I was a little kid when I found out that my dad’s uncle Bernie found a fifty-pound agate “somewhere near Moose Lake, Minnesota.” Like most kids who grew up around Lake Superior, I already had a small rock collection; but thinking about The Moder Agate, I began to dream of bigger things.
I told my dad that I needed to find out exactly where it had been found so I could have one of my own. “Ask your Grandpa,” was all I got out of him. I could ask my Grandpa Merwin if he knew about agates, and about this agate in particular. I thought he knew about most things. He had even taken me dowsing, or water-witching, as the dowser called it, when we found the place to put the well.
But my Grandpa didn’t always like to answer questions. More than one time he told me, “You don’t have to say everything you know.” And if someone asked him where he caught a certain fish, he would sometimes grab his bottom lip and smile, saying “Right here.”
I asked about the agate, learning only that there was more than one rumored location for its finding. I think he knew and didn’t want to say. I never asked him about it again. My obsession with rock hunting quickly turned into an obsession with the 1979 Baltimore Orioles, but I never forgot about the Moder Agate.
My Grandpa Merwin was the most patient man I ever met. With great effort, over many years he taught me to slow down, how to look, and how to see. Whitetail Deer, rabbits, birds, he saw things before anyone else knew they were there. You might not have known if he didn’t tell you. He also knew where to look. He told me it was important to be lucky, but more important to pay attention. It is now my favorite thing to do.
I’m fifty-four years old. I have thousands of agates. Most are beautiful and small. The largest weighs just over twenty pounds. I spend hundreds of days out looking, meandering. Many times I have thought about my dad’s uncle Bernie and his fifty-pound agate.
I often wondered, did he pick it like a clover from a flat green patch, four leaves folded neatly at the edges of his battered Platte book? Was it sprawled across the acorn hillside in a triangle of sneezeweed, surrounded by bracken and purple clematis? Did he pluck it like crayfish from a shallow creek? Find it like an arrowhead on the high uneven banks of the Cloquet River? In a construction site? Someplace he wasn’t supposed to be? Bobcat-padding over gleaming iron tracks? Or in Barnum, off the highway, in an early season field among miles of breathing corn, kneeling in uncertain air?
Once it housed in a window in Moose Lake, Minnesota. Now it sits forgotten at the university on a shelf next to a dusty little card that does not say, but could:
“This agate has the heart of a seven-walled city, jellied blood the fires of saints, mirrored eyes turning dreams to open engines, each an unborn star grafted onto bleak, dark doors.”