My mom is a teacher. A conservative estimate suggests that approximately 37.2% of my weirdness can be explained by that fact.
One of my favorite “games” (games in the way that a graham cracker is a “cookie”) when I was little went something like this…
My mom: “lamp… table… chair…”
Me (with excitement): “chair! lamp! table!”
Alphabetizing. Super cool.
For real, I loved it though.
As much as I loved alphabetizing my mom’s little lists of words, my favorite thing to alphabetize was my set of rocks and minerals flash cards.
Nerdiest sentence ever written? Maybe…
And why did I have rocks and minerals flash cards? Mom?
But to me? Rocks are crazy cool. I’ve loved them for as long as I can remember and I’ve carried the mason jar full of my most treasured rocks around with me as I moved from Ypsilanti to Houghton to Hancock to Bethesda to Silver Spring to Rockville to Marshfield… all over the dang place, because I just love them all so much.
(Btw, I was storing things in mason jars before it was cool. I’m a total mason jar hipster.)
Each rock is special for a different reason too. Each one has a memory. Each one serves as a touchstone.
My grandparents brought me lava rocks (two different kinds!), pumice, and coral from Hawaii when they went to visit my aunt who lives there. At the time, I could imagine no place more exotic. And rocks that came straight from a volcano?! Too cool!
My Grandpa John even stopped one time while driving through the Appalachian Mountains to pick up a rock for me. He knew I’d never been there and thought I’d want a piece. He was right; I still have it, even though I have been there myself now. The strong silent type with a heart of gold, my grandpa. He always knew how to make me crazy happy!
My dad brought this polished heart back from Connecticut when he was there on business. I loved so much that the natural features of the stone made in incomplete, yet still so perfect. I remember thinking that it was absolutely genius to carve the heart so that it would have a natural hole at the bottom. I don’t know why. Abby’s heart was perfect, but I liked mine so much better (no offense, Ab, I’m sure you loved yours too… mine was just better). See:
My Aunt Patty and Uncle Phil brought me a piece of mica back from Georgia. Natural glitter?! Too cool! And hematite is so cool and smooth… it always reminds me of putting my face against my mom’s arm. It reminds me of her jewelry.
I found this peacock ore myself on the shore of lake superior. I learned more about minerals after that… and more about iron and copper mining in the UP. Fascinating.
Rocks from lakes, big and small. Rocks I saved up to buy with my baby sitting money from Natural Wonders (my favorite ever store in the Briarwood Mall). Rocks that looked neat and smelled funny (I had an exquisite sulfur specimen that I couldn’t justify bringing to college with me and likely still resides in my parents’ basement). Rocks that I convinced myself were fossils and some that really were. And so on and so forth. Rock after rock.
I like the way they look. I like the way they feel. I like the way they smell. I like the way an unpolished rock completely changes if you get it wet. I like that there might be a surprise (an ore! a fossil! an agate!) on the inside. I like that they just exist that way… through natural processes of the earth, through amazing series of coincidences of chemistry and pressure and temperature and time. One individual rock is like one individual life. Unique. Special. Worth knowing and remembering.
Sometimes I’ve thought that maybe I should have been a geologist– or at least taken Rocks for Jocks in college. But I’m not, and I didn’t. So it’s just a little hobby.
These days, when I watch my niece Emma pick up and carry around hand fulls of rocks, berries, pine cones, twigs, leaves, and flowers, I am reminded of how much I have always loved such things… and how much I still do. Something about the symbols of the outdoors are so enjoyable to me and I feel inspired to bring them into my house. Jars of rocks, buckets of sea shells, frames full of branches, and prints of leaves. A little throwback to the naturalist child that I was and jars full of memories– my own and others. The sea shells are from my grandma, and she and her mother collected them over many, many years. The branches were from someone else’s birch tree, left at compost just for me to find. I pressed the leaves from plants in my year and spray painted their silhouettes onto canvas. And the rocks are, as I described, many storied. And it always comes back to the rocks.
A friend of mine from Michigan Tech (we worked in the Writing Center together) posted a picture of the rocks in Lake Superior relatively recently and I was absolutely enamored. I mean, look at this:
Who needs the teeny tiny sand and salty water of so many beaches when you can find beauty like this on the shores of Lake Superior? Just gorgeous. Just rocks.
When I was in Arizona in the spring, I went on a guided tour of the Desert Botanical Garden and learned a ton about desert flora and fauna and was especially fascinated by all of the cactus facts. The tour guide kept quoting ages of certain cacti, though, and I wondered how exactly you could tell the age of a cactus since they don’t have rings like trees. I (nervously and nerdily) asked the question, and the Seth Rogen look-alike tour guide explained that it’s all through observation. Expert naturalists spent tens, even hundreds of years, multiple dedicated lifetimes, observing the natural history of so many different cactus species for the sake of knowledge. Not because the cacti change anything, not because they serve as medicine or fuel or food or anything like that, but just because they’re interesting. Naturalism at its finest, perhaps? I think I’ll do the same of rocks… just sit back and enjoy the beauty.