SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


How The World Wags

Tanzanite Basin
By Dave Kiffer


November 28, 2005

It's going to be a long winter and no I'm not referring to the darkness, the icky weather or even the dozens of local folks chewing off their arms to extricate themselves from domestic entanglements.

I just can't wait for the spring because, next year I'm going to make a killing in tanzanite.

You laugh, but a couple of weeks ago, I learned something that shocked me about mining in Southeast Alaska and I thought I already knew everything there was to know. My great-grandfather was mining here in the 1890s. It's in the blood. Like a spirochete.

The new information came to me in a dream.

Now, stop laughing. Is there any one among you who hasn't experienced a major epiphany in a dream? Or perhaps at least felt an odd dream -ike revelation reaching out to you as you negotiate the downtown hordes each summer?

Okay, maybe it seems more like a nightmare sometimes, but in general watching the New Economy (as opposed to the Gnu Economy, but that's another column) take over from the previous ones makes my head spin faster than the farmhouse in the Wizard of Oz. And we all know where that dream led.

So I am certainly predisposed to "follow, follow, follow" just about any direction that comes to me these days in a dream - "yellow bricked" or not.

In my recent dream, I am standing in a store called "Tanzanite R Us."

As is often the case in my dreams, I have no logical reason for being there. I just am. I often find myself asking myself why I am in a certain dream. Usually as the train is barreling down toward me or the large shark is circling my shrinking boat. I never get a good answer. I just wake up, still shaking my head, mumbling "that was weird"

Anyway, I am standing in the stark bright white lighting of "Tanzanite R Us." It reminds me of those movie versions of what the waiting room of heaven is like. Clean, very well-lighted and very limited vending machine options.

There is a couple standing in front of me, being attended to by the oily and obsequious clerk.

The woman and her husband are dressed in matching windbreakers. The husband clearly wishes he was anywhere else than right here, right in this jewelry store. He has a far away expression that indicates he is already on the salmon charter that was - no doubt - the "cause" of this quick visit to the jewelry store ("You want to go fishing? We've been planning this trip for 10 years! You are not going fishing!").

The wife has a somewhat smug expression that indicates she is pleased to be in this jewelry store at this point in time (see above).

The clerk has an expression that indicates he is also pleased - very pleased - they are wearing matching windbreakers.

Since this particular dream seems to be featuring a mostly first person, rather than an omniscient narrator, I can not see my own expression. Which is just as well.

The clerk is trying to convince the woman that she wants to purchase a "little something in tanzanite" but she is clearly skeptical.

"Don't you have anything more 'local?'" she asks.

His head moves slightly, somewhat reminiscent of that little bobble that President Reagan used to make right before saying "there you go again."

"Tanzanite," the clerk responds, drawing the word into at least seven syllables, "is as native to Alaska as gold."

The husband scrunches up his face. I assume he is finding this answer ludicrous, but in reality his pre-charter reverie has probably just been broken by the image of his line suddenly going slack. It is up to the wife to continue the battle of wits with the temeritous tanzanite trader.

"I don't believe that." she says, very sure of her facts. "I heard it came from Africa."

The clerk's head continues to bobble.

"Madam, I assure you that tanzanite has been mined in great quantities in the hills of Ketchikan since before the Civil War," he says, adding the rarely heard French pronunciation of "Civil War."

She falters for a minute. She has heard of the Civil War. It lends credence to the clerk's claims. But she is not yet sold.

"But they didn't mention the tanzanite mining in the port talk we had on the ship this morning."

The clerk's bobble increases almost imperceptibly.

"What ship are you on?" he presses his advantage.

"Why the Pyrite Princess of course," she answers.

The clerk sighs slightly. By now, the husband's fingers are curling again and his forearms are visibly contracting. He must have another fish on.

"Madam," the clerk continues. "The mountains behind this town are thick with tanzanite nodules. If you were to step outside and look at the hillside you could almost see them glinting in the sun."

The sun was indeed shining. That's how I knew it was a dream.

The woman was biting her lip. The clerk continues to press.

"Why else would they call the area behind Ketchikan 'Tanzanite Basin'" he concludes.

She falters.

"Uh, I don't know," she turns to her husband. "What do you think, dear?"

"I never would have believed it," he replies, openly grinning. The 40 pound king salmon has just been pulled aboard.

The woman is wavering. The clerk sets the hook.

"Perhaps Madam, Alaska Tanzanite is not right for you," he says, his head coming to a complete stop. His eyes peering darkly into hers. "Maybe you would prefer diamonds or another gemstone that is not SO native."

Her jaw suddenly steels and she jerks her head back.

"I didn't come 10,000 miles from New York to buy something that I could have gotten on Fifth Avenue Let's look at those earrings," she says. Her husband's fingers are still curling but they now form the outline of a beer.

The clerk smiles.

 "Gauge or Chandelier," he says, his voice echoing.

At this point, I wake up, bathed in sweat and elated. I scramble to find my well-thumbed copy of the Mining Act of 1872.

Suddenly everything is so clear. The reason that mines in this area have been mediocre is that we've been looking for the wrong danged mother lode.

To heck with those hints of gold and traces of silver in the odd bit of local quartz. It's time to start blasting those tanzanite nodules out of the hard rock.

Come next summer, I'm gonna be drilling adits all over Granite, uh, Tanzanite Basin.

But don't tell anyone. It was my dream and I get first dibs.



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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