on collections

by elli on August 20, 2013

why, yes, I *am* becoming a rock nerd, thank you.

When I was a kid, I used to pick up interesting rocks and bring them home.

I’m pretty sure I drove my mother insane.  She’d go to wash my pants and they’d be full of smooth stones, or heart-shaped rocks, or some kind of pretty piece of glass/quartz.  (And in one case, a live toad, but we don’t talk about that, due to my mom’s nervous condition.  It’s disconcerting to watch her twitch like that.)

There’s a twice-yearly rock show here in my little town that I used to go to, marvelling over all the little pieces of intricate-looking stone, sometimes with pictures seemingly drawn right inside the agates and opals.  I’d clutch my saved-up allowance money, balled up in my hand and damp with excited sweat, and go find pretty bits to add to the box where I kept all the treasures, talking with the vendors about what each thing was in great detail.  I probably annoyed them a little — some kid with three dollars and huge eyes, pawing all over the pretties, hanging around far longer than necessary to touch each and every stone before deciding on some twenty-five cent shiny bit that meant almost nothing to anyone but me.

At home, I’d sort them out and look deeply at them.  I didn’t know what most of them were, because most of them were from puddles and piles of sand or gravel or dirt that I’d just stumbled across.  I had a cut piece of geode with clear and purple crystals around the perimeter like an open, toothy mouth.  A big piece of red jasper with thorny yellow veins that only showed up when I spit on it or held it under the tap.  This one is the one that has a picture of a horse in it if you hold it up to the light.  

Like most girls who hit puberty, my rock collection was slowly replaced by a collection of boys, who didn’t fit in the drawer nearly as well.  And none of them had a horse inside.  (Though a couple of them were a lot like that live toad.  We don’t talk about them, either.  My mom starts to froth at the mouth.)

Thing is:  I think you’re either a Collector, or you’re not.

I think some of us just have the gene.  We gather things to ourselves to revisit, to own, to admire.  To surround ourselves with objects that we love.

(Granted, the shadow side of this is the propensity to hoard, and we’ve all seen how that ends up.  A&E comes to your house with giant Got Junk trucks and your family asks you why on earth you need ten dead birds in your freezer and no food.  And every issue of Field & Stream magazine since 1962, despite the fact that you don’t hunt or fish.  Nitpicky, that family.)

Which brings me to Now.

(And no, I’m not going to be on A&E, though there are days….)

In my adult, grown-up life, I’ve collected a lot of things, at various times.  Books.  Art supplies.  Notebooks.  Pens.  Oh, gods, the pens.  Perfume bottles.  Driftwood pieces.  Sea glass.  Old mason jars and vintage housekeeping books.  Postcards, even.

Over these years, though, I started disconnecting from Stuff.  It wasn’t so much that I didn’t still collect it/acquire it, but that it just didn’t mean anything anymore.  It was just stuff, or tools, or, in some cases, clutter.  I’ve tried, consciously, to winnow that urge down over the past decade or so, intending to live lighter so that my living could be bigger (and my credit card bills smaller, too).  I went through that whole If it’s not useful and being used, it’s out of here phase, and struck as close to the bone as I could with a lot of possessions.

(I’m not sorry about this, either.  I know some people think they’d be wracked with regrets when all their treasures were gone/used up, but I get some kind of weird jolty thrill out of using things up.  Means there’s freed-up energy that was sitting in a jar of paint or a bottle of hoarded perfume.  It gives me happyshivers.  And yes, I know that’s weird.  I’m okay with that.)

A couple months back, I happened to be out at our local mall, and the first Rock Hound Show of the year was going on.

For a few minutes, I was an eight-year-old kid with a literal box of rocks.  I pawed through a vendor’s bowls full of rose quartz, asked about some aventurine that had little disco-ball sparkles in it, and drooled all over the globes of orange carnelian that had red supernovas inside it when held to the light.  (Unlike when I was a little kid, the guy knew I had a checkbook, what with being a grown-up and all.  Odd how we’re much more accommodating to people with wallets and wrinkles.)

A bag of sparkling quartz points, a chunk of smoky quartz still in its matrix that was mined from Arkansas, and a smooth, polished amethyst piece later, I sat in the truck and rolled them all around in my fingers.  The amethyst was mottled and criss-crossed with lighter fractures and veins.

And, when I held it up to the light, I could almost make out the vague shape of a horse.

I don’t keep them in a box, really, this time.

(Which is good, since I now know that they can break each other and such.)

This time, I know what each of them are.  I’m reading about where they came from, how they’re formed, what the stories are around each type.  Each one has its own personality.  All of them sit in my hand with a satisfying weight, and I’m feeling that Collector coming back into her own.  I want a piece of labradorite, one of peacock ore.  I’m drooling over kyanite and really pretty moonstones, and can’t wait to get a lodestone.  (They’re magnetic.  It’s a magnetic rock.  How cool is that?)

I’m too old to care if I look like a rock dork, and too fascinated to stop playing with them.  I could care less if they have some kind of value.  A particularly smooth river-rock is just as exciting for me as some kind of rare beryl, since most of the time, I wouldn’t know the difference anyway.  They have value to me.

And then, this happened.





(I may have found two pounds of rocks for less than ten bucks on Amazon.  This is not boding well for my storage space.  Will trade for peacock ore/labradorite, btw.  Ahem.)


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