pebbles

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?

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