Stock Hammer

 A few weeks back I talked about egg cartons. Egg cartons? Yep. They are the perfect thing for holding rocks if you happen to go rock collecting, which is what I then proceeded to do.

I want to tell you about the rock trip, but first I want to share a little background. 

I grew up looking for rocks. My dad and my granddad were both into rockhounding, as it’s called, and we spent many hours doing rocky things — talking about them, researching them, looking for them, and washing them in the kitchen sink to the unending dismay of my long-suffering mother. 

Most of our rock collecting was in northern Georgia, but sometimes it was farther afield. I remember one memorable trip in east Texas, hunting petrified wood on the stockpiles of a sand and gravel plant on the Brazos River west of Houston, where the owners understood the rockhounding affliction and were sympathetic. The plant’s machinery did the hard work for us, dredging gravel from the river and washing it and piling it up in towering mounds. All we had to do was to look through the stuff in the piles. 

That kind of rock collecting can be hard on the back, but the pain was worth it because a surprising lot of the stuff in those piles was agate, jasper or petrified wood. There were fossils, too, including things like mammoth teeth. I still have the grapefruit-sized mammoth tooth I found there that day, and looking at it now takes me right back to those exceptionally enjoyable days under the blazing east Texas sun.

It takes me back to another thing, too: a time when it was easy to find places to look for rocks.

Back when I was young (“In the previous millennium,” as my oldest son once so delicately put it) people were much more inclined to let you look for rocks on their land. Usually all you had to do was ask.

Today, it’s different. Posted signs are the norm. Land is closed to public access even if you ask (sad but not really surprising in these lawsuit-prone times), and it gets harder and harder to find places to do a little rock collecting if you are, like me, a rule follower at heart and try to follow the letter of the law.

Nonetheless, a few weeks ago I gathered up my rockhounding tools and set off to see what rockhounding adventures might await. It would be a pilgrimage of sorts with return visits to some of the favorite sites from, as they say, those halcyon days of yore. It promised to be great time.

How did it turn out? Well…

Yes, I did find a few good rocks. I picked up a handful of those fossil crinoids I mentioned, and I found a nice brachiopod shell fossil too. I also found a nice piece of lace agate, a specimen made even more appealing by the fact that it was covered on one side with a universe of tiny quartz crystals a millimeter or so long.

So I found some rocks. 

But the biggest thing I found was a plethora of collecting sites that are, alas, collecting sites no more.

“Plethora” is a neat and often misused word. People often use it to mean “lots of” or “abundant,” but what it really means is “a negative excess” — as in a plethora of mosquito bites or a plethora of taxes.

What had happened to those rock collecting sites? Some were still there but were guarded by those NO TRESPASSING signs. Others were overgrown (it doesn’t take long for a patch of dirt to get completely overtaken by underbrush). And still others were simply not there. One, a hillside where I used to find nice jasper, had been replaced by a school. Another, where I used to find colorful agate, had metamorphosed into a shopping center parking lot.

I guess it’s true. You really can’t go home again.

Still, persistence is rewarded. I drove a lot of backroads and looked at a lot of roadcuts, among them one that provided the crinoids and another that gave me the little shell fossil. I even knocked on a total of five doors to see if I might gain access beyond those foreboding yellow signs. Everybody I spoke to was nice about it, and one was even apologetic, but most still said “no.”

I did, however, get one “yes” — and that’s where I discovered that piece of crystal-bedecked agate. 

Not long after picking up that piece of agate, I decided to call it a day. On the way back to the truck I stopped to thank the landowner and to show him my discovery. He allowed as to how his grandkids would probably like to look for rocks too. That was all it took to get us talking about grandchildren, which are a great part of God’s plan and which really do make exceptional rockhounding buddies.

Eventually it was time to go. Before I left I gave him the piece I’d found so those grandkids of his would have an idea what to look for.

“That’s mighty nice of you,” he said. “And you just come on back any time. Maybe bring those grandkids of your own too!”

How about that. Maybe you can go home again, at least one in a while.

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