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Superior Stones: Talkin' Thompsonite

Figure 1:

Welcome back, Bristol! Who submitted another distinguished story for Rockosophy, relating her explorations of Duluth, Minnesota. What this badass Alaskan has to say is important, not only to the wildlife biologists of the world but to the budding scientists of this fair nation, who struggle to feel out their niche in what can feel like an ever-uphill battle. Striking balance between education and work experience is a kind of rite-of-passage for many field biologists, and what we share about our individual journeys strengthens our collective representation as a work force for good science. For your meditations, musings, and entertainment, I leave you with Bristol. Be sure to check out her background on the Contributors page and her blog too (!

Figure 2: Agate sample from Lake Superior area.

"As I coasted down the highway for the final 5 hour stint of my road trip, a fervent hope crept into me. I dearly hoped my 28-hour trek to my new (however temporary) home would make up for the three days of constant highway driving. I was on my way to an internship at Hawk Ridge Bird Observatory, to investigate my interest in working with kids in nature. During my trek, the realization dawned on me that wildlife biology, while super fun and glamorous at times, wasn’t working for me. All my immediate superiors (some with Master's degrees!) were stuck working seasonal jobs; a prospect I found unappealing. The project I spent the last three years working on was basically a black hole for government funding, and I reeled at the recent mass of political statements swarming the conservation industry. To me, at least, the overall state of our field was a refutation of basic science and humanity. So, I decided the best way to work against this overhaul of the collective conservation world was to invest my talents elsewhere. My natural inclination landed me at the foot of good old environmental education. Incidentally, teaching also provides some level of stability to my life and, after months of serious consideration, also instilled me with a sense of purpose and fulfillment. Or so I hoped. So, with the conclusion of my final 2017 field season, I flew to Duluth, Minnesota, to see how I would fare translating my passion for the study of life into the moldable minds of tiny humans.

As I said, the launching point for this was my third summer working with Caspian Terns. That last month or so, the main crew wrapped up data collection and colony monitoring, and promptly dispersed. Following this mass exodus, my crew was replaced with several new additions, one of whom is the proprietor of this very blog.

Dear reader: You may have noticed she has a thing for rocks. Like, a big thing. Maybe even a huge thing. I’m going to stop before I fall further down the obligatory rabbithole of rock-based innuendo. She has that bit covered. The upshot of spending time with her is that now I like rocks, too (I have that effect on people- Rock Rat). This fits in nicely with my overall life plan of learning all the nature things.

Figure 3: Assorted pea agates, jaspers, and Thomsonite from Lake Superior area.

So, there I was, at the edge of Lake Superior, with its appealing resemblance to my first love, the Pacific Ocean. As I soon learned, the region surrounding Duluth is famed for Lake Superior Agates. A group of lovely, banded stones which come in various shades of red, orange, pink, and white [Figure 2]. Less well known, but arguably more beautiful, is Thompsonite, which is only found on the north shore of Lake Superior [Figure 1]. These stones form as sprays of mineral in pink and green with concentric bands. The high quality stuff looks like a heinously dyed dalmatian. I began my stay with a jaunt up the coast to Two Harbors, which boasts the promisingly named Agate Bay. That promise was lies. Far from the average naive tourist, I still managed to fall victim to the namesake's deceit for a day. While there are some sweet red and swirly jaspers and coal clinkers along the gravel roads and waters' edge, agates are quite sparse [Figure 3].

So. Onward. As I learned, the best and most abundant pea agates were to be found at Beaver Bay. To get there, park just after the bridge out of town, on the right side of the road, heading north. Little trails lead down to the lake shore. This is absolutely laden with tiny little agates, glowing like honey-colored gems among the rough basalt pebbles. I filled my hat with them [Figure 2]. I can only imagine that exploring the nearby river and tributaries would yield larger specimens, but that was for another day. Pea agates are nothing to sneeze at. I recommend filling a small glass container with them, and then adding water and holding it to the light [Figure 4]. There is a whole world of tiny and intricate beauty in these little shards. I did end up finding some decent sized agates, ones that fit comfortably in your hand and that you don’t need to worry about falling through a hole in your pants pocket. If you develop a rapport with local rockhounds, they might show you some good places to go, too! Alternately, I will pass on this unorthodox suggestion: Go to any random gravel road. The gravel in the region is all local, so it almost always houses pea agates.

Next, I headed to Moose Lake via a friendly recommendation. The town of Moose Lake features the Agate Museum, which is certainly worth a visit, but also hosts a