People stare when you say you collect rocks. It’s almost as if they can’t quite wrap their heads around an adult’s desire to get nose-deep in dirt in pursuit of a stone.
I have been collecting rocks all my life. There are old photos of me standing near a large mound of soil, diligently putting pebbles in a cup when I was still toddling about in diapers. My mother, now 92, often recounts my arrival home from Girl Scout camp when I was maybe 10. My suitcase rested on the sidewalk in a line with others, having just been retrieved from the belly of a bus. When she lifted the bag, the handle broke off and, upon hitting the ground, the latch gave way, spilling not clothes but rocks onto the pavement. As I scrambled to gather up my prizes, she stood red faced, pretending, perhaps, that I wasn’t her child.
How did I end up with a life-long fascinating with rocks? Considering her sometimes discomfiture with my predilection – she periodically tossed my collection into the garden when cleaning – my mother might be the one to blame. After all, she was the one that trundled me into New Your City to the vaunted Museum of Natural History that houses one of the world’s premier collections of rocks and minerals, glittering jewels that dance in the light, all the more fascinating because someone, somewhere, dug them from the earth.
Because I spent a great deal of time moving about the country when I was pursuing my career as a TV reporter, the issue of my collection sometimes cropped up. When I went to work at ESPN, the moving company’s bill neatly itemized 500 pounds of rocks among my possessions. A skeptical HR employee wondered if there was some kind of mistake. Of course, there was not.
When people peruse my collection – I have about 400 specimens in my living room alone – they sometimes ask what my rocks are worth. Though some are quite beautiful, I do not consider their value in dollars, but rather in memories. While I don’t claim to recall the origin of every single stone in my collection, a great many remind me of certain places or people or periods in time. The pockmarked piece bearing green prenite and a splash of blue chalcedony that I dug out of a brook in New Jersey when I was 12. The smoky-gray geode that was a gift from my best friends for my 16th birthday. The apple-green chrysophrase I found in Australia, where I befriended an old miner who I think I may have known in another life and who later sent me an emerald nestled in grayish matrix. And the myriad specimens I gathered on my journeys with my dear friend Alice, who died a few years ago at 93.
Not all the memories my rocks evoke are idyllic. There are the two swirled reddish-white stones I picked up the day I suffered a horrendous bout of food poisoning ten miles from the nearest town. And the strange gray rock, etched with almost perfect rectangles, the origin of which I’ve never been able to ascertain, that I collected when I got lost in the desert with two dogs and subsequently ran out of water. I periodically reflect that my pets and I could be nothing but bleached bones today, had we not been rescued. It was the last time I went collecting alone. And though the situation was horrifying, those rocks remain nestled in with the rest, a reminder.
The curious thing about rock collecting is that one need not always find something to add to the collection. Those who love me and who have been willing to head into the wilderness in pursuit of rocky treasures know that, often, we don’t find the collecting site we’re looking for. And that’s OK. The thrill is in the hunt, and being away from civilization, beyond the reach of electronics and traffic and walls.
While on my rocking treks, I occasionally climb slippery tailings piles to sit and stare at hawks that swoop above wild desert land. Other times, I venture beneath stony outcroppings, 48-once sledge hammer in one hand, chisel in the other, in the hope of liberating colorful crystals without smashing them to bits. Sometimes, on hands and knees, I scour the ground and smell the earth. And, every so often, when I’m very lucky, I find a rock to take home. One that, when I’m in need of a wild place, will take me there. All I have to do is look.
Anne Montgomery’s novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other? The Scent of Rain is available at https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780996390149 and wherever books are sold.