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Let's Get Ready to TUUUMBLE!

Figure 1: Tumbled agates from Island 20 PIT tag recovery, SW Washington, and various other locations in Washington and Oregon.

This is literally the third draft of a post about rock tumbling I have attempted to date. I swear to every single reader (I refer, of course, to you Dust in the Wind) that this will be the one I finally send forth unto My Morning Mile! I imagine this means it will be much sassier than previous posts, so if you are faint of language or short in rock-spirit, I recommend exiting now. Although, I make no promises to be especially sassy or -god forbid- spirited. I just know that when I set my elbows at this angle, cross my legs left-over-right, and sip my dirty Chai latte just so, my writing tends to get provocative, maybe even ...gritty (pun provoked but not intended). Furthermore, it will include poetry, songs, dense word-tapestries alluding to the effervescent conundrum of engaging in human connectivity, and sexy pictures of rocks! Incidentally, I need to go about procuring two of those four things.

Figure 2: Dirty Chai latte and windowsill plants at Coffee Girl, in Astoria, OR.

Right now, let us take a short jaunt down a twisted road I was shown by American author, Henry Miller. He did thus escort me to the edge of his wilderness (e.g. writing style) and then abandon me to its stream-of-consciousness wiles. Just for the record, Black Spring is nothing to mess around with. It will profoundly screw with your head. It will leave your mind a chaos-fire of unanswered questions, and then wave at you -smiling madly- from its final page. You will creep back into your own head tentative and tortured, but adorned with beautiful and incompletely digested metaphors about what it means to be an American male in roaring 20th century New York. Such as it stands, I am going to attempt this writing style right here and now. My promise at this moment, at this very beat of my heart, is that rain or shine, grammatical crimes withstanding, this dang 'ole thing will be published before the end of 24 hours! *cue dramatic ticking*

When it comes to tumble polishing rocks, we're talking about an intimate freaking process (for me). Some people go yeaarrss without ever figuring out how to properly load, manage, and clean their tumblers. I don't know any of them. Almost every schmuck I run into appears to be born with an innate, delicate touch. Speaking for myself, it's no small task, tumbling stones to a glassy sheen. I profess to have absolutely ruined several batches of rocks. After a while, the sense of being challenged by your own passion ignites a poet's heart in all of us. 'All' might be a strong word choice. Many of us? I strive to avoid excluding non-poets; I want to be encompassing while also recognizing that word play isn't something that affects all modern humans (and some learned gorillas). Back on track- not all of these victims of tumbler ruination were fruits of my direct collecting. I mean, that shouldn't matter when they rinse out to be broken and devastatingly scratched. Those poor fragile beauties, lost to my strikingly sloped learning curve...

Figure 3: Coarse cobble beach along Badger Island, along the Columbia River. I included this photo because I wanted something that gave me the sensation of being left to the wiles of Henry Miller.

Of course, each of my attempts at tumbling have begun honestly, and in the natural pursuit of rounded, sensual greatness. Smooth, shiny perfection. Stones that you find out in the world, carried home in pockets and backpacks and jars. Cleaned, sorted, weighted and measured. Delicately set and reset to that squeaky, rotating bar. Grey sand-like grits of varying sizes shaking and jiving to the rhythm of rocks and water and time. The little engine that I love to hate, drinking up turbine lubricant like a freezer pop at a marching band competition.

On a related note, if I gave up on my aspirations to be buried in a Jewish cemetery, I might consider getting the word "GRIT" tattooed on my neck. Some place where the scrawling letters can mask the acne scars sure to accompany me through the rest of this decade. This tat is multifaceted, considering my experience in graduate school darkly underscores 'grit' as a personal mantra. Another bonus being that it also commits me to a life of explaining the gangland-style presentation of (let's be honest) a mediocre pun. And there's something deeply satisfying about the sound people make when I hand them a perfectly horrible rock pun.

Figure 4: Petrified wood and agates, after some stage in the tumbling process.

Did you ever read Brave New World? We had to read it in high school, for AP English. Actually, we had a choice of reading three dystopian novels and writing essays on them for a big fat final assignment to receive full college credit. In truest & bluest form, I opted that a good writer was a good reader, and read two of the three options to construct a comparative essay, instead. Funny side note, I did this because (A) I wanted to read and not to write the big essay that would shame me to receive less than an A on, (B) comparative writing always came more easily to me, and (C) ever the evangelist, I (still) struggle to find comfort in conforming with the rest of the group. That last one turned out not to be the rebellious habit I invested in, as abhorring conformity is actually pointlessly fighting the pervasive truth that being average is, in practice, the state our culture both assigns to everyone and simultaneously deems to be sub-par. I believe this breeds a sort of disconnect with the natural flow of our identities within a universe of interaction and media-driven social coexistence. Plus, I was bad at it. Hiking boots, baggy tie dyed clothes, and plaid never did quite convey the message that I was being 100% honest with myself. In any case, there's a little rhyme in Brave New World I couldn't help but memorize. I actually have to fight the urge to rattle it off to my 3 month-old niece when scrambling for full-length poems and songs to sing for her. It goes like this:

Orgy porgy, Ford and fun

Kiss the girls and make them one

Boys are one with girls at peace

Orgy porgy gives release!

Super glad I catch myself around the baby, right? What kind of a song is that?! Well, literarily speaking, it's part of a government mandated, drug-induced conditioning ceremony used to reinforce connection between citizens of a scary, dystopian, future Europe. The song is recited, chanted, and chorused to get everyone so high on their own brain (and government supplied) chemicals that their numbed stated suppresses everything unique about them and they have a crazy, marathon sexual experience with their fellow citizens. Basically, getting everyone numb enough and high enough on endorphins & sedatives to the point of dissolving their humanity into a giant cauldron of human existence without human experience. In my humble interpretation, anyway. An interesting book. I preferred Children of Men, but Brave New World is a classic dystopian masterpiece, notable for several prescient motifs. I bring this up because I wrote a little twinge of a song about my tumbler that sparked this post like a month or two ago. Then, as I was transcribing it to this page, I began to meld it to the template of the aforementioned sex hymn (unintentionally). The original poem goes like this *cue tuning pipe*

Figure 5: Assorted tumbled agates.

Song of the Lortone 3A

Rumbler of my tumbler

Unwavering hum

Reminding us that

With a little grit

All good things in time.

If I rewrote my song to match the meter of Orgy Porgy, it would go something like this:

Rumbler Tumbler, grit and stone

Grind those rocks down to the bone

Pinch of polish to add the shine

Rough or tumbled, still divine!

I think they both have merit and a solid ring. Actually, the second one is much more conducive to sing-songing than the original poem. I hope that my humming it to myself and my niece isn't considered copyright infringement. Even if it is, fine. Call the popo. I know there are some of my kinsmen among those in blue. And now, on to something completely familiar!

10 Life Lessons Straight from Lortone 3A (my tumbler)

#1) It's time to move on.

Sometimes, you've ground the shit out of a batch as much as you can with 80 grit and you just need to move on to Step 2. Or Step 3, or whichever step it is that you are determined to resist surrendering to. This is the first on the list because it is far and away the most powerful lesson I need to retain in my tumbling. The brain worm of 'Let it go' just can't make it into my Central Conductive Unit to set up shop. That unit is self-protected with a zeal suspiciously reminiscent of heartbreak survivors, but I swear I will keep sticking that sonofabitch worm in the Lazarus pit [see DC comic books, specifically Teen Titans]. Eventually, it will metamorphose into a brilliant and terrifying manifestation of authenticity dripping in personal freedom. And, hopefully, I will no longer wring my hands over a canister of agates that have been on the same grit for three straight weeks. This is what I hear when I set my Lortone back to work this afternoon, with Step 2, after caving to the idea that I can move forward without having every stone rounded to my delusional expectations: "We are not going to conform to your desire for perfection. Release us from that addictive illusion. If you don't, we are no longer responsible for the affect our tragic loss will have on your confidence as a novice tumbler and rockhound." Wisdom at its dagnabbited profoundest. In that spirit, let us move on to our next item.

Figure 6: Hilarious "Cliff Warning" sign at Point Definace Park. Reminding us that the road of life is filled with spontaneous things that may plummet you to your death.

#2) Focusing on this one stone is hurting all the other stones that share its space.

This refers to my current pocket rock. It is the heart of a thunder egg, and I am determined to grind it into something resembling an orb of moss agate. There are talented folks that make spheres out of t-eggs on the reg, but I am not among them. This little nugget called to me from my bucket, then had the audacity to resist change! Total dick move. I'm sorry, is that sexiest? Amendment: Total genital move. It was the reason I used up all of my coarsest grit reserves, and wasted almost a month running in place (and running my baby's engine into an early grave). Once I saw how much tuff the first week of coarse grit took off, the blinders locked dead on to removing the rest. This batch of thunder egg agate, chalcedony from SE Washington, Island 20 agate, and blue agate vein material suffered under the resultant wrath of my fervent refusal to move on to Step 2 [see item #1]. I am now painfully conscious of the stones ground into unusable chips and the aggressive cracks taken on by some of the larger pieces. Again, my Lortone pleaded with me: "We are more than the summation of a single thunder egg heart! There is no reason why this single rock needs to be perfected at the risk of the rest. Although it was not damaging to us after the first repetition, and maybe not even after the second, we have reached our limit. Boundary established. Surrender now to Step 2 or suffer the loss of much more than your time and grit reserves." Point taken. I sincerely hope this talk we had convinced them to keep their shit together enough to finish the next three steps in relative compliance.

#3) Even cool rocks will scratch each other under the right (or wrong) conditions.

If you put things of differing hardness in your tumbler at the same time, the hardest ones will go under polished, the medium hard ones may come out perfectly, and you run the risk of totally destroying your softest ones. Being an especially sensitive person, I can relate to each of these hardness levels differently. The lesson that I have learned after a handful of tumble batches is that you can love all of the materials you put into something, but if you don't manage them in the state when they are together, then you may as well throw them all in with different grits too. The effect will likely be the same. Just like certain groups of people don't necessarily mix due to basic personality trait differences and communication styles, stones need to be considering on an individual basis too. Here is a thing I wrote one night, after a day of mediation in the field during my time in Astoria: "People come around in discrete types, sure, but astonishing varieties. Like jelly beans. People are just like jelly beans. And, also like jelly beans there are some types you're just not going to be able to stomach with a smile - no matter how much you want to. And I think we all want to enjoy all jelly beans, because they are candy! But when you come across one you think is too sour, sweet, or just a too off from your taste, remember to be kind. We're all just kids in the same insane candy store." Let's maybe be a little more gentle with ourselves, and then extend that to each other. Be kind, knowing that most rocks will scratch one another if crammed into the wrong circumstance.

#4) Good things take time.

I am going to leave this statement alone. Awash in the extremist thralls of youth, I await a senility that will bring a calmer, more well-rounded patience to my awareness. In the interest of staying alive, let us not hold our breathe.

Figure 7: Agates from Badger Island. Only one of these was tumbled, and honestly, I can't wait to see how it turns out.

#5) Sometimes you get lucky.

Have I shown you guys my bitchin' agates from Washington? The one batch that totally kicked ass? Of course not, that was the second attempt at writing this post, and it never made it past the opening paragraph. Well, here they are [Figures 1 & 5]. Under tumbled, just enough to stay alive and ripe with vigorous geologic character. These hot rocks came from all over western Washington, to be cradled tenderly in the bosom of my plastic organizer. And also my pocket, purse, coat, cup holder, gym bag, and passed around to a few joyous recipients. My gratitude practice needs a refresher every now and again, but this batch took well over a month to finish. And they came out perfectly imperfect. Thank you, Rock Rat, for sucking less during this batch. You done me proud, baby girl. WHATEVER YOU DO, DON'T OVER THINK IT.

#6) If I beat a dead horse for this long and this hard, at least it would disseminate.

Admittedly, this is an unreasonably gross metaphor to illustrate my point. But, you were warned about my intention and state of mind framing this article, so you really have no one to blame but yourself. This is very closely related to item #1, but as I need to learn to let some scents waft on by without pursuit, habit is the name of the behavioral game. Sometimes, you're just not going to get the shine you want out of a batch of sexilicious petrified wood. Not even if you ask nicely. Not even if you pour every ounce of remainder stress you have after a three nights in a weatherport surrounded by screaming gulls. You can dump them all back in, sacrifice a goat, and call every Rumpelstiltskin in the Yellow Pages to take your imaginary first born into custody, but if you're not obeying the law of Keep It All The Same Hardness, you won't get the polish you crave. Sate your lust elsewhere, kiddies, and don't grind your treasures to the point of destruction. Unlike an equestrian corpse, the results don't take on any more interesting forms after weeks of redundant abuse.

Figure 8: I already used this picture in a post about opalized wood, but it is an excellent example of tumbling that doesn't turn out perfectly. These babies aren't polished to glassy perfection, but they are gorgeous just the same.

#7) It might not turn out the way you want, but it will turn out.

In this life. In the next life. In every infinite expression of form and variety that is life. And especially, embodied in the forms of delicious and tantalizing rocks and minerals. Worry a little less about gems and polish, love them a little more for their structure and function. The wheels of heaven turn on the energy you feed out into our universe of love.

#8) Laziness is never rewarded, it is only temporarily overlooked.

Remember when you thought about doing a thing that would make your life easier later, and then you gracefully did nothing, instead? Yea. Sometimes that's a way of prioritizing things that can and cannot be taken on as a matter of time and energy resources. Sometimes it's an effect of laziness. Under-filling your canister with water even though you notice it while in the kitchen is not prioritizing. It's lazy. And it will result in the loss of your jelly doughnut (a really sexy carnelian I found at Salmon Creek, WA). Although, after finding that bad boy cracked and heartbroken, I did manage to make it a successful and charming pocket rock. Which, as fate would have it, I was then able to pass on to a most kindly, generous, and helpful crew mate during my last week working for Bird Research Northwest. So. Sometimes shit don't stink. Moving on.

#9) Being great at something off the bat is no fun.

Only twice have I rinsed out my Lortone and been totally satisfied with what I found in it. Actually, that's a damn dirty lie. I have never in my tumbling life been 100% satisfied with what I've found. Always strive for improvement. This, as Brene Brown tells us, is not the same as perfectionism. Example: Many of the people I have met in the past six months in the rockhounding world are older. Retired folks, rich with life experience and wisdom, often have the time and money to invest in their hobbies, making them experts at lapidary, fossil restoration, etc. I do believe that comparison is at the heart of suffering, and since I got that from the Dalai Llama, I encourage you to jump on this perception train with me. If, when I add rocks I've found to each new round of tumbling, I got exactly what I expected, my world would indeed become bleak and dull. I love learning things. We all do! The stimulation keeps us engaged and joyous. I am 25. Even when my chest aches at the sight of another batch ruined to my restless experimentation, I celebrate in the thrill of the ride. Seriously, though, ask Bristol. When I am old and grey, positively mad with a life of rich connectivity and filled with scrapes and scars from the many falls my bravery will keep leading me to, I will be much better at tumbling stones. They will come out more like I want them to, and I will probably still screw it up, even then. But the journey is gonna be totally bitchin' and I would rather enjoy this ride.

Figure 9: Heart of thunder egg, my current pocket rock.

#10) What's the rush?

This is my current pocket rock, the one I keep blaming for many of the things in this list. The heart of a thunder egg, and you can see the sheltered moss agate peeking out from behind creases in the tuff! Beautiful and mysterious. Now, I took this sucker out of the tumbler and decided to carry it around for the time being because, yes, otherwise it would just rest somewhere among other stones awaiting their final tumble. However, it also reminds me to take a deep breathe, and slow the crap down. Like, seriously, though. What is the rush to get this thing eroded into a mostly-agate blob? It won't look perfect, even when I get it done. I don't have enough materials to complete the process in the near future. Nor do I exactly know how long such a process would even take. I mean, this shit is pretty dang hard and what about the nine other things I was supposed to be learning? So, the final item on this list is to remember that all the things will get done. Or, maybe they won't, but even if they don't, the rush of modern life is an illusion. Underneath you and I, the world spins onward. Getting ever closer to the stars and ever parting from our beloved moon. The sun continues to fuse atoms and feed us, the humans continue to mill about, our lungs exchanging gases with the atmosphere, and the grass (in some places) still manages to grow. Why does that one particular thing need to be done right this second, other than to occupy my mind from whatever it doesn't want to dwell on? Answer: it doesn't. I invite you to sip a latte with me, bask in the awareness of our deepest privilege to enjoy anything and everything that our senses can absorb, and go about existing as the world spins. Maybe this will eventually become a state of living, and not just existing.

With love and nothing else,


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