I’m sitting on a pile of beach pebbles like a dragon on its hoard, sand gnats swarming me every time the breeze stalls. It’s perfect weather — 74 degrees F, sunny, gentle wind, blue sky, no humidity, and frolicking Lady Lake Superior waves of sun-soaked surface water. Off to my left, a pair of common mergansers fish. A crow glides overhead and cries, “Caa-caa,” casting a shadow across the rocks in flight. The insects of early August are not the biting ones of mid-June, and I don’t mind their dance around my legs as I pick through the mineral treasure before me. Already, I’ve found seven agates and three large basalts with agates still in situ. I needed a perfect day to remember my magic.
My feet ache from the walking I did earlier. Every year I try a new pair of water shoes. Keens have the best soles, but no mesh to keep out small pebbles and sand. Various water shoes that have lightweight mesh also have thin soles. Like the pair, I’m wearing now. Walking on the rocky shore leaves my feet feeling bruised. Long gone is the barefoot kid who used to hop rocks in mountain creeks and run around on all surfaces. Now, I’m an overgrown tenderfoot, yet I can’t resist rock-picking.
My favorite finds today include the agate in situ, meaning the host rock of dark gray basalt still holds the agate formation. It’s the size of a small grape and banded in the colors of fawn and cream and milk chocolate. When the basalt had formed, lava first geysered as molten fountains that flooded and hardened into the bedrock of this region. I’m sitting on once fiery rocks as old as 2.7 billion years. Gas bubbles formed when the lava cooled, causing holes called vesicles, which was crucial for the secondary formation of agates, amygdaloid microcrystals, and Patricianite. Silica-rich water led to a mass of secondary mineralization, and further metamorphosis leached copper into the largest raw masses found in the world. In the Keweenaw, copper infuses basalts and silicas. Copper Country.
I have a hand lens that opens up a minute world of veins and vesicles to me. With enough finds in my satchel, I plop down like I am now and examine the structures and colors. Some contact metamorphic granites create yin-yang rocks of two different makeups where different liquid rocks pressed together. Purplish garnets appear in milky-white quartz. Feldspar — white plagioclase or pink k-spar — can result in large crystals in granite. Pink k-spar with veins of pistachio-green epidote is called unakite. The pink and green combination stuns visitors to the area. But it’s what formed in basalt that intrigues me most. Often I discard my finds after a thorough examination, leaving the treasure for a curious beachcomber to find. On other days, I set up beneath a birch tree and build flat sandstone cairns topped with microcrystalline gems caught in basalt. Sometimes, I return to find someone who has added their own picks.
Before COVID, I loved talking to others on the beach, learning and teaching what we know, or don’t know about Great Lakes rocks. I avoided my favorite beaches after my birthday in May, disturbed by how many tourists were coming to our shores on the Keweenaw. Yet, oddly enough, despite McLains (it’s F. J. McLain S. P. but locals add the “s” and drop the initials) campground at full capacity with license plates from all over the US, no one goes to my favorite beach. Relieved I don’t have to actively avoid people, I come here whenever I need fresh air, cool water, and hot rocks.
My MFA program is heating up. My professor is line-editing our manuscripts to callout patterns of bad habits. Things like misplaced commas. Evidently, she doesn’t appreciate my theory that commas go into a jar to be sprinkled liberally over a set of writing. I don’t know why commas are punctuation I struggle with, but I’m not alone. If you want to join me in improving comma use, here’s a basic guide from Grammarly. If you are serious about the publishing industry as an editor or writer, you should invest in a copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. According to that source, “Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with the goal being ease of reading.”
Another bad writing habit my professor flagged surprised me, and yet now I can’t stop seeing it (which is a good thing). She told me to reduce my use of prepositions following a verb. For example, instead of writing that “she picked up rocks,” write “she collected rocks,” or “she scooped rocks,” or “she grabbed all the rocks.” Her list of my bad habits stunned me the way unakite startles newbie rock pickers. Wow, we think, I had no idea that existed. Our inclinations do exist — syntax is part of our distinct voice — yet some can weaken our writing. It might sound depressing to read page after page of such feedback, yet it is also liberating to know that as an MFA student this is the greatest attention our writing will ever receive.
I’m taking in all of it — I’m absorbing it all. See? I can reduce prepositions and learn commas, and…
My prof left me with this quote and I’ll leave it with you:
“You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.” ~ Juno Diaz
August 6, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about molten lava. It can be real-time, such as a volcanic event or the result of one in the geologic timeline. Or, think about making the prompt into a metaphor of heat. What is so hot? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by August 11, 2020. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
CALL FOR RODEO LEADERS: The Rodeo 99-word Stories Contest will return in October with a first-place cash prize sponsored by Carrot Ranch. As indicated, each contest is 99-words. However, the type of story, format, subject, or added prompts is wide open to creative direction. Carrot Ranch will host the TUFF (99-59-9-99) contest at the Saddle Up Saloon every Monday in October. The ranch buckaroo is looking for three more leaders who have blogs and would like to create, host, and work with judges of their choosing to host a Rodeo contest at their blog on an October Tuesday. This is different from previous contests so that the regular challenges can continue simultaneously. It will help regulate ranch traffic and can increase traffic for partner blogs. If you are interested, contact Charli at wordsforpeople(at)gmail(dot)com. There will be a Zoom meeting in late August for Rodeo leaders.
Submissions are now closed. See our latest challenge to enter.
Summer Geology by Charli Mills
At what temperature do people melt like molten lava? It’s 110 degrees F for the third day, and the swimming pool glistens like blue silica. Doris slathers more sunscreen on her brown wrinkled skin, rubbing the cream in circles as if softening an ostrich leather purse. It’s so hot she could burst, but the swimming beckons, promising a cooldown. Two weeks quarantined at her daughter’s place is better than self-combusting in her Airstream back at the seniors only RV park. She sinks her body and becomes a secondary metamorphic process, a volcano abating. Her bones crystalize in the pool.