Rocks: pink striped, two-tone, multicoloured, green, black with white specks

September 16th is Collect Rocks Day!

Collect Rocks Day is a day to enjoy and add to your rock collection “

I can relate to this pseudo-holiday, because I’ve been collecting rocks all my life. My house is full of them. I’m the only person I know with an actual pile of rocks on the dresser in their bedroom. There are rocks on my kitchen windowsills and rocks in special spots in the living room. There are even “book rocks” on the table where we eat our meals.

I suspect the point of this day is to encourage kids to start proper rock collections of identified specimens. I tried that when I was a kid. I put my rocks into chocolate boxes, which were neatly divided into squares just right for labelled specimens.

Cover of Rocks and Minerals guide (H.S. Zim, c1957)
I pored over this little book a lot while trying to identify my rocks.
Page from Rocks and Minerals guide on hardness testing
A page from the Rocks and Minerals guide. Note the cute mnemonic; maybe girls didn’t collect rocks. Too busy flirting and doing queer things, no doubt. (I can’t remember what I thought of this notion as a kid.)

The trouble was, the rocks I picked up were really hard to identify. They didn’t look like any of the pictures in Herbert S. Zim’s guide to rocks and minerals. Despite my efforts at determining hardness, doing tests with vinegar, and peering at my specimens with a magnifying glass, most of them remained unidentified. The closest I got was declaring them to be sedimentary, igneous, or metamorphic. I had a feeling many of my rocks were metamorphic. Their constituent minerals had been tortured into unidentifiable (at least by me) substances by heat and pressure. But they were pretty.

I gave up on scientific rock collecting, but I never gave up picking up rocks. Almost every visit to a beach or creek resulted in a pocket full of pebbles and sometimes a cobble or two carried in my hands. Nowadays I do a rock review before leaving the site and discard all but the best specimens, usually keeping only one or two.

So what makes a rock keep-worthy? For me, it comes down to colour, contrasts, smoothness, and peculiarities of shape. Or general weirdness. The eight rocks in the featured image at the top of the post display all of them to some extent. There’s a smooth, uniformly green rock and a smaller one that’s light green with dark green stripes. There are a couple that feature different rock types welded together. One is composed of thin layers of light and dark pinkish material. The little white one is a piece of what looks like marble, polished to exquisite smoothness by who knows how many years of wave action.

One piece of advice: rocks always look great wet. Beach pebbles are often wet when picked up. Let them dry before you decide if they’re worth keeping.

Colour and smoothness

White quartz, bright red rock (jasper?) and bright green rock (nephrite?) with darker green stripe
A pure white rock (quartz, I’m pretty sure), a dark red rock (maybe jasper?) and a bright green rock with darker green stripe (maybe nephrite?)

Contrast and weirdness

Black rock with white inclusions
Black rock with white inclusions that look like alien hieroglyphs.

Many colours

Multicoloured metamorphic rock
Multicoloured rock that looks like the map of an unknown world.

More weirdness

Weird sedimentary rocks, two with possible concretions
Sedimentary rocks. The bigger one (from north central BC) looks like a tiny hoodoo. The eyeball-like features in the smaller ones (from Saskatchewan) may be concretions.

Sheer beauty

Pebbles from Ballenas Island, BC
A handful of pebbles from Ballenas Island, BC. The biggest one is about an inch (2.5 cm) long, the smallest less than 1/4 inch (1 cm)

These Ballenas pebbles found their way into one of my novels. In Islands of the Gulf Volume 1, The Journey, Francis Dexter collects a few pebbles from a place rather like Ballenas Island. Later, he looks at them while brooding about how his life has turned out.

I have before me a handful of pebbles under the light as I write this. Some are the colour of bruised flesh, others dark green or black, or mixtures of colours impossible to describe, veined like the finest capillaries. Each was torn from its matrix, millennia ago, and polished to a degree I find astonishing. When I first studied them, here in the lamplight, I thought: here is perfection without design, proof that the world works upon things and incidentally brings them to goodness without an artificer’s hand. … The black pebbles with the white stars are the most beautiful. They are made of the hardest substance and are the brightest, but must be subjected to the longest ordeal to achieve their perfection. How much of themselves must they lose to the lathe of the world?

42 comments

  1. I’ve got pebbles and seashells on the dresser in my porch and also in the garden. Big pebbles make excellent paperweights when you are writing or reading the newspaper in the garden. I don’t know much about them, but I like the colours and textures.

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  2. My favorite rock is the hieroglyphic rock, and my favorite line is: “Some are the colour of bruised flesh, others dark green or black, or mixtures of colours impossible to describe, veined like the finest capillaries.” Both are beautiful.

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    1. Thanks, Pat. You’re right about sea glass. I’ve been able to find only tiny bits lately. I do have a cobalt blue piece and a pale lavender one that share space on the kitchen windowsill with a lot of pebbles.

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  3. I remember that scene from Islands of the Gulf – thought of it right away! I find rocks and minerals fascinating, but I’m glad I never took up collecting them – we moved around a lot and all we would have needed was big boxes of rocks to ship! Those white inclusions in the hieroglyphic rock look like some kind of crystal that got transmogrified,

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  4. Most interesting Audrey.
    And what a fine idea for a holiday, I must go out into the garden tomorrow and see if anything interesting can be found.
    (The houses were only built 25 years ago and attractive rocks and stones still turn up only just below the surface)

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    1. I saw the date in a list of “special days” in someone’s blog post, and made a note of it. Rocks are everywhere, and if you look closely and wash off the dirt you can find some good ones. Trying to identify them may be a challenge, though.

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    1. Thanks, Becky. Sand is something I haven’t collected, although I recall black sand from one summer we spent panning for gold (we did find a little). It’s quite heavy so ends up in the pan along with (one hopes) alluring gleams of gold.

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  5. Yes, rocks are fascinating with their endless combinations of shape, texture and colour. When we were in Wales a few years ago, I was taken by the slate cliffs and the use of slate for shingles and gravestones. My wife was into genealogy and so we spent time perusing stones in graveyards. We noticed that some were slate while others were granite. The granite stones were certainly more attractive, but they erode much more rapidly than slate, often making it difficult to decipher names and dates on older stones. With slate, you just need to throw some water over the inscriptions – and they stand right out! Of course, I brought back a piece if slate (not from a cemetery).

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    1. That’s interesting, John. Slate is a metamorphic rock, so was probably hardened by heat and pressure. Granites are igneous and their components may not have been consolidated as well. I’m still interested in rocks, but in an unsystematic, layperson’s way.

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  6. I have a librarian friend who works at the local university in our area. She started a project where she paints and decorates rocks and leaves positive messages on them for the university students to find. It has become so popular that now she has several students helping her. Kindness is spread in many ways.

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  7. I like rocks too! There’s a river in my town that has a rocky-beach in low tide (this river connects to the Pacific Ocean) and during many of my walks someone has created a tower of rocks impossibly balanced on each other. These spontaneous sculptures are a fun surprise – and then to look at the rocks themselves…. well, one is reminded that the finer things in life are free. πŸ˜‰

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        1. I get the feeling that for some, rock balancing is a kind of spiritual or meditative practice; that article you linked to sort of hints at that. And I’ve seen some pretty impressive photos of balanced rocks. Looks like a simple (and cheap) but profound activity.

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  8. I had a pocket guide to minerals and rocks as well (I think a Peterson one), bought second-hand and well-used on every hike and climb. You’ve reminded me how fun it was to be a rock detective! And I love how your character uses his geologic knowledge as part of his life philosophy. Beautiful.

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  9. I used to love collecting rocks as a child. Now, I collect semi-precious stones. I’ve always been drawn to them, and yes, letting the water wash over them at the beach made the colors so vibrant. I also wanted a rock tumbler as a child, but alas never did get one.

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    1. Quite a few of us are attracted to rocks, it seems. I’m glad my post reminded people of their collections. I have bought a few mineral specimens, including a malachite egg that’s pretty cool, but I still pick up beach pebbles. Only the best ones though. πŸ™‚ ⛏️ πŸ’Ž

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  10. I recognized a few myself Audrey! I’m a X geologist. To really know what your dealing with you need a unweathered surface,which means you have to break it open. To know you must first destroy. Maybe keep the attractive ones but break open others close by for analysis.
    Also join a like minded group and you will learn tons quickly!

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    1. Agreed, Wayne! Re-eading Herbert Zim’s little book around when I was writing that post, I figured out that serious rockhounds get their samples from freshly broken rocks, as in quarries or roadcuts or by smashing loose rocks. I think some collectors look for specific minerals, rather than just picking up random rocks and trying to identify what they’re made of. And the book mentioned joining groups as well. I’m still just a picker-up of “pretty rocks,” but at least I’m aware of geology (took some courses in college while getting my anthropology degree).

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