a manager of a Las Vegas casino gives VIP guests. He infuses his favorite expletive ‘mutha-fucker’ with enough varieties of meaning to make it a language in itself. He is Rio Suerte’s ‘jack of all trades’ employee, a self-made engineer and, as already mentioned, Rio Suerte’s connection to the Guatemalan locals. Using the most basic kitchen tools and food, he produces fine meals, almost worthy of a New York City gourmet chef. The other Rio Suerte members are retired senior citizens with pensions and IRA accounts; Frank lives mostly by his wits.

Duane parked his truck ten yards from the Platanos river crossing. To the relief of all, five adult Guatemalans and three to four children in ragged pants and sandals stood there waiting our arrival. Everybody helped unload the truck. Mike, Frank, and Duane wandered down one side of the river scouting for the most likely places where thousands of years of river flow, erosion, and annual flooding most likely deposited gold onto the river banks.

As befitting the loose democracy that makes up Rio Suerte, Mike’s opinion (as a Rio Suerte geologist) to set up the High Banker further down the river was overruled. Perhaps, due to not wanting to lug the equipment, they set up within fifty yards of the truck.

The morning’s sunshine and heat soon made the day more suitable to taking a dip in the river than shoveling dirt from its banks into buckets. A family of pigs wandered down from the opposite hillside to take their morning dip and bury themselves in mud along the river bank. Upstream, a black-haired Guatemalan mother, along with her two young children and her family’s laundry, settled on a spot in the middle of the stream to wash the family laundry.

082114_1850_AsOthersSee6.png

A bank site with promise

While Frank and Duane set up the High Banker (a gasoline-powered sluice), Mike directed a group of Guatemalans where to start digging. A fire-fighters’ line formed to transport the buckets now containing sixty-pounds of dirt, to the High Banker. Frank positioned one end of a forty foot-long hose into the eighteen inch high running waters of the Platanos, and Duane attached the other end to the High Banker. The gasoline-powered High Banker then sucked water from the river into its front end while Guatemalans shoveled the dirt into the machine. The High Banker’s first task was to spit out the rocks that came with the dirt. The combination of fast-flowing water, gravity, and the mechanics of the sluice then separated the denser particles (hopefully, containing gold) while washing away the dirt.

Bookstein looked on like an indulgent father watching his children at play. After a half-hour of loading dirt into the High Banker, Duane began collecting the result; about a pound of fine, black sand into a small pail. The question was, did it contain gold?

In your imaginary black leather cushioned seat at the hotel seminar, you may be wondering what exactly is alluvial mining. Alluvial mining in Central America dates back more than 4,000 years. The ancient Mayans combined jade jewelry with gold to make sculptures and ornaments. Historically, alluvial deposits have produced the largest amounts of the world’s gold. ‘Alluvium’ comes from the Latin ‘alluvius’ and from ‘alluere’; ‘to wash against’. Alluvial gold mining is the process of extracting gold from creeks, rivers and streams. Alluvial mining is also called placer mining. Placer mining is the mining of gold-containing alluvial deposits. Alluvial deposits are natural concentrations of ore that have eroded away from gold source veins in the mountains upstream. That is to say, eroded pieces of ore are transported, reshaped, and ultimately re-deposited by moving water downstream either along the river’s bottom or along its banks as alluvial ‘placers’.

The alluvium itself is made up of fine particles of silt, clay, sand, and gravel. John McPhee, in ‘Assembling California’ describes placer mining as separating free gold from loose sand. He writes this method is a good deal easier than cracking it out of hard rock.

‘Panning’ these alluvial deposits for gold was made famous by the California gold rush. Georgius Agricola, in his classic ‘De re Metallica‘ (1556), described gold panning this way: ” … the sand is placed in a large bowl which can be easily shaken, the bowl being suspended by two ropes from a beam …. water is poured in, then the bowl is shaken, … the muddy water is poured out and water is again poured in, … the (heavier) gold particles settle in the back part of the bowl.”

But the reason to invest in Rio Suerte has nothing to do with gold panning. Rio Suerte’s dream is to rescue the Guatemalan river people from the back-breaking nature of gold panning. Rio Suerte’s dream is to help the Guatemalans participate in an ‘artisanal revolution’. An artisanal, or small-scale miner, is someone who works independently using panning, sluicing, and underground workings methods. The artisanal revolution replaces nineteenth century panning methods with twenty-first century dredging and power-sluicing (High-Bankers). World-wide, over fifteen million men, women, and children are engaged in artisanal mining. Yet Rio Suerte believes dredging and power-sluicing leave behind significant amounts of gold. Rio Suerte is banking their hopes on centrifugal machinery that will extract gold from the rubble that is currently being thrown back into the river after sluicing and dredging.

Part of gold’s history involves the antagonism between the very groups of people who are seeking it. McPhee writes how miners, historically, have ranked geologists with garbage men and dog-catcher. The miners believed they (the miners) had an intuitive feel for where gold would be. When told that, Bookstein nodded his head and said, “My geologists will point to a spot and tell the engineers to locate their equipment there. The engineers will yell back, ‘Hell no, the gold is over here!’

Each specialty thinks ‘they know’ where to find gold.” Bookstein realizes that Rio Suerte needs both groups. It amuses him to watch both groups, their arms folded against their chests and locked into their own positions, go at each other.

Alluvial mining sums up the classic football adage: You take what the defense gives you. The high priests and priestesses of gold are defensive geniuses. For millennium their schemes and formations have thwarted the best efforts of men seeking to steal their treasure. Yet the high priests and priestesses of gold have their weak spot. In football terms, they run a ‘prevent’ defense. Their goal is to not allow the seventy-five yard long pass. They are willing to give up the eight yard pass over the middle. They are willing for the wind, the spring floods, the occasional earthquake, and thousands of years of weathering to erode away the gold ore from the hidden veins in mountains. The gods say, “Go pan as much gold as you want!” And with one hundred yards to go, an alluvial miner has to accumulate a lot of eight yard passes. But the gods did not count on sixteenth century panning and sluicing methods being replaced with High-Banker power-sluices and machines using centrifugal-force technology. They did not count on the price of gold rising to $1301 (USD) an ounce (as of May 4, 2014). Bookstein, like other alluvial miners, want to make those gods start second-guessing their strategy.

Alluvial gold and alluvial gold mining, by the way, is not for everybody. Snotty types turn their noses down at it. Without further processing by mercury or cyanide, it tends to be only twenty-two karat, not the twenty-four karat ‘pure’ stuff. The Rio Suerte crew is not bothered by such comments.

They say if you want the twenty-four carat gold, go invest in some faceless, soulless, blood-sucking, multi-national corporation that pollutes and rapes the earth. Rio Suerte only wants investors who share their dream of a job-producing, environmentally friendly, mining operation. Rio Suerte cuts down no trees. They do not contaminate the river. They never use mercury, cyanide, ore crushers, or dynamite. They pack their trash out. They employ local labor. It is their goal to reinvest in the community.

In another Antigua coffee shop conversation I sat with Bookstein and three other of his associates. Edwin Chavez, a stocky, thirty-seven year old Guatemalan helps Rio Suerte run the Guatemalan bureaucratic maze. Edwin’s grand-parents were killed by the Guatemalan army during Guatemala’s nightmare years. Also sipping coffee was Jaime Urrutia, a forty-six year old geologist. Howard Rutiezer; one of Bookstein’s old Chicago pals, sat at one of the table. Howard’s curly locks, when untrimmed, can make him resemble Albert Einstein on a bad hair day. His Rio Suerte role is to periodically dig into his pockets and help keep the Rio Suerte alluvial boat from sinking. Over the past six years Howard has hung in there, through thick and thin, with Rio Suerte. But, you can tell he occasionally has his doubts. I tried to provoke the group by quoting passages from Traven’s ‘The Treasure of Sierra Madre.’ When apprised of Traven’s Howard character who said gold causes a person to lose their judgment, Jaime replied, “Gold is eternal, immortal, it never dies. But ‘no’, I haven’t lost my judgment.” Bookstein, when asked the same question replied, “Only when I look in the mirror!”

I suspect I know what you armchair gold seminar participants are thinking. You’re thinking like Dobbs (played by Humphrey Bogart in the movie). You’re thinking, “That wouldn’t happen to me. I swear it. I’d take twenty thousand, pack up, and go. I’d do that even if there were still half a million bucks’ worth lying around howling to be picked up.”

Maybe. Maybe not. Bookstein, who openly admits to his own ‘gold-buggedness’, will understand your desires. He understands that once you’ve succumbed to the ‘power, beauty, and mystery’ of gold, you may end up behaving like Dobbs. You may end up like Dobbs. But, you swear what happened to Dobbs would never happen to you? And you’re over eighteen and not a ward of a mental-illness oriented court? Okay, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I kept throwing out more of the old prospector’s comments. One in particular, “Gold doesn’t call out loud to be picked up. You have to tickle it so that it comes out laughing” fascinated me. How do you ‘tickle’ gold? Bookstein replied, “It’s all about how you approach gold …. Your approach will determine whether the gold accepts you … If you go to the river angry, you won’t find it. You have to be friendly to the gold. If gold is not a ‘living’ thing to you …. then you won’t find shit. The gold will hide from you.” When I suggested that sounded crazy, Bookstein said, “Gold has to love you.”

I must say that listening to other people’s dreams can be a little disturbing and, as a caution, perhaps, you should not be too open with yours. Your dreams, however, and whether you have the courage to follow them, is something the Rio Suerte team want to know more about. Bookstein understands following one’s dream requires equal parts recklessness, honesty, and self-delusion. Do you ever secretly dream about lying pool-side at some fabulous Caribbean resort, margarita in hand? Do you ever have the somewhat politically incorrect dream of wanting to be filthy rich? Dev Patel, in ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, who portrayed the Mumbai teen contestant on the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?” wanted to be rich. Why do we applaud his efforts while sneering at our own secret desires?

Also, as a prospective investor in Rio Suerte, you might be wondering if they’re finding gold. What do they have to show for their efforts? McPhee wrote, “Optimism is always highest at the beginning (of a gold camp). A mining camp has nowhere to go but down.” Edwin Chavez smiled when told this. He described the last eight years at Rio Suerte as being eight years of ‘foreplay”. Jaime Urrutia, however, believes the group’s optimism is rising. Perhaps, to obtain a reality check on your own optimism, let’s return to the Rio Suerte crew’s Saturday morning at the river. Keeping in mind there are no guarantees in life, perhaps this real life example will help you make a judgment.

As Duane coaxed more fine-grained, blackish looking sand into his small pail, Frank sat on a rock outcropping surrounded by Guatemalan adults and children. Frank now replaced his self-made engineer, chicken farmer, gourmet chef, grower of pink roses, beer smuggler, and ex-doper hats for his professor hat. The Guatemalans were fascinated by the High Banker. They saw how much time and labor could be saved. And they wanted to know more. They bombarded Frank with questions. Frank, now the river’s resident graduate professor of High Banker Engineering, was only too happy to oblige them. His lecture, however, was interrupted by Duane calling out to him. It was time. It was now time to see if the Guatemalans and the High Banker had struck gold. Frank carried the small pail to the river, and with the Guatemalans hanging over his shoulder, carefully sifted and washed the black sand. Five agonizing minutes later the silence was broken. Cries of “Yes! There it is! Yo lo veo! (I see it) Bueno!” rang out. The Rio Suerte group gave each other big smiles and high fives. The question of the day had been answered. Bookstein bit his lip to hide his own smile, but you could see he was very pleased. In Frank’s words, ‘mutha-fucka!’ The Guatemalans looked on as Frank carefully removed the small gold pieces.

A survey of results with Frank

Now, it’s important to note he was not finding one pound gold nuggets. The gold revealed by Frank’s sifting of the small pail revealed nothing more than a dozen small flecks of gold. But at thirteen hundred dollars an ounce, even the eight year olds crowding around Frank could do the math. The two-hour demonstration turned into an all day one. The Guatemalans wanted to keep digging. They returned to the river bank with a new-found energy, and using the High Banker themselves, started shoveling.

 

Imagine the seminar is coming to an end. You may still be wondering, “Why should I invest?” Bookstein believes Rio Suerte has been made stronger by operating on a shoe-string. I reminded him of Edwin’s comment that the past eight years have been nothing but fore-play. I told Bookstein that I loved fore-play, but eight years of it? He replied, “Gold is not something where ‘A’ leads to ‘B’ which leads to ‘C’. Breakthroughs in gold come in quantum leaps. It’s the quantum leap that makes gold so exciting. It’s the quantum leaps that lead coitus!” Bookstein also ruminated on the Freudian nature of his ‘gold-buggedness’. Freud believed dreams were, in some way, a fulfillment of a wish. Freud talked about people getting stuck in certain stages of development. Bookstein wondered if he is stuck in the ‘wish-fulfillment’ stage, but argued that everybody dreams of something. According to Freud, wish fulfillment occurs when unconscious desires are repressed by the ego and superego. This repression often stems from “guilt and taboos imposed by society.” How guilty do you feel about your dreams?

So, out of those thirty people who showed up for the seminar, would you still be sitting in your chair? I’m imagining that most have left by now. If you’re still sitting, then ‘Congratulations’. But there is one final test. There is one final test to determine if you truly want to be a millionaire. Toward the end of Traven’s ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’, Howard turns to his two partners (Dobbs and Curtin) and says, “Boys, we have wounded this mountain, and I think it is our duty to close its wounds.” Curtin groans at the thought of the week of back-breaking labor it will take to restore the mountain’s wounds. He replies, “The way you talk about a mountain as a personality is funny.”

Bookstein is like the story’s Howard; he believes in living, breathing mountains and rivers. If you don’t believe that, he’d prefer you go attend one of the hundreds of seminars out there selling exclusive rights to fried chicken franchises. Those are the seminars that come with guarantees.

So, do mountains and rivers have their own personalities? Jaime said, “Well, they’re not people, but they’re living beings. The dirt, it’s like it is alive.” Do you believe a mountain and its rivers are living breathing things? Are you willing to endure years of foreplay? Is gold eternal? Do you believe that the dirt, the silt, the sand, and all the assorted crap that gets deposited onto a river’s banks are really alive? Imagine, if you will, that Jamie has placed a box of dirt and rocks in front of you. Grab a handful. Rub it through your fingers. Smell it. Does it feel alive to you? Do you hear its whisper? C’mon. Tell the truth. Do you truly believe what you hold in your hands is living and breathing? Look me in the eye. And tell me you truly believe. If you do, if you truly do, I know some people you might want to talk to.

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