Gathering Rocks: Rock On

by Jeff Beyl

By Jeff Beyl

I have been collecting rocks. Actually, gathering, I think, is the better word. Collect seems so formal, so scientific and organized. I’m not quite so scientific and organized. So I gather rocks. Sometimes I try to identify them; I do have several rock identification books. I carry one or two with me on gathering excursions and I do use them. But not always. It’s not quite so formal with my gathering. I don’t categorize the rocks I find. I don’t label them and hide them away in little cotton-lined drawers. Wherever I go I pick up rocks and put them in my pocket or my bag. Sometimes I carry a geologist’s hammer and pick smaller rocks out of bigger rocks or split one open to see what’s inside. I gather rocks that I find interesting, pretty, of a specific color. I like green rocks, reddish rocks. I gather crystals and agates. I place them around my house and my yard. I place them on my desk at work. I keep one or two with me in my pocket. I change them as I find new ones that I fancy.

I have rocks from all over the world. I can pick up a rock from around my house and tell you where it came from. Chunks of brown lava from the top of Mount Rainier and small pieces of solid black lava that I found 120 feet under the surface of the Pacific Ocean off the island of Kauai. I have other pieces of lava, reddish and gnarled, from the Nevada desert and yellowish lava from Yellowstone Park in Wyoming. I gather rocks. Wherever I walk my eyes are constantly scanning for some type of rock to jump out at me. I pick them up if they catch my eye.

I have rocks from specific places of interest. I have rocks from the Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, from The Great Wall of China and The Forbidden City in Beijing. I have rocks from the graves of Ernest Hemingway and Robinson Jeffers. I have rocks from the gardens of the Summer Palace in Tokyo and the gardens in front of Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey in London. I have rocks from the beaches of St Lucia, Hawaii, Big Sur. They mean something to me. I have rocks from Barcelona, Pompeii, the ruins of Carthage in Tunis, North Africa and from the center of the bull-ring on the island of Majorca in the Mediterranean.

I have pieces of Petrified Wood that I gathered along the Yellowstone River in Montana and along the edge Puget Sound. I have Agates from the beaches of Oregon and perfectly formed crystals from the Mojave Desert.

Geologists have a saying; that rocks tell the story of the earth. If you hold a rock in your hand and are open to the story it has to tell, you are gazing backward in time. Geologists call this “Look-Back Time.” If you know just a little of what makes a rock a rock or a crystal a crystal, you can read the script within the rock. Geologists call this reading the “Language of the Stone.”

The present is the key to the past.

Sometimes I polish the rocks that I gather. I separate the various types of rocks, mainly according to hardness and color. I put them in a rock tumbler and tumble them. I change the tumbling grit every couple weeks. It’s always a thrill to open the tumbler after the final polish and see what comes out. I wash the polished rocks and lay them out and look at each one, I hold them up to the light, turning each in my hand. I haven’t seen them in several weeks and they are like old, but new friends. I may set them in an abalone shell and leave them on the counter.

I gather rocks. Sometimes I give them away. I was recently giving a presentation to a group of interior designers about the use of natural stone tiles and slabs in interior applications. I fancy myself an amateur geologist so I spoke a little about the geology of natural stone. I had laid several rocks from my collection next to corresponding pieces of natural stone tiles, on the table in front of me. I would pick them up and show them to the audience as part of my presentation. This is a piece of Obsidian. This is a Banded Agate. This is Granite. This is Limestone, Slate, Gneiss. This is Chert, Chalcedony, Onyx. After the seminar a woman came up to the table and was openly admiring some of the polished pieces of crystals that I had laid out.

“These are beautiful,” she said.
“Here,” I handed some to her. “You may have these.”
She gave me a strange look. “It’s okay,” I said. “They’re just rocks.”
She smiled, rolled the smooth, rounded pieces in her hand, nodded thanks and walked away.

Rock and roll. Rock me baby. A rollin’ and a tumblin’.

There is a philosophical school of thought called Gaia Theory. It is very complicated but it contends, in a nutshell, that all things, including the earth itself (and remember, the Earth is made up of rock in one form or another), are alive and sentient. We, as humans, are made up of water, atoms, etc. So is the earth. We are alive. We are sentient. If we take this a huge (and I mean huge) step further, then the earth is alive. Further still and we can say that the rocks we pick up on the beach are alive. If those rocks were to keep rolling around in the surf, they would eventually break down into smaller and smaller pieces. Sand. As time marches on, that sand would be pressed down by more sand that had piled on top. That sand would be pressed further and further down deeper into the earth until those pieces of sand, what was once our beach pebble would begin to change. Heat and pressure would work on it and it would metamorphose (meaning “Change Form”). It would become part of the earth again. This fascinates me. This is why I like giving rocks away to people. Share the land. Share life.

If the Earth is alive and sentient, what does it think of our petty squabbles? Does the Earth consider man and think; “Be patient”? If anything, the Earth is indeed patient. Do rocks feel pain? If we drop a bomb in the desert does the sand scream in agony? I would. I am a rock.

Sedimentary. Metamorphic. Igneous. Crystallization.

I have an old friend, a Rock and Roller from way back. He always carries a few small pebbles in his pocket. He’ll cup a few in his hand and while vigorously shaking your hand hello; he’ll deposit a couple into your palm. When you look down at the stones in your hand, he’ll smile and say, “Keep on Rockin’.” I guess it’s kind of corny but I think it’s kind of cool too. I still have some that he gave me more than, well, a long time ago. They reside in a small open shell and catch the morning light on my windowsill.

I gather rocks. Rock on.