April 26, 2010

LITCHFIELD ROCKS If it's U.S. sodalite, it's probably from here

BY BETTY ADAMS Staff Writer

LITCHFIELD -- Sodalite is not a low-calorie soft drink. It doesn't come in a bottle. It isn't even a liquid.

click image to enlarge

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

It's a deep blue mineral that's found in limited locations in the world, among them Brazil, Namibia, Canada and ... Litchfield.

The yearbook of the now-defunct Litchfield Academy was called the "Sodalite"; the town's newsletter is named the "Sodalite," a chunk of sodalite is on display in the Town Office, and sodalite appears in the town seal.

Litchfield Town Clerk Doris Parlin wears a long necklace of blue and white stones containing sodalite -- a gift from Deputy Town Clerk Cindy Burnham.

"I like it because it's representative of Litchfield," said Parlin. Her sons have worn cuff links and a tiepin featuring sodalite.

Burnham, who crafts jewelry as a hobby, features sodalite in much of her work. "Sodalite is to Litchfield as the chickadee is to Maine," she said.

If it's sodalite from the United States, chances are, it's from Litchfield.

"It's become entrenched in literature and very well-known," said Woodrow Thompson, a geologist/mineralogist with the Maine Geological Survey. "It's such an old location. Specimens from there have been distributed far and wide. It's in a lot of museums and in a lot of collections."

The Smithsonian Institution lists a half-dozen or so sodalite specimens from the United States, with one described as a 4.44-carat weight medium dark blue oval cabochon from Litchfield.

It came from Dana and Lori Twiss' farm. They bought a Dennis Hill property famous for its sodalite deposit in 1993 and renamed it White Birch Farm.

Known as the Sodalite Farm when it was in the Roth family, the site of a played-out sodalite mining area is just across Route 126 from their farm. Originally, it was one larger property.

"The Smithsonian sample came from here," Dana Twiss said. "They took it out of here in barrel-loads."

Three large boulders just beyond the Twiss post-and-beam barn bear reflective flecks of different types of minerals. One is a favorite perch for Freemont, their dog whose coat mimics the boulder striations.

"Where you find the sodalite is from breaking the rocks apart," Dana Twiss said. "When you find it within the rocks themselves, it's a deep blue."

In the house, they keep a handful of small stones dotted with sodalite blue, cancrinite yellow, green tourmaline and white nepheline.

"It's just rock to us," said Lori Twiss, but she handles the rocks carefully and rearranges them next to a dark blue sodalite bead necklace -- probably made with Canadian sodalite -- and strings of lighter-colored sodalite (which could have come from Brazil).

The couple owns "A Collector's Guide to Maine Mineral Localities" published in 1991 and opened to the map indicating "Litchfield Sodalite Locality." People who come to the Litchfield Town Office asking about sodalite are given a photocopy of that page.

Three sites are marked on the Twiss land, but they do not allow people to prospect on their property.

Twiss formerly worked at the Maine State Museum as a contractor and interim curator and currently works for the Maine Historical Society, as an inventory and cataloging project manager. Lori Twiss is technology integrator at Edward Little High School in Auburn.

While the literature says the mineral -- chemical makeup Na8 Al6 Si6 O24 C12 -- was first discovered in Greenland, the Litchfield deposit was uncovered about 1850 according to "Litchfield Yesterdays." In 1850, Charles T. Jackson, Maine's first state geologist, reported analyses of cancrinite and nepheline from Litchfield, Thompson said.

Large specimens of sodalite -- up to several pounds -- have been found at the Princess Sodalite Mine, Ontario; it is also found on Mont St. Hilaire, near Montreal, he said.

(Continued on page 2)

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