I don’t think there is a person in the world who isn’t relieved to see the end of 2020, though there is not one of us who will forget it. In the US, more than 300,000 dead from Covid-19, and still counting; hundreds of thousands of families–millions around the world–grieving and unable to say final good-byes; unknown numbers suffering a variety of long-term symptoms; nurses and doctors–no strangers to illness and death–traumatized by the sight of the dead, of their hospitals being overrun with patients, and the prospect of choosing who lives and who dies. Millions of jobs have been lost, businesses shuttered, some never to open again, and millions left with not enough to eat and uncertainty about whether they’ll be able to stay in their homes and apartments.
Then there were the natural disasters: the wildfires, the hurricanes, derechos, floods, and typhoons; and the not-so-natural disasters–half of Beirut leveled by an explosion; violence against gatherings of peaceful protestors and against individual men and women of color; and the peace of Christmas morning in Nashville shattered by a bomb. The only bright spot: the blisteringly fast development of vaccines that promise to control the pandemic.
Good-bye, 2020, and good riddance.
May this new year bring health to those who have been ill, solace to those who are grieving, help for those whose homes and jobs have been put at risk, awareness of our responsibility toward each other, and the beginning of a return to normal for all of us.
I found this quote from Moby Dick years ago. Since then, I’ve repeated it to myself in dark times to remind me to look for that kernel of joy, however small and however “deep down and deep inland.” Perhaps it can serve as a reminder to you, too, in times of loss, or even simple frustration, that we all carry those seeds of joy hidden away and that they will grow again, eventually.
If you’re like me, you’re genetically pre-disposed to pick up rocks wherever you go.
I tend to come home from a simple trip to the beach with pockets dragging. I’ve picked up stones in Japan, Greece, Turkey, England, Michigan, Brazil, and on the top of Mt. Vesuvius. They fill bowls and line window sills.
However, you may have the desire to make something of your finds: drill them, tumble them, have them cut into a cab or carving, and set them. But how do you know what might make a good jewelry stone?
First, the stone should be hard.
Well, yes, all stones are hard, relatively speaking. But if you want to cut or tumble it, this means your stone should be higher than a 5 on the Mohs Hardness Scale. The Mohs Scale is a comparative scale of mineral hardness with talc, as in talcum powder, being 1 and diamond being 10.
How do you know if a stone is “hard enough”?
If your stone scratches a knife blade (5.5), it is hard enough to cut and take a good polish. Scratch your stone across the blade. Wipe away the powder to be sure you’ve scratched the blade not just powdered the stone. If the stone scratches the blade easily, its hardness is much higher. If it scratches only with effort, it is about the same hardness as the blade.
Turquoise and obsidian (volcanic glass, apache tears) are on the low end at about 5 to 6. Feldspars (sunstone, moonstone) are 6 to 6.5 Quartz (smoky, amethyst, and citrine) is 7. Garnets and tourmalines are 7 to 7.5. Topaz is 8. Corundums (sapphires and rubies) are 9. Only if you’re rockhounding in the Arkansas’ Crater of Diamonds State Park and find a greasy/shiny stone will you have to worry about stones of 10 in hardness.
Second, look for something without fractures, if possible.
Fractured stones will break during tumbling or cutting. Stones with holes or pits in them will capture grits during the tumbling process. The trapped, coarser grits will continue to scratch the stones as you tumble with finer grits. You won’t get a good polish.
If it has too many fractures, but you love it anyway, admire it on the windowsill. I tumbled an agate I found in the Namib Desert, to my regret. It lost all the interesting wind-sanded skin it had.
Third, look for dense, finely grained stones.
These are your best bet for tumbling, cutting or carving. Stones with large grains—many types of granite, for example — may crumble during cutting or tumbling. They may polish unevenly. If you can easily see the grains, the stone might not be a good candidate for cutting. Rub a couple stones together. If they don’t create a pile of debris, you may have a stone dense enough to work with. If the stone is already shiny—especially if it’s been tumbling in a lake, river, or ocean—you’ve got a winner. Sandstone or rocks containing mica will just make dust.
Lastly, consider size.
Depending on whether you tumble it or have your stone cut, you’ll lose between 30 and 50 percent of what you pick up. Believe me, when traveling, rock size is definitely a consideration.
Here are some winners.
The best stones for tumbling, cutting, or collecting are agates (including thunder eggs), jaspers, petrified wood, quartz of any kind, obsidian, moonstones, sunstones. Garnets and tourmalines are a price, if you can find them. If you get to Arkansas, I wish you good luck.
One last hint.
Carry a permanent marker. Whatever stone you find, write on it where it was found. They’ll all look alike when you get home.
Look at the cherry blossoms! / Their color and scent fall with them, / Are gone forever, / Yet mindless / The spring comes again.” Ikkyu
One of my favorite places to walk is an old cemetery not far from my home. Spring is a particularly favorite time, not only because of all the old trees coming into leaf, but because of the number of flowering trees planted there, especially cherry trees.
The cherries always remind me of a spring in Japan when I was grateful to be alive after an awful illness the previous winter. Every time I see the fragile blossoms of the cherries against the gnarled and weathered bark of a sixty-year-old tree, I’m reminded to hope.