Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Still More Agate Close Ups

While getting ready for the Cuyuna gem and mineral show this weekend, I found a couple of containers full of agates that I purchased last year from my friend, Terry Roses.  So I decided to pull out my microscope camera.

First, some rough Fairburn agates from South Dakota.  These agates formed in sedimentary rock pockets as compared to Lake Superior agates that formed in igneous rock pockets.  Some believe that Fairburn agates may also have developed from silica gel that hardened in place to create agate structure.  In contrast, most people believe that Lake Superior agates formed from the inflow of silica fluids into a pocket wherein there was slow development of agate structure filling the pocket from the outside in.

Notice that there are gaps in the agate bands of these Fairburns.  I'm wondering if these gaps are indicative that the agate dif form from silica gel that had other minerals/materials randomly mixed in the gel that became entombed.

For contrast, here are some Lake Superior agate close ups.  Most of these are cut and either unpolished or partially polished slabs.  Notice there the random deposits of other material are not present, such as there were with the Fairburn agates.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Another Freighter Convoy and Sable Lake

Since Lake Superior still has over 50 percent ice coverage, the shipping schedule is still way behind schedule.  The thick ice requires the freighters to travel in convoys behind an ice breaker.  Yet another convoy travelled by Grand Marais yesterday afternoon.

The ice breaker....

A couple of the freighters.  The convoy was east bound.

The dark speck on the horizon is the ice breaker.  As you can see, the shoreline is still socked in with ice.  As the snow and ice melt, the sand concentrates on top of the bergs.

I decided to drive around H58 to see if the road commission has punched through yet.  They have plowed around Sable Falls to Sable Lake -- where they stopped.

Sable Lake is still ice covered.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Bat, Loons, and Falcon

This weekend I spent the weekend with a group of friends on Brevort Lake in Moran.  This was the 27th year that we have gotten together:  fun was had by all.  Although it was a bit chilly and it rained the first day, the sun finally came out, along with animals enjoying spring and the little bit of open water available along the shoreline of the lake. 

First there was a solitary bat that was flying around and dipping across the surface of the open water to get drinks.  He then attached to a tree, rested, and soaked up the rays.  The main part of the bat's body was around four inches.  His wing span was closer to a foot.

The bats front feet define the wings.  The back feet he uses to attach upside down.

We also saw swans, loons, ducks, a falcon, and a mother bear with her cubs.  Unfortunately, the bears were too far away for me to get photos.  We had a couple of pairs of binoculars, so we were able to at least the bears play along the shoreline.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

More Agate Close Ups

I took a few more USB microscope photos last night.  These are Brazilian agates.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Ice is still Hugging the Shore

Yesterday I drove over to Woodland Park to see if the rumor is true.  Yes, some brave soles are camping, even though most of the park is still covered in snow.

Ice is still hugging the shore and covering most of Lake Superior.  There are some rocks, however, showing farther up the beach.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

All About Maple Syrup

While spending time in the Keweenaw for Easter, we visited a maple syrup making operation owned and operated by my daughter-in-law's uncle.  I must say that I was extremely impressed.   He has designed, automated, and modernized the sugar bush.

Before I get to describing Mark's incredible creation -- a little bit of history from the web page :

When it comes to maple syrup:  it all starts with the sugar maple.  Acer saccharum Marsh. (sugar maple or rock maple) is a species of maple native to the hardwood forests of northeastern North America.

Annual maple syrup production figures from the web page are below:

Quebec, Canada:  7, 989,000 gallons
Vermont, USA:  890,000 gallons
Ontario, Canada:  400,000 gallons
New York, USA:  312,000 gallons
Maine, USA: 310,000 gallons
New Brunswick, Canada:  300,000 gallons
Wisconsin, USA:  117,000 gallons
New Hampshire, USA:  87,000 gallons
Michigan, USA:  82, 000 gallons
Ohio, USA:  65,000 gallons
Pennsylvania, USA:  54,000 gallons.
Massachusetts, USA: 29,000 gallons
Nova Scotia, Canada:   22, 000 gallons
Connecticut, USA: 9,000 gallons

To make maple syrup, you must tap and collect the sap from sugar maples. Plant sap is a fluid transported in xylem cells of a plant. The xylem cells transport water and nutrients throughout the plant upward from the roots to the leaves.  It is interesting that scientists do not agree on exactly how trees and other plants do this. Plant sap is not to be confused with latex, resin or cell sap; it is a separate substance, separately produced, and with different components and functions.  The sap of the sugar maple has a sugar content of around two percent.

No one is really sure just how long people have been practicing the art and science of making this wonderful product from the sap of a tree. We do know that Native Americans were already using maple sap to flavor their food long before European settlers discovered its sweetness. One legend states that a chief removed his tomahawk from the trunk of a sugar maple tree, where he had thrown it the night before. As the sun got higher, the sap began to drip from the gash in the tree. The Chief's wife tasted it and discovered that it didn't taste bad, so she used it to cook the meat. Later when the meat was cooked, the sap boiled down to a syrup. The irresistibly sweet scent and taste of the maple meat so delighted the Chief that he named it Sinzibuckwud—a word meaning “drawn from trees.” This became the word used most often by Native Americans when referring to maple syrup.

Another legend is about an Indian woman named Moqua. The story was recounted in the April 1896 issue of The Atlantic Monthly by Vermonter Rowland E. Robinson. The story said that Moqua was cooking a prime cut of moose for her husband, the hunter Woksis. When she became preoccupied with her quill-work and let the pot boil dry she did not have time to melt some snow so she instead added liquid by using some maple sap she had been saving to make a beverage. According to the story, Woksis was so impressed with the meal that he broke the pot so he could lick the last of the “goo” from the pot shards.

Below is a photo of an actual Native American maple syrup storage container.

Maple syrup is made from the xylem sap harvested from sugar maple trees.  A tap is used to access the xylem conduit vessels in the tree.  Originally the taps were made of wood, then metal, with a collection bucket -- and now with tubing and a pump system.

Getting back to Mark's sugar bush -- he has tapped and connected almost 20,000 trees to his pump system.  Yes, all the tree sap flows automatically into a collection shed.  The first picture below shows the pump shed on the right and the black lines feeding into the shed from the maple trees.

Below is a photo showing the lines coming into the pump shed.

The pure tree sap is shown below pouring into one of the collection tanks.

Jericho checking out the collection vessels.  Since the main pump is in this shed -- it was very loud.

This is what Jericho was looking at:  one of the collection tanks.

From the pump shed the sap is pumped to the sugar bush building.  You can see the lines below, as well as the bin of wood chips.  Mark uses these wood chips to fuel the fire that boils the sap down.  He gets the wood chips from a local mill.

Inside the sugar bush building, there is a giant holding tank to store the sap and feed the sap reduction process.

Although the entire operation is impressive, my favorite part is the reverse osmosis machine.  Since it takes 35 to 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup -- most of the work involves removing the water.  Rather than spend the energy to boil all the water out, Mark removes 85 percent  of the water using reverse osmosis.

From the reverse osmosis machine, the somewhat more purified fluids are pumped to the boiling pans.  Natural diatomaceous earth is added to the fluid to collect and remove impurities.  Next, Mark uses three boiling pans and has to watch them carefully to make sure that the syrup does not scorch.  All of this infrastructure Mark has built himself. 

Shown below, Jericho is talking with Mark's son, Brad (Jericho's cousin).  During the time that the sap is flowing, which can last from a week to a few weeks depending on the needed freeze/thaw cycle, sometimes they have to boil to 3 or 4 in the morning. 

There is a peek hole to look at the fire below the boiling pans.

Boiling on this batch is done:  below Mark is draining the syrup from the boiling pan.

The syrup is filtered to remove the diatomaceous earth/impurities.

Then the now purified syrup is drained into drums for storage.

When needed, Mark and his family members fill retail containers.  Mark sells several different sizes, some in fancier jugs and others in canning jars.  I am working on possibly selling Mark's syrup in the museum's gift shop this summer.

Once the sap is pumped into the building, it only takes 20 minutes to reduce it down and drain the purified syrup into the storage drums.  However, each batch is limited so Mark and Brad process batch, after batch, after batch.........

Below is a picture of the sugar bush building from the outside. Yes, in the lower right corner of the photo that is a snow bank.

Thanks to Mark, and his sister, Sandy (Jericho's mother) for the great tour.