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The following is an
Alaska/boat/stone/art story. It is about the discovery of Jupiter
marble. This story was first published in the Northwest Stone
Sculptors Magazine, and then in Sculpture Journal, Sept. 2002.
It is now incorporated into the author's book Wanderlusting.
McWilliams of Stone Arts of Alaska
ON THE EDGE
Not many people
set foot on the west side of Dall Island. Commercial fishing
boats pass by but few fishermen take time to anchor and wander its
craggy shores. Pleasure boats seldom venture in the area, its
waters too well known for high seas, swift currents, and hidden rocks.
The west side of Dall Island is not en route to any town, village,
mine, logging camp or any other place regularly visited. Only
the open Pacific Ocean lies nearby. Anyone who gets to the outside of Dall
Island must really want to go there.
I really want to
go there, to return to a certain spot I marked with an “X” on my
nautical chart in 1992. My charter boat, the M/V Hyak, was serving
then as a floating base camp for four government geologists. While at
anchor in one of the many bays on Dall’s west side, I found an outcrop
on shore of a beautiful colored marble. I had opportunity
then to only pick up a couple loose lying stones on the beach and to
mark this “X”on the chart before me now. Over the following winter, I
cut one of the stones I found with my rock saw and polished it with
diamond abrasives. A sculptor in Seattle made a very attractive bowl from another
stone I picked up. A third piece went to a man who makes spheres
with lapidary equipment. The small sphere he made of the material,
three inches in diameter, turned out beautifully. The marble is
brightly banded, with red stripes predominating. Viewers of that
first sphere commented “it looks just like Jupiter.” The name
stuck. I called the stone "Jupiter Marble."
finally, I head the Hyak south to that “X” that has enticed me for so
long. The time and place are finally right — my charter season is
over and, having relocated my boat business to Craig, on Prince of
Wales, I reside much closer to Dall Island. Because the site is in
the Tongass National Forest, I obtain a Forest Service “Special Use”
permit for the collection of stone. Mike Kampnich will take time off
from his job as Craig’s harbor master to join me on the trip. Mike is
sure to be a great asset. He is “boat wise.” He loves beautiful
stone, having caught some of the “rock pox” himself. And, a muscular
fellow, he won’t shy when carrying time comes. I figure five days for
the trip -- one day to get there, one day back, three days at the
September 12, 1997
report calls for northwest winds, 20 to 25 knots. For the
mariner in southeast Alaska, northwest winds are a mixed blessing.
On the positive side, they mean clear weather. The distant
snow-clad mountains can be appreciated in all their glory, the whales
and porpoises can be watched a mile off; the overall visibility is
excellent. On the negative, these winds can churn some very
uncomfortable seas, often as a steep chop that is no fun at all.
The first twenty miles of the trip from Craig to the marble site at
the south end of Dall Island is in protected waters, in the lee of
other offshore islands. While running, Mike and I secure
everything on the boat that can go flying once we encounter the open
ocean. Entering the pass between islands that leads to the
outside Pacific, we see rolling whitecaps ahead.
On the outside,
we turn southeast, running parallel and about a mile off Dall Island’s
coast. The seas, out of the northwest, come from behind. A long, cigar-shaped boat, the Hyak rides well a following sea.
But, shallow drafted, she is not designed as an open ocean craft.
The waves we encounter, about eight feet from trough to crest, push
her comfortable limit. The boat pitches up and down like a
seesaw. In the wheelhouse, we hold on with our legs spread
apart for the stability. When the boat is bow up, we see only
blue sky out our forward windows; when she plows bow down, we see only
green water. Sometimes, the Hyak buries her nose as she descends
from a crest, sending back a flood of water over the decks when she
The seas build as
the afternoon progresses —
we think to about ten feet. We
slow to half speed and discuss ducking into the next available
anchorage and waiting until morning, when northwest seas are typically
a little calmer. We opt to keep going. It is not much
farther. We make our anchorage shortly before nightfall.
We took our beating on the outside for five hours.
September 13, 1997
We tow a 14'
aluminum skiff behind the Hyak, our means of going ashore. Mike
and I tie the skiff alongside the Hyak, mount its outboard, load my
hand quarrying tools — a pick and a shovel, a variety of big hammers
and chisels, long pry bars and wedges.
On shore, we find
the Jupiter marble where I had marked it. Wet, with its colors
highlighted by the morning dew, it is even more beautiful in
place than in memory. The five foot wide seam, covered with
barnacles and seaweed, runs perpendicular to the lay of the beach,
emerging from salt water at one end and disappearing at the other
under the island's dense cover of rainforest.
we consider the marble in front of us, our appreciation of its beauty
transforms into disappointment — we realize that the seam can yield
little, if any, stone. The marble stratum is vertically dipping
-- lying on end, virtually straight up and down. Relatively
soft, the marble is eroded down to several feet below the harder
non-marble strata enclosing it. It is structurally walled in.
Warn smooth by water, there are no cracks to work in a bar or a wedge.
Nothing can be pried loose. We don’t find any nice loose stones
lying about the beach either. I must have picked up the few there five
Yet, hope to find
beautiful sculpting stone springs eternal. The marble stratum we
observe on the beach has a very distinct strike, or directionality.
Perhaps by walking in the direction it runs, we can find the marble
seam in outcrop somewhere inland. I motor the skiff back to
the Hyak to get my compass. I take the seam's bearing
- 48 degrees west of north. With compass in hand, we
plunge into the woods.
in southeast Alaska takes place on the beach or along stream beds,
where bedrock is exposed and can be seen. It is much more
difficult in the rainforest. There, great trees of Sitka spruce,
western hemlock, and red or yellow cedar massively cover much of the ground.
Thickets of huckleberry, salmonberry, and devils club -- the forest's
head-high second-level canopy -- are
often so dense that you can't see your hand in front of your face.
Knee-high ferns, salal, and skunk cabbage further hide the ground --
you seldom can see either your feet or where or on what they might land. Below the knee high
stuff is a six-inches-deep mat of moss. Below
that are roots, duff, and dirt. Generally speaking, you cannot find
an exposed rock on a bet. Yet, Mike and I have no choice. If we are
to find any Jupiter marble, it must come from some place inland.
The strike of the
marble seam leads us along a hillside that inclines at about 40
degrees. The terrain, characteristic of limestone
topography (marble is a metamorphosed limestone), is wrinkled with ridges
and gullies. Climbing up and down, we examine a few moss covered outcrops protruding along the ridge sides. When
we peel back the moss, we indeed find marble at times, but it is all a dull,
unhandsome grey/white. No color. No Jupiter. Mike and I crisscross the hillside all day.
Unless the seam has been offset by some past earth movement, we know
from our compass bearing that sometimes we must be walking right over it.
discouraged by late afternoon, Mike and I begin our return to the
beach where we left the skiff. Off to our right, I see a well
known and pleasing sight — the bright orange of “chicken of the woods”
mushrooms. (These mushrooms, which grow in shelves on the sides
of decaying trees, are delicious when sautéed with butter, garlic, and
a pinch of nutmeg.) We veer off course to pick a few for dinner.
to me, a hundred feet to my right, Mike suddenly shouts: “Forget the
mushrooms, come here.” He sounds very excited. I beat
through the brush to find him on his hands and knees. He is bent
over about the only bare rock we have come across the whole day.
It is Jupiter marble.
First Find - Sept. 13, 1997
Mike and I strip
away the moss covering nearby rocks. As we lay bare the
beautiful body of rock underneath, we plainly see that we have an
actual outcrop of the marble strata and not just a loose boulder or two
moved there by glacial or gravitational forces. We had walked by
this outcrop, a twenty-by-fifty feet hump of rock, several times
earlier and had missed this little window into its content that Mike
had chanced upon. It is visible only from its uphill side and
only from the precise route that Mike had walked. It would not have
been seen at all if it were not for the beckon of the wild mushrooms.
The day has progressed too far to do more than simply admire our
discovery, and pluck some tasty mycological supplement to our dinner. Marking
our trail with care, we return to the skiff.
September 14, 1997
moss and dirt, we expose a ten foot long segment of the Jupiter marble
stratum. Most of what we see is quite solidly attached to mother
earth but we need not try to break anything free -- there are plenty of
loose lying pieces of Jupiter as well. These stones, once
part of the seam, are sloughed off and held in place only by the dirt
and debris of the forest floor. The erosional forces of nature
have done the hard part for us.
limestone) has a characteristic manner of erosion, one easy to discern
once known. Most of its erosion results from chemical
dissolution, that is, in the presence of water, its surface simply
dissolves away over time. The sloughed rocks that Mike and I find hidden under the
moss and duff of the forest floor would eventually dissolve away to
nothing if left in place in their water saturated environment.
If a body of marble or limestone also has an open fracture, due perhaps to an
earth movement, the erosion can be accelerated. Water enters the
fracture, dissolves its walls, and widens the breach. Freezing in
winter, water in a fracture expands which contributes to the splitting
process in a secondary, mechanical way. Tree roots, finding a
foothold in the fractures, grow and push, adding an organic component to
the splitting process. Eventually, the fractured portions of
the seam separate totally from the parent rock.
Shaped by running
water and dissolution, marble (or limestone) rocks can themselves be
wonderful sculpture. Smooth, rounded edges and holes passing
through the entirety of the rock are characteristic. Beyond
improvement by the hand of man, many of the rocks we lay aside will be
reserved as “natural sculpture”.
By the end of the day, we have a nice group of
stones set by our trail-head. The most beautifully shaped stones
- the "natural sculpture" - we lay apart from the others. They
get "kid glove" handling, carried one at a time and never piled
against or on top
of each other, all to prevent unsightly scuff marks.
September 15, 1997
Carrying day. All together, there may be twelve hundred pounds
to be carried to our landing. The backpack loads range from
thirty to one hundred
pounds. One of our backpacks is not a pack but a pack-board - a
metal frame with ropes to tie in the object to be carried. It is
typically used for game. Our trail
zigzags downhill, a distance of about one hundred yards. There are
logs to climb over, branches of wiry huckleberry to snare our feet,
broad briar-laden leaves of devils club to rake our hands and faces.
There are several very steep sections that we sometimes, by intention
or not, descend on our rears.
main concern is footing, not to twist an ankle or a knee.
Taking our time,
we get all the rocks to the beach but one last big one. I think
it is simply too big. Yet I really love it. Its natural shape
suggests a whale’s head. It has a perfectly placed eye, an
eroded hole passing entirely through it. I figure it weighs 250
pounds. Mike says: “We can carry it.” “No way,” I
answer. We sit on the hillside and think about it. A plan
We return to the
skiff and load the stone already carried to the beach. We take
the skiff to the Hyak and off-load the stone, then find a wood saw, a
section of old rope, and some heavy seine net that I have stowed in my
“might-need-someday” store of odds and ends. Back at the marble
site, we cut a small sapling to use as a pole and lash the net to it
with the rope. Mike is sure the two of us together can sling the
big stone down the hill. While I know he can carry his end —
I’d already seen him shoulder big bucks out of the woods — I doubt even more when I first heft mine. “Come
on,” he encourages, “We can do it.”
Having the downhill side, he packs the most weight, but he has the
advantage of seeing where to place his feet. The rock swinging between
us blocks my view. I often trip, dumping my end. The steep
portions of the trail bring welcome relief — we drop the stone and
roll it down. Still, by the time we reach the beach, my knee
muscles are in spasms and my right shoulder feels like it may forever
tilt an inch closer to the ground.
We lift the big
stone into the skiff but make no attempt to lift it out again onto the
Hyak, to place with the rest of the marble now sitting on the aft
deck. I have towed the skiff well enough before with one or two
big rocks left inside and I figure to do it again.
September 16, 1997
We have had only
blue skies and northwest winds since the beginning of our trip —
excellent weather for our work, or dinner on the foredeck, or photographing the
fine waterfall behind our anchorage but lousy for running a boat in
open waters. We depart our anchorage to confront the same eight
to ten foot waves as before. Our return run heads us directly
into the oncoming seas. Thinking we can slog through if we
go slow enough, we beat into white blowing water for several hours.
The scenery on the Dall Island shore, now on our starboard side,
radiates in its clarity and beauty, but we wish it would pass by a
little faster. The skiff towed behind us bucks wildly up and
down, spraying water in big arcs from along its sides.
We prod on.
After two hours, the radar indicates only seven miles made good from
our starting point. We are taking more water than I like over
the foredeck. I am concerned about the rocks on the aft deck.
Although secured pretty well with lines and dunnage, they certainly would create an unwelcome
havoc, and a dangerous instability, if they suddenly broke loose and
started to slide.
I ask Mike to go aft to check on things. I hear his bellow over
the wind: “The skiff is gone.”
“What!” I look
behind the Hyak and see only white water and the untaunt tow line, its parted
far end skittering over the waves. The added weight of that big
rock and the up-and-down seas’ snapping of the line surely caused the
break. We turn around, taking the invariable few licks on the
beam as we do. Through binoculars, we spot the little boat, when both
it and we are on top of waves. The skiff looks a mile or
I bring the Hyak
to near alongside the bobbing 14' boat. We use a pike pole (a
long aluminum pole with a hook on the end) to pull it in closer.
With a replacement line in hand, Mike waits for the right moment to
jump from the rising and falling Hyak into the rising and falling
skiff. I attempt to both keep the Hyak headed into the waves to
minimize her rolling and to hold the skiff close-to with the pike
pole. Mike jumps, ties a new line to the skiff’s tow cleat
with a quick bowline, jumps back.
Having had about
as much of this fun as we can stand, we decide to proceed south and
return to Craig the long way, by going around Dall’s southern end and
coming up its protected east side. Doing so adds twenty miles to
our return but it puts these unruly seas astern, where the Hyak can
better ride them. A five-hour journey going north in good weather, our
round-about trip home takes us fourteen.
stone in the still wild areas of Alaska is the first great pleasure.
Finding a beautiful new sculpting stone, one that has never been
worked, indeed never been seen, is the second pleasure. Hand
quarrying, while it resembles work at times, may be very exciting as
each new stone is lifted for its first time ever from under its
blanket of concealing earth. Once the stone makes it home, it
has to be cleaned with high pressure water to remove the dirt still
embedded in its tiny holes and crevices. I always look forward
to this first revealing of the stone’s full natural beauty, a process
that brings “oohs” and “ahhs” from spectators. The ultimate
pleasure comes in seeing my stone displayed and appreciated by people
who love it as much as I do.
Flowers by Nicki Oberholtzer
Torso by Michael Binkley
by Gary McWilliams
To see available raw stone, go to
Jupiter Marble Photo Gallery. To
see fine and functional art in Jupiter Marble, go to
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