An ancient stone brings rock lovers to Douglas

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Jun. 13—DOUGLAS — Chase Anderson can sometimes barely recall what he did yesterday, but ask him about his collection of agate, a popular gemstone, and he has a story about each and every one of them.

The 36-year-old St. Louis Park, Minn., resident quit his job last year as a real estate dealer so he could become a full-time dealer in rocks. He let his hair grow out and became "The Agate Dude" to his clients.

"I looked at my real estate broker. He said, 'it seems like you want to be more of a rock guy than a Realtor," Anderson recalled. "And I laughed and told him the last six deals that I brought you were from my agate family."

Anderson's story illustrated a truth about many of the people who showed up Saturday for the annual "Southern Minnesota Lake Superior Agate Meet and Greet" at the Douglas Saloon & Social Club: This is a community that loves its rocks. While the Agate Dude might be an an outlier, it wasn't by a long shot.

Social media has brought about an explosion in the rock's popularity over the last decade. The Agate Dude said he uses Facebook livestreaming to promote and sell his rocks to his 35,000 followers.

"There's Facebook groups all over the place. There's Reddit groups. And it just took off, and I can barely keep up with the sales," he said.

Agate is an ornamental stone consisting of chalcedony and quartz, often distinguished by its banded appearance and rich colors. It is very old — 20 times older than a dinosaur skeleton.

Some of the oldest agate in the world started forming more than a billion years ago, Anderson said.

An agate starts with a cavity, a void in the rock. The best are found in basalt, a young volcanic rock. The cavities are formed from the gases trapped within the liquid volcanic material. Cavities are then filled in with silica-rich fluids material.

The silica keeps accumulating in the small holes in volcanic rocks, and over a long course of time, it ends up filling the holes completely.

Throughout history, agate has been revered by the masses, according to the Howard Fensterman Minerals webpage. It has been used by all cultures and civilizations. It has been worn by prophets. It has been used for protection and strength. It is believed to be a "grounding stone, balancing in the yin-yang energy in one's body."

Several of the people attending Saturday's event dated their fascination with agate to childhood experiences hunting for agate.

"It's just amazing to be able to be walking on the ground, and all of sudden you could come across this," Anderson said, holding up one beauty. "The fascination is all the colors and varieties. Not a single agate is alike. All of them are different."

Allan Johnson, a retiree, traveled from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to attend this year's meet and greet. Johnson has "vivid dreams" of large agates. When he sees a rock he likes, his face takes on the expression of someone who just sipped an exquisite wine

"I don't buy a stone unless it talks to me," he said. "That sounds strange. But that's how it works. I'm very selective about which ones I go after."

There are thousands of different types of agate across the world, Anderson said.

"There's tons of them, tons of variety. So everybody's kind of of obsessed with certain types of formations," he said.

Mark Kjer, a Rochester resident, said the stone appeals to casual collectors as well as scientists and artists. Many of the big agate shows are held in Moose Lake, Brainerd and the Twin Cities. He appreciates the Douglas event because it's close to home and convenient.

Jeff Abbas, a retired National Public Radio classical music programmer, is a professional agate photographer. Using his kitchen table and LED lighting, Abbas takes pictures that bring out the whorls and patterns of the gemstones in a way that the naked eye can't see. He stays busy taking photos for auctions and books.

"It's a huge market," he said.

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