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A Hole in the Ground

Walking through the woods of Hampstead, New Hampshire we found an old mine quietly marking time. A modest hole in the ground, really, with scattered bits of Mica all around. To call it a mine seems a bit of a stretch when compared to the big mining operations elsewhere in the world. But it called to me, knowing I’d been looking for it, and seemed to sparkle in the sun for the attention.

Mica is also known as Isinglass. From a resource perspective, Mica is sheet silicates used in everything from glass making to fashion to a key ingredient in gypsum. It has some heat-resistant qualities and is non-conductive, which makes it useful. But it’s very expensive to mine and labor intensive, so most of the mining now is done in India. For anyone complaining about their work, I’d point to Mica mining as one of many professions that might be a bit tougher.

In New Hampshire you see flakes of Mica everywhere but the meaningful sheets (or “books”) were harder to find. When they did find it, they’d root it out by blasting and drilling carefully around the sheets. Keeping the sheets intact was the labor-intensive trick.

There’s a semi-famous mine in Grafton called the Ruggle’s Mine, now closed, that used to be a tourist attraction. Visitors could carry out whatever rock that met their fancy. The mountain where it was mined was called Isinglass Mountain. You can find it on a topographical map but good luck finding that on the list of New Hampshire’s 1,786 mountains. Does a mountain lose prominence when people dig holes in it?

Back in the woods, I wondered about this old hole in the ground, once a Mica mine, now a landing place for leaves and pine cones. There’s little history around it, probably because it really isn’t any bigger than a cellar hole. But it’s in my nature to wonder about such things. Not so much for the hole but the people who labored in it. I imagine they’re buried somewhere in town, filling their own holes in the ground. What was their story?

Holes in the ground aren’t nearly as flashy as waterfalls and mountaintops. I can’t blame anyone who skimmed the first paragraph of this post and thought, “not for me”. But there’s a story there in the ground, marking time like the rest of us. And I wonder, what would it take to dig it out? For without a story it’s just another hole in the ground.

Mica Mine hole in Hampstead, NH

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