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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

I'm working, and other falsifications

In which our heroine blows off painting for a walk in the Maine woods.

Breaking Storm, by Carol L. Douglas, 48X30. It's finished, so perhaps I deserved a day off.
I had every intention of working on the Fourth of July. It’s one of the best business days at Camden harbor. At such times plein air painting becomes performance art. It drives some painters mad to be interrupted constantly. I don't mind.

Still, something Poppy Balser told me has been resonating. She’s taken the summer off from events to spend time with her kids. My youngest is twenty and has a summer job. However, this may be the last summer he comes home from college.

Rock hound with his dad.
This child is a rock hound. He loves picking the stuff up and turning it in his hands, puzzling out its story. He goes to school in the Genesee Valley of New York. Its red Medina sandstone is great for building gloomy Gothic insane asylums, but not so good for mineral or gem inclusions.

Mt. Apatite pit mine.
Van Reid is the author of a series of witty historical novels about coastal Maine. Last winter he told me about an abandoned feldspar quarry near his house. On Saturday, we hiked up to see it. It sits alone and silent in a vast empty wood, rimmed with ancient rock.

Yesterday was simply too glorious to work. Instead, I asked my son if he was interested in driving west to Mt. Apatite, near Auburn, ME. This public park contains a series of abandoned pit mines. Mined until the 1930s, they continue to attract rock hounds today.

Pegmatites are igneous rocks with exceptionally large crystals. They often contain minerals. In Maine that means beryl, tourmaline, zircon, garnet, mica and quartz, not that I’d recognize most of those things. But pegmatites are beautiful in themselves. One can trace the folding and cooling of the earth’s crust in them.

On Mt. Apatite.
There are rock hounds who search old mines for marketable gemstones. We were just interested in looking.

Mica may have little economic value, but it made the woods seem as if it had been sprinkled with fairy dust. It glinted on the path and between the blueberry bushes. There were enough garnets in the rocks that even I could find them. But don’t bother going there to find your fortune in gemstone; these garnets won’t survive being pried loose from their stony prisons.

Mica in the wild.
Minerals are apparently endlessly mutable. There are over 5,300 known mineral species. Their chemical composition is often very complex. For the human mind, with its desire to classify and categorize things, they are irresistible. Plus, they’re often beautiful.

We were poking around along a cliff when an older gentleman loped easily down the rock face toward us. He introduced himself as Dan. He was clearly knowledgeable about minerals and the history of the place. He told my son how to tap the Cleavelandite to split it, and gave him some hints about proper gear, locations, and the history of the mines in the region.

“It’s gotten really busy here ever since Mindat,” he lamented (referring to a massive online database of minerals). It’s all relative, I guess: on this busiest holiday of the summer, there was nobody there but the four of us.


Annette said...

Good for you, first if all, on choice for the day. Second; fascinating! Like I'm going there just so I can see these things you spoke of. Great read. Thank you.

Carol Douglas said...

This geology stuff is fun!