rocks

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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Uplands Park vista

A Walk in the Park

One of the final days of summer 2018 was perfect for a walk in Uplands Park with The Dog (otherwise known as Nelly the Newfoundland).

Nelly the Newfoundland in Uplands Park

Nelly wondering why I’m falling behind

 

This park is surrounded by suburbia, but it’s big enough that you can imagine yourself miles from a house or paved street. Technically, it’s an example of southern Vancouver Island’s vanishing Garry Oak meadow ecosystem, but in reality it’s probably way different from 150 years or more ago. In past times, the native peoples of the area cleared out brush by doing regular burns. This preserved the open meadows where camas bulbs (an important food source) were harvested. Now, with zillion dollar homes close by, there is great resistance to any suggestion of burning, no matter how controlled.

Setting all that aside, here are a few close-ups of plants and rocks that caught my eye as we walked to the shore at nearby Cattle Point. Despite its overgrown state, this is a special place. In spring, a multitude of wildflowers blooms, but I appreciate the rich and muted shades of late summer.

 

Nootka rose Rosa nutkana fall foliage near boat launch ramp Cattle Point

Foliage of the native Nootka Rose (Rosa nutkana)

 

Eroded volcanic bedrock with lichen, Cattle Point

Eroded volcanic rock with yellow lichens at Cattle Point

 

Beach grass at Cattle Point

Beach grass, rocks, and water at Cattle Point

 

Boulder with lichen near Cattle Point

Boulder with lichens in withered grass

 

 

 

 

The Egyptian Book of the Dead and book rock

Book Rocks

No, not “books rock” (even though they do). This is about stones.

I started reading at meals as a kid. Food and reading seem made for each other — both are at least potentially pleasurable activities, depending on the quality of what is being consumed.

Thing is, it’s hard to read while eating if your book refuses to stay open. (This, incidentally, is one area in which ebooks have an advantage over print). Some sort of weight is required, and pressing tableware into service for the purpose doesn’t work too well. The knife slides off, someone else needs the butter dish, etc.

Rocks, on the other hand, are perfect. And my house is full of them, ranging from small pebbles to large cobbles, due to a habit of picking up attractive rocks on beach walks.

Some rocks are better suited as book weights than others. Flat, rather than curved surfaces, and an elongated shape, are ideal qualities. As to weight, it depends on the springiness of the book, but something from a few ounces to a pound does the job admirably. Of course, you have to be careful; it’s not good to drop a hefty cobble onto a brand new, tightly glued paperback. A carelessly wielded stone may break the spine of a valued book.

Here are three reliable rocks I have used for years to keep books open.

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The topmost one is the heaviest. Placed with care, it gently subdues any book that wants to snap shut when left unattended. The post header shows it in action, making my copy of The Egyptian Book of the Dead (a thick book with a tight spine) a little more readable. I found it by the South Saskatchewan River, near the town of Borden, in the 1980s. The middle one must have come from some beach here on Vancouver Island. Its shape was what made me pick it up; it’s less than half an inch (about 1 cm) thick, and an inch wide. It’s perfect for books that lazily flip up an unweighted leaf, and looks quite elegant when in use. The bottom one is a piece of greenish stone (possibly serpentine) from Ballenas Island in the Strait of Georgia. (OK, it looks grey in the picture, but trust me, it has a definite green tint, especially when wet. Looking good wet is something beach rocks do really well). I kept this rock on my desk at work, and used it to hold open books I was cataloguing. It’s a bit on the light side, so I’d have to position it in exactly the right spot. Sometimes the page would fight back, and the rock would slip off, requiring recovery and repositioning. Those white marks on the top two stones are eraser residue; rocks are also great eraser cleaners.

To be fair, there is another tool for holding books open — the “book snake,” an elongated cloth bag filled with dried beans or peas or similar stuff, or a weighted leather thing you can buy. I have no experience with either. Book snakes are said to be superior to rocks in that they are softer and shape themselves to the contours of a book, so will not mar pages. But you have to buy them or make them, whereas a suitably shaped stone is instantly ready for use. And it costs nothing.

Book rocks may also be used to crack nuts, or as weapons or missiles, should your dining situation deteriorate to the point that such items are required.