It is that golden time of year in the Flint Hills of northeastern Kansas. The goldenrods are blooming, and the cottonwood leaves and field grasses have turned from green to amber. I've always welcomed this season's golden glory, but not until this year did I realize that one might find real gold here.
My discovery began last Thursday evening when my wife suddenly realized she had lost one of her gold earrings. She had happened upon a single earring lying mysteriously on the floor and, after much searching, had found the back of the other - but couldn't find the second earring itself. I had given this pair of ''love knots'' to her years ago, and she wore them regularly - showing that she still loved me.
But now she was in a panic. Where was the earring and how did it disappear? Was it sucked up in the vacuum? Had it come unclasped during an outside stroll and disappeared into the camouflage of nature's autumnal gold? My wife felt quite miserable. After all, it was a love knot.
With the children grown and only two of us at home, there was no need to start blaming anybody. I don't wear earrings; nor does our dog, a nine-month-old shepherd named Kanza. Of course, playful as a young dog is, he likes to chew on just about anything. We try to limit his options by keeping out of reach our shoes and everything else he's likely to sink his teeth into. When we remember to do this, Kanza concentrates on sticks, which he proudly carries into the house; and, of course, on his hunk of knotted rope.
His antics are relatively tame in this household where, when we parents were out of town some years ago, the children brought the pony into the dining room and made him feel at home - feeding him at the table while they enjoyed doughnuts and drinks. They recorded this event with a photo, which they sent to us on our vacation with the comment, ''Everything is fine. We are doing great. Don't worry.'' So a dog is just another critter in a home accustomed to animals, and we were hardly worried that Kanza would find pleasure in teething on a gold earring.
So where was the earring? While my wife kept looking for it, I took Kanza out for a walk across the lawn speckled with golden leaves and into the field brimming with goldenrods. Eventually, in an unusually undisciplined move, the dog relieved himself on the lawn, leaving me with the task of cleaning up after him. I got my shovel, and when I scooped I struck gold. I didn't recognize it at first, even when I heard a clink against my shovel. I was about to toss it into the pasture - when something told me to take a closer look.
Now I know how a miner feels when he thinks he has finally hit it big. I turned on the garden hose and gingerly started to slush the shovel. I saw what looked like a piece of gold leaf, and soon it began to look like a gold nugget. Now I knew why we had not been able to find the earring in the house. And now I knew that we had been petting a thief.
When the earring lay clean and shining on the shovel, I picked it up and examined it carefully. Apparently, Kanza had swallowed it without much chewing, for it was crushed slightly, but not destroyed.
With the dog romping after me, I delivered the earring to my wife. And now, after thorough cleaning, it is back in her jewelry box. In fact, it and its mate have already been worn again - after all, they are love knots.