Tourmaline-colored leaves at the end of a rainbow
Driving the quiet side roads of Boothbay Harbor, you can see the forest AND the trees. And now that foliage season is in full swing and the State of Maine, keeping track of these things, says the color is not yet peak around here, we’ve noticed a particular characteristic of the leaves this year. We don’t remember so many maple trees with graduating color, from green to red, with a pinkish hue that comes from blending the green and red in the same leaf.
The other day, in fact, we realized these trees remind us of the unique “watermelon tourmaline” that’s found in Maine, often in wedge-shaped items that highlight the watermelon-wedge effect. (We think our watermelon tourmaline would make great leaf carvings, actually.)
But the color got us investigating the gemstone that is part of Maine’s natural heritage. Turns out Maine designated tourmaline as the official state gemstone in 1971; but it’s been collected since 1820. In fact, the story of Elijah Hamlin (whose younger brother later served as Lincoln’s Vice President) reads like an adventure tale (and tells you something about the sort of place Maine is, that draws us in, year after year).
As the story goes, on a late autumn afternoon, heading home after a day of rock-collecting on Mt. Mica, young Elijah Hamlin caught a flash of sparkling green on the mountain path, lit by the setting sun. Investigating the roots of an upturned tree Elijah found an emerald-like crystal that proved to be tourmaline. Subsequent trips turned up gem-quality stones “hiding in plain sight” and as the website describing the story says, “Mt. Mica soon came to be known as the foremost site in North America for minerals of great variety and richness.”
Then in 1972, more rock-hounds on Plumbago Mountain discovered what “is now recognized as the largest gem find in North America.” Their tourmaline-hunting adventures took place in October of 1972. Between the history of Maine tourmalines and the colors in the trees this year, perhaps it’s inescapable that tourmaline should be the official birthstone of October.
There are places around Maine that let you search for local gemstones yourself. The thing is – you find gems “hidden in plain sight” all over Maine; and we’re proud to say that Spruce Point Inn is one of them.
One last thing. Rich pockets of tourmaline are also found in Australia, India and Sri Lanka. In fact the name comes from the Sinhalese word tura mali which means “stone of mixed colors.” The ancient legends of these lands say that tourmaline holds a range of hues “because it traveled along a rainbow, picking up those colors along the way.”
Some days, especially with the showers and low sun angles of October through the leaves, you find Spruce Point the end of a rainbow, too.