Agate it!

Figure 1: Carnelian agates found in Cowlitz County, WA and quartz crystals and sheet from outside Tenino, WA.

Here is a funny joke I came up with, amidst hour 4 of my 5 hour trek back from Cowlitz County, on the second weekend in July, in the 2017th year of the Common Era:

Figure 2: Clear-cut area overlooking a southern portion of the Cascades where we dug for quartz.

"What do you say when a rockhound tells a joke?"

~Agate it!

See, it's funny for several reasons. Foremost of which being that it is a terrible joke. There's also the obligatory pun, deriving from a deep well of puny waters so many geology fans are privy to. The icing on top of my comedic styling is the mispronunciation required to deliver this funny. Agate is usually pronounce "a-git," whereas for the punchline to work, it has to be pronounced "a-gate." Which sounds more like "I get," and totally kills whomever is on the receiving end of such mind-numbing hilarity. Nothing brings a solid sense of humor around like a thorough explanation of the nuances involved in joke telling. If there are any stand-up comedians reading this- you're welcome.

Far as the mineral agate is concerned, I learned some fantastic stuff there, too. Turns out, most of the marvelous, pretty stones you pick up are in the quartz family, not just quartz. Many are agates, and prized for their translucency, color, and shapes.

Things The Guides Tell Me:

My Pocket Guide [Rocks & Minerals, Washington & Orgeon, Dan R. Lynch & Bob Lynch] has the following to say on the matter of agate:

"Agate, carnelian; example of an agate variety...known for their intense reds, oranges, and yellow-browns. Often found along rivers and mountainsides, carnelian can form in vesicles (gas bubbles) within volcanic rocks (like most agates)..."

My Home Guide [Simon & Schuster's Guide to Rocks and Minerals, page 245], didn't have agate listed on its own. I had to find it listed with its buddies, jasper, onyx, flint/chert, etc. on the quartz page. Which makes sense, I guess, seeing as how that page was also just another variation of quartz, known as chalcedoney. Then, you have the fact that the quartz family is a subfamily of the silicates. Pretty much the mafia of rock groups; loooots of branches on this family tree. Enough about trees, this is a post about carnelian agates! And this is what my home guide had to say about them:

"Carnelian; Uniformly colored, light- to -dark brown chalcedony. The orange-red color is due to the presence of very fine particles of hematite or limonite. Traditionally used for seals (what does that even mean?). Comes from Brazil, Uruguay, India, and California." I do love how Cali is thrown in there with far-flung exotic lands. Any Cali Natives out there: Accurate, yes or no?

Figure 3: Dog, Osyris, taking a break in the shady lean-to I made from clear-cut litter at the dig site.

If you know what you're doing and where to find what you want, there are ways to pull in serious dough as a rockhound for some things we were hunting. I, of course, do not know what I am doing, and retain little interest in the sale of my goodies. But that's no excuse to take the path of ignorance when it comes to the realm of foxing out minerals. And fox out we assuredly did.

The above joke will have to be told the next time I adventure with NW Rockhounds, and no doubt over a sizable pile of nature booty [Figure 1]. This past excursion was every bit as magical as the last, except there were more humans involved! Which doesn't always correlate to a positive increase in experience, but it can. And often -for extroverts such as myself- it does!

After a double-shift of Island Time (as I like to think of my work with Bird Research Northwest), I high-tailed AJ and I over the Cascades and down into Tenino territory for some soul-cleansing dirt therapy. What I hauled back is carefully nestled in a towel bed with a kiss, silently brightening the fish-stained carpet of my bunkhouse room. It's all down right grand.

Figure 4: Theus Kester tying his boots as we prepare to hike back to AJ in the dark after a long dig!

The treasures I painstakingly scrubbed and fawn over Gollum-style are things I had not only never seen up close in the wilds, but didn't imagine I would caress, catalog, or be lucky enough to deem pocket rocks [See incipient post titled Pocket Rocks; Figure 1]. In addition to my own future pocket rocks, I came back with agatized marine fossils, including clams and bull kelp! Purple garnets the size of garbanzo beans! Blood-red agate wreathed in druzy quartz! And those are just the ones gifted into my possession as tokens of the tribe. I decided to leave the anthropological bequeathing of stones to that future post, so I will glaze over this fabulous tradition, now.

This time around, instead of gallivanting off into the unknown, I rolled into park along a residential street and knocked on a stranger's front door. The walk up to former-strangers Matt and Christine Lawrence's abode is generous with goodies. Seven years of hounding the mountains have given them a surplus of sexy-rock decor. In the back yard, Theus and I assembled our tents and I was introduced to our hosts for the weekend. Matt and Thues met at the NW Rockhounds shop, and Christine, married to Matt, is also an avid rockhound. Over the course of our two-day stay, I met family and friends of these two also excited about rocks, and several who could appreciate the fervent joy they insight in others.

Figure 5: Left-over finds from previous diggers left on stumps around the clear-cut dig site.

The phrase, "I don't get it, but I love that you love it," comes to mind. Good old empathy surfaces again to foster that hardy human connection. Staying up late, watching the coals slowly suffocate, Matt enraptured us with his knowledge and wisdom of life and rockhounding the Cascades. I can't speak for anyone else, but I could've written an anthology with the depth and precision with which this man extrapolated locations and techniques off the top of his head. There must be a labyrinth of mental filing cabinets overflowing with maps and descriptions available to him on whim. Freakin' awesome.

Some new things I learned about rocks while enraptured:

1) There are places you can pay private owners to dig up crystals so big and fancy, the only word to describe them is "candy."

2) Bring a wire brush to scrape agates clean in the field (this cuts down the number of rocks you waste the energy carrying out).

3) Soaking/washing clay covered stones in water is called "hydrating" them (this I found amusing because heat-related issues for humans are ever-present when digging in July).

4) Be sure to know your property lines to avoid No Man's Lands.

5) It is good manners to send photos of your finds to the person who introduces you to the locale, so they can be kept in the loop about their site's use and such.

6) Claim Jumping is a serious accusation, but not so serious that it isn't also a common joke.

7) You will eventually become inured to leaving lots of pretties behind.

8) Child-like delight is the currency of our kind (maybe second to the dough that can be made...).

9) Carry those stones if your elder/younger/lover/friend can't (even if theirs are better than yours).

10) "Finds" are systemically assigned according to an unspoken agreement between those involved in a dig, who moved the earth, saw it first, and lots of other inter-relational factors.

Figure 6: Snowball quarts crystal found by Matt Lawrence in his backyard.

While my NW Rockhound guru and I suited up, Theus bequeathed onto me a gift! A lump hammer, I have lovingly dubbed Handy. This is another delightful play-on-words because half the time I was trying to cleave rock face, at First Creek, I was repeatedly told the problem was a lack of weight behind my geo hammer, not the strength in my arm. What I needed was a handy lump hammer. I am grateful for the distinction, though, and not just because it put Handy in my possession this time around, but also because I like to think all the working out I do has some measure of real-world application. That, plus when we parted ways, I handed Theus my prized blue agate geode from First Creek, and he is going to cut it open for me! So. Let's just say the NW Rockhounds have got their recruitment methodology secured.

Our first dig was to Matt's backyard, a clear-cut field that backed up to a former strip-mined area [Figure 2]. As we sat around the blazing campfire, the night before, Matt drew us a map of the route on a piece of copy paper [Figure 9; yes, I know, you have to scroll to see these out-of-order photos but rocks take precedence, so give your index finger some exercise]. I should've taken a photo of the map but, alas, I did not. When I held it up for inspection, the flickering orange back-light illuminated a bonafied treasure map. Hand to god, for just a heartbeat, I lost my breath.

We actually ended up losing the map, but still dug a few nice holes on that sunny slope it lead to. Funny thing about geology, the shifting of land causes all kinds of incongruences where mineral deposits turn up. At first, we followed one trail to an area that overlooked another slope and found nothing but basalt. After constructing a shade for the dog, the location was deemed unsuitable for crystal foraging, and we climbed higher to the inside ridge of the clear-cut [Figure 3]. These turn-arounds could have been avoided if we hadn't lost the m