Fiery orange Maryellen Jasper.

Mine dumps (those step pyramid hills scattered liberally across the Iron Range) are built of overburden, waste shot-rock and low grade ore, etc. Not all waste is worthless.  

As a teen with limitless abilities to pick wrong-dumb things I joined with a similarly inspired youth to become a dump miner (rhymes with dumb minor). Fabulous wealth from overlooked minerals was the wish, one limited by the ability of hundred and ten pound boys to run carrying fifty pounds of loot. Run? Yes, run, because mine dumps were on fenced mining property. We had to break in, and though not heavily patrolled, guards spotting us would give chase (not too energetically as I recall). For an idiot boy like me with no earthly purpose, evading mine cops as I escaped with mineral loot was great fun. Hurriedly slipping through the fence with stolen property, we were giddily safe.  

For those not experienced in it or who have forgot, I offer my teen-being recollection of three (not in rank order because that changed with rankness) prime areas of life. One – from the ears up where delusion and distraction provided perpetual entertainment. Two – from the belt line down, a fascination that can’t be elaborated on here. Three – smack in the middle, the teen male gut able to at any time temporarily override all other interests. From the top down, if I couldn’t imagine it, digest it or you-know it, I was, like a soiled sock, able to ignore it. Though at the time it was able to thoroughly bewilder me, that life was starkly simple.  

Now, back to wrong doing. Our main goal, gads knows where we got the idea, was ill-got wealth in the form of Maryellen Jasper supposedly waiting in a dump outside Gilbert. Dump mining was not the sort of thing done with a bike, my principal transport at the time. Like true criminals we had to enlist services of a driver to wait and stand guard while we did the mineral heist. See how irresistibly exciting this was?

Luckily for us the typical driver was capable of self-amusement with a suitable magazine. In fact, the longer we dawdled in the dump the better for him, or so we assumed on account of being told “I’ll honk when I’m ready,” whatever that might mean.

The riches of Maryellen Jasper proved difficult to achieve. Other than funding purchase of a heavier rock hammer I had little to show. The driver, of course, had to be paid for gas and time. It is likely I lost money, a pattern I’ve stuck to ever since.  

Dump mining (never conducted in February) was a good lesson, however, and remains useful to this day. Where better for wasted youth to flourish than among piles of waste shot-rock in a dump? It was as if divine forces directed me to the perfect confrontation of desires (or fancies) with rock hard realities. Digging around in a dump you never knew how much disappointment was needed to find a pittance of reward.

In a way, dump mining was an excellent preparation for the labors of adulthood, the fated time when giving up a faithful two wheeler for a much desired jalopy meant gas, tires, insurance payments and miserably bewildering breakdowns. “What’s wrong with this thing? Why won’t it start?”

Disappointment weighed heavy as any dump when instead of parking somewhere secluded with the Suzy of the moment you had to play bewildered boy mechanic where panic outdid mechanical skills 100 to one.  
Good experience? Rewarding lessons? Yes. Because you never knew in advance the result of breaking neck to escape with a sack of rock to turn as bitterly disappointing as breakup with the Susan of the day. “Lot of impurities in this jasper. Give you ten cents a pound.” OK, so we needed to find the bright, clear, curly stuff out there in the ma-ba-zillions of tons of waste. Where do we start? The gleam of millionaireship was a faint glimmer after dragging five or six hundred pounds of waste for appraisal.

Things were a lot more difficult and complex than between the ears, in the tummy or the other place where I’d been working.   The allure of dump mining was strong in part due to the mysterious promise of “maybe this time.” How delicious that is. Never know what a mine dump expedition will uncover. What’s waste and overburden to some might be valuable for me. When you’ve smashed fingers and bloodied shins to achieve a sack of low-grade jasper your appreciation of factual matters takes a pointed turn. Do I want to tote another sack of worthless or take a closer look before I make the effort? Because it’s your effort and your bruises you start to take longer looks.

Is this good jasper or junk? And know what? Ten thousand years ago native people had the same question looking for sources of jasper-like deposits for stone tool making. (There’s an impressively large ancient jasper quarry just north of Thunder Bay near Mapleward.)  

When someone comes running from their dump mining with a goodly tidbit, I’m not inclined to accept pyrite as gold. Nope, sorry. But look at the color! It’s gold! Nope, it’s still pyrite, golden only in color. We’re often told, many times by many authoritative people, to accept gold on faith or color. There are people who really want us to believe what they so ardently believe.

But nope, the ancient step pyramid mine dumps taught me a thing or several. An insurrection? Yeah, I saw one, looked real in a place called Kabul. Other candidates not so much, same as I might slow the train for any claim.

Freedom? What makes this free and that not? Frankly, a forced consensus isn’t free, no more than writing a hostage letter with a gun to your head. I fled (sorry to say) the glittery North Shore because too much pyrite was passing as gold. Iron Range pits and dumps aren’t gold, either, but they don’t pretend to be nor claim other than hard-worked holes in the ground.