When I was in grade school in Oklahoma, I was overjoyed to find what the locals called “rose rocks” which were reddish, brick colored rocks that, in fact, looked like roses. They were extremely common and I collected an enormous quantity of them which I added to my already existing hoard, many of which I kept in a black vinyl bag that my mom had found for me; I think it may have started life as some sort of purse—a very large purse—but in any case it served well for what storing my rock collection.
Everywhere we went, I would gather rocks, and I became pretty good and identifying them. I gathered iron pyrite in New Mexico and Oklahoma, limestone in Ohio, and mica, granite, quartz and slate everywhere.
Then I began discovering fossils. Ohio turned out to be an especially lavish environment. The playground of the school I attended one year in elementary school—third grade, while my dad was doing his first tour of duty in Vietnam—was covered with limestone gravel. And in that limestone gravel, I found lots and lots of fossils that were surprisingly good.
None of them would be valuable from a paleontological standpoint: they were mined and ground up and dumped on a school playground, so they were out of context. It’s similar to the problem of archaeological materials that are sold on the antiquities market: not only can they not really be authenticated, since no one knows where they were dug up, what level they were dug from, or any details like that, the lack of any precise location and setting means their historical context is forever uncertain.
Nevertheless, finding beautiful fossils of clams, snails, and trilobites was certainly a treat for me. Later, at my grandparents’ farm in Sunbury, Ohio, I found some good fossils of clams and snails locked in sandstone and slate that was used as part of the building material for a bridge over the creek on their property. Once again, the rocks and the fossils were out of place and useless for science, but I very much enjoyed finding them. Every time I visited the farm, I would hunt around that bridge and in the creek looking for fossils and other interesting rocks.
Years later, in Nevada, my parents bought me a rock polishing kit. It consisted of a plastic drum with a lid, containers of grit of various sorts, and a box of rocks. There was also a machine that you plugged in that would spin the plastic drum slowly. The idea was that you took the drum, filled it with the rough grit, added some water, and turned it on. Over several weeks of spinning, you periodically changed out the grit to ever finer varieties. The kit came with instructions that I followed carefully which outlined the order of the grits and the length of time to let each kind spin.
I forget the details, but I think from start to finish it took about a month. And it worked just fine. At the end of that time I had some very pretty, very shiny, and very smooth stones. It turned out to be a one shot deal, however. The grit had worn out the plastic drum, and if I wanted to ever do it again, I would have had to buy a new drum and new grits, and I could never find a place to get them. This was back in the days before the internet and Amazon.com would have made it easy.When I visited Israel, I ended up collecting bits of basalt on the kibbutz I was on, and later bits of marble from Caesarea. But I don't know if that was from my interest in rocks, or an interest in their historical value, or their interest as tangible bits of the Holy Land.
Recently my wife and I went to our local county fair here in the High Desert of California. In addition to the sorts of things one might expect at a fair: farm animals, carnival rides, and 4H exhibits, there was a section devoted to minerals: and besides rocks on display, they had rocks for sale.
As I looked at the exhibit and the offered products, I found myself tempted to buy some of the rocks I had always wanted but had never been able to find on my own. Especially, I was tempted by the geodes. The prices were surprisingly low, just two or three dollars for some nice small ones. But I didn’t give in; I don’t have enough time for any of my other hobbies. I found it hard to justify adding back another into my life for me just to ignore.