The black sands of Gay, Michigan, Keweenaw Peninsula.

When too much is just right

We’re always being told to let go. I get it.

But I am an accumulator, the beachcomber with falling-down shorts because her pockets are full of shells. A turtle-like traveler, carrying her home on her back. And the writer-photographer who sees the story behind every sentence uttered—and is ready to write a book about it, complete with accompanying photos.

I used to apologize for my baggage. No more. I embrace the abundance. 

As an editor I know that everything I gather will culled. About one-fourth of what I write makes it to the finished page. It’s part of my process.

There are minimalist creative types who sift and sort on the front end of a project. They make it easier on themselves by getting just what they think they’ll need and no more.

My theory: you never know what will come in handy. It’s how I pack for travel. And it’s how I create stories that take my audience somewhere.

If it’s done thoughtfully, I think the outtakes still show, giving the presentation richness and resonance.

I see the underlayment in the final proof of my upcoming novel, the bits and pieces in the overflowing shoebox and jammed binder make More Than You Think You Know what it is.

In writing, as in fashion, I follow the Coco Chanel rule. Put on the bracelets, the scarf, the belt the earrings. Before you leave the house, take at least one thing off.

But if you don’t have options, how do you edit?

It’s fun to collect so many creative assets that you’re challenged to find a way to use them all. And then, seeing what others decide to use, when you share what you’ve got—that’s a blast, too.

I’ve overwhelmed numerous editors, designers and other publishing types with my plethora of words and photos.

But not Allison Mills. She eggs me on.

Too much? What’s that?

That’s why, although I usually share writerly topics over on my author blog, I want to share here our creative endeavors on a Keweenaw Geoheritage tour we teamed up for this summer. Here’s our ride aboard the Research vessel Agassiz.

Michigan Tech News Science and Technology Reporter Allison Mills covers Keweenaw's geoheritage for Unscripted, the Michigan Tech science and tech blog.
Intrepid science and technology reporter Allison Mills and I head out into Lake Superior with a boatload of scientists, teachers and explorers eager to learn more about Keweenaw’s geoheritage—in this case, the mine waste you see everywhere.

About Allison: she covers science and technology with clarity, precision and depth—everything from carbon nanotubes and cloud chambers to misfolded proteins and engineering stem cell sheets as grafts for burns—for Michigan Technological University. I’ve learned so much from her. Because she lets me. Allison actively seeks ways to bring her colleagues along on her adventures. I am so grateful!

Worktime and playtime mesh when I’m with Allison in research labs, in nature, anywhere we’re exploring. Our separate and unique observations coalesce. I filled a reporter’s notebook, even though it’s Allison’s story. Because that’s what accumulators do!

It was fun to compare notes afterward, about what we considered most important. And Allison used a lot of my photos in her wonderful report, “Stamping Through History”—complete with awesome drone footage of the stamp-sand shore. Check it out on Michigan Tech Unscripted.

I had my DSLR, aka “the good camera,” so me being me, I went crazy—popping off 181 shots and several videos. I’m sharing a lot of them here. But please don’t feel obligated to view each and every one.

This collection is mostly for me. It’s like Seth Godin says about blogging. He doesn’t understand why more people don’t blog every day. Not to get a bunch of followers. For themselves. To record and witness the trajectory of life lived and lessons learned.

“Your life won’t be more fabulous with more Twitter followers.”  —Seth Godin

I want to always remember this day and be able to look back on it.

The R/V Aggasiz docked off Big Traverse Bay on Lake Superior.
The Michigan Tech Research Vessel Agassiz at Schoolcraft Township docks, departure point for our 2016 Geoheritage tour to learn more about the mining waste legacy that marks the Keweenaw Peninsula.
The 236-foot Mohawk Mill Stack in the town of Gay, named for one of Wolverine Mining Company’s founders, Joseph E. Gay, operated from 1898 to 1932.
Geoscientist Bill Rose has been adorning his hatbands with flowers since the 1980s. “It makes me feel connected,” says the Michigan Tech professor emeritus who with compassion and conviction shares the stories of the Copper Country and pushes education and understanding forward. “Man’s time and influence here changes everything,” he says. “It should be interpretive. We keep alive the memory. These are the bones of an old time. They’re gonna get covered up like fossils—is that OK?” 
Biologist Casey Huckins tells us about a favored fish breeding area on Buffalo Reef, just off the Gay sands. Industrial archaeologist Sean Gohman, seated, gave us the background on the crush-and-flush copper liberation (“think of it as a mortar and pestle “… “you need a lot of water to process a lot of rock …”) that created communities as well as tons of mining waste.
Captain Stephen Roblee at the helm of the Michigan Tech Research Vessel Agassiz relishes his work because he is constantly learning—and sharing his knowledge with others.
These sands sparkle—with arsenic. But don’t worry, it’s only activated by water. The scope and scale of what happened here in a red-metal rush that pre-dates the gold era, results in this stark, beautiful-in-its-own-way landscape. 
Nesting bank swallows flit on the cliffs and Lake Superior waters lap the black sands of Gay. If you can arrange to take a Keweenaw Geoheritage Tour, do it! Fascinating. 


Lake Superior hates deltas. Wind and current destroy them at an amazing rate. And violently disperse the stamp sands at will or prevent entirely their appearance in areas of the Copper Country very close to large mining waste deposits—scientists study what lies beneath. And we rejoice when the lake wins. 


We head to Bootjack, to re-board the Agassiz for the next leg of our geotour, through the cuts at the top of Portage Lake and into the milling district on the shores of Torch Lake.


Headed through the cuts to Torch Lake, from Dreamland. It’s very shallow outside the channel. Captain Steve asked me politely to come back in the boat. I stayed out on the bow a little longer than acceptable because I wanted to get pictures. But you must obey the Captain! 
Anthropologist Carol MacLennan speaks with great authority and compassion about the communities and government agencies dealing with the contamination mining left here—which includes PCBs from electrical plants. The EPA, in the infancy of Superfund, came here to mitigate but in many ways, from the lack of sewer systems in the town of Mason to the dubious contents of old barrels, the task remains unfinished. “In most smelter communities it’s done but soil sampling wasn’t done here,” she says. 
It was fascinating to see this remnant of the massive Torch Lake milling operations from the lake side. It was a major processing district with an incredible scale of building including boilerhouses and a powerhouse. And it is by far the most contaminated region in the Copper Country. The lake itself is dead. 

The Aggasiz cruises the mining ruins on Torch Lake Shoreline

A piling from the once-massive Lake Linden docks. Milling operations were forced to move here off the main Portage Lake Shipping Channel because the tailings were filling it in and impeding commercial traffic.


The Torch Lake dredge, viewed from lakeside—scene of many trespassings and rites of passage. There are actually two of them (one sunk), US government-financed  and outfitted with electric pumps for regrinding-reclamation during World War II when copper was classified as a strategic metal. In the words of one scientist, “It saved Quincy Mining’s butt,” as production was already winding down. 

Capt. Steve Roblee takes a Torch Lake bottom sample

Bye Agassiz! Thanks for letting me be a deckhand, Captain Steve!

The last remains of a Lake Linden stamp mill. Bang! Bang! Bang! It was a relentless, 24-hour process, 7,000 pounds per hour, at 100 psi, 300 tons per day—can y0u imagine living in the neighborhood adjacent to the Allis Steam Stamp?



The last ‘modern’ mill standing, up across the highway from the dredge, Quincy No. 1, closed in 1945 and is for sale on Zillow. Multi-use property. LOL.



Nature trumps all in the process of winning the ore.

What do you like to accumulate? What do you say when people tell you you’ve got too much?  

Make Way for the New 

Ahhh. Did you make it this far? Now that I’ve saved the memories in a way that feels satisfying, it’s time to purge my downloads and photo files. Here’s a clearing kriya from one of my favorite Kundalini teachers to free your head space, heart space (and hard drive space!).

Bonus content: More Seth

“We have a bigger platform than ever. This is our moment,” says Seth Godin, who’s been blogging since 1990 (and writes way shorter blogs than this one). “Even if no one read it, I would blog every day,” he says.  If you’re worried about having your name out there, “Don’t write under you,” he says. “Use another name. They (readers) don’t know if you’re a dog.”

Seth Godin’s talk with Maria Forleo on blogging, time management (he doesn’t watch TV or do meetings) and other life-balance topics. I love what he says about writer’s block. Avoid it by making your blog a conversation.

 “No one gets talker’s block.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s