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Rockosophy Generosity

Figure 1: Agate hidden in gravel along the Chehalis River in southwestern Washington.

Couple things: When the day finally comes that I have compiled enough rock tales to bring my anthology to life, I'm gonna title it Rockosophy: An Anthology of Stone Philosophers, in a swanky font, of course. There's that riveting report. Also, there is the rippling, indulgent spirit of rockhound culture ever-percolating to this Rock Rat through a society built by the sharing of pocket rocks, stories, and adventures. This continually inspires titillating tales of humanist goodwill! Thus, the title of this article and most of the crazy beautiful photos in it (more on that later). Furthermore, in not-so-breaking news, rockhounds are now automagically* precipitating out of thin air -no, that's too generic...- I need something more encompassing. Oh! Everywhere. Screw the air density, these superb specimens are sprouting up EVERYWHERE to spread their love of gettin' dirty. It's true! I have an adventure to prove it from the banks of a Washington river [Figure 1]. Hold on to your butts, kiddos!

Figure 2: Photo courtesy of the NW Rockhounds.

Right. Before we begin, I must explain the photo montage. I was going to write a post about my constant abuse of the word 'sexy' in describing stones and this hobby that overwhelmingly dominates this blog experience. What is still my attempt to progress social awareness of nature hobbies, adventures, and ultimately conservation. In fact, I not only wrote such a post, but I wrote a follow-up to it, as well. After not-enough forethought, I published both Getting Bolder and it's sequel on My Morning Mile. Unless you subscribed before or during the November 2017, you have no evidence of these, as I couldn't quite retain the gumption to keep them available more than a week or so. This is relevant because, at the onset of that unsheltering blogtastic extravaganza, I hit the NW Rockhounds page to request photos of "love rocks, or rocks that you love." What I got was frickin' epic. You see them here, as the few I could still dredge out of my phone after months of pixelated accumulation. It didn't take more than two hours for some of the loveliest of hounds to throw out their heart-shaped beauts for me, complete with locations and compliments passed around as we all marveled at the striking finds.

These folks sprung at my request, and I am forever grateful [Figures 2, 3, 6, 7]. As it stands, I did not include them in the articles I ultimately withdraw from the public eye. Ever since, they have been festering quietly in my queue for an occasion such as the one I will relate now. I have peppered these four images across this article to 1) compensate for the fact that photos taken with my phone no longer download properly and the two images I did include are cut-off [Figure 5], and 2) to pepper these words with the Russian nesting dolls of illustrations. This is a story of generosity and outreach, and these photos of loverocks* were provided with affection between rockhounds and for a rockhound. Which is damn near the greatest gesture since that guy, Jeremy, tried to hand me a ball of his "super fine weed" before getting off the bus. 

If you find yourself chafing under the quietude of your urban routine, consider this allegory of wonderment a map to your own far-fetched encounters with the Fairy Rockfathers of the PNW.

Back awhile, I took a friend out to the banks of the Chehalis River to hound for agates and petrified wood. If you've never been, it's totally worth checking out. There are a bunch of places you can just pull over along the Chehalis on public land and poke around for goodies (Gem Trails of Washington Field Guide). Be sure to check the gravel bars at boat launches, swimming holes, and parking areas! The treasures are quite real and perfectly worth taking an hour jaunt south of T-town. Remember to get down on your belly, facing the sun, so that the light will illuminate everything that is not opaque [Figure 1]. Do you recall that bit 'o honey I thought was amber? Yea, little that tasty business came from the very same gravel bar as the magical man in this story.

Figure 3: Carnelian agate pendant on an heirloom boxchain.

The morning was wild. With my bud, Melissa, and the Zen-dog in tow, I selected the same Chehalis pull-over site where I struck a beaut worthy of making into a pendant for my pleasure (courtesy of the jewelry BAMFs over at Jerry's Rock & Gem Shop) [Figure 3]. A find worthy of showing off (which for me is most of them- some day I will tell you about 3-year-old me & the giant chunk of asphalt) would surely infect my new friend with that most contagious of nature hobbies: rock hounding. An hour after we set out from G Street, I swung AJ, laden with our tiny team of eager beavers, into the parallel ruts of an unofficial parking area along the Chehalis. The second my right hand left the gear shift, I blew out a definitively disappointed huff. There was a problem.

Melissa noted the instant change in my enthusiasm and asked what bothered me. Already looking at my field guide for the next stop on our Wednesday adventure, I failed to film my disappointment (spoiler alert) at arriving late to the scene for gravel picking. "Did you see those two other people down there?" I asked. She had. "So, they have probably been here since light broke this morning, and it's almost 1PM now. That guy even had a treasure scoop, and is probably in his 60's...we might want to just go to another spot if we want to find anything. Take a chance no one else is out in the middle of the week, someplace else." My harsh assessment of our present site baffled her. "Why does it matter if they're old? Is this their land or something? " I explained my grievance, "No, it's public land, but when the pros get out there, the beaches are usually over-picked. Which isn't bad, there's so much material out here... but we might go down there and not find anything." 

Figure 4: Photo courtesy of the NW Rockhounds.

"How do you know they're pros?" She asked thoughtfully. Here is where my judgement strayed: The humans who have spent 20 or 30+ years getting lost in the woods and floating the weaving rivers of the mineralogically gifted PNW are the ones who know WTF they are doing. I mean, guys, these retirees have books, maps, samples, polishing wheels, saws, slabs, cabs, wires, pliers, and rock tales longer than the average school teacher's To Do list. They are the edgy, amiable foundation of a generation spent frolicking in the steadfast, drizzling rains of the temperate rainforest. Ever questing for that one tiny fossilized marine shell. Or carnelian hot spot, or sugary sweet quartz rimming a pair of pyrite cubes. They have the benefitt of time and wisdom, and eyes tailored to the shape and opacity of whatever mineral they are on the grind for. 

They're old & masters of their craft.

Now, this is a gross generalization, but like I said, my surly assessment sent my logic awry. For whoever is keeping track of my emotionally disjointed fallacies of rockhound logic -not that I have ever lost my senses to the sway of pathos- this goes down on my karmic list. Resolved to at least give the potential pickings a go for half an hour or so, the pair of us were lead by Zen to the water. Bounding ahead of us, my peppy Aussie made quick friends with the two hounds pursuing the water line. As expected, they were both perfectly pleasant. "Hey there! What a beautiful dog (major brownie points), he likes to get wet, does he?" I met a smiling woman on the bank with my cheesiest grin, emanating nothing short of puppy pride, and made small talk. We crossed behind the two as we chatted and made a bee line for the furthest bank from their hunting stake. I crossed my toes (can't everyone do that?) that a small, sequestered section had gone thus un-pruned for stones. 

"You're here to rock hound, then?" Motioning with his treasure scoop to my mason collection jar and kitchen strainer, the man caught us before we reached the adjacent bank. "We sure are!" Melissa added from ahead of me. I could tell these pros were interested to share their expertise, so I asked how long they had been over the site. They explained, "Not very long, although, when we got here there was a group of six or seven that came out with a good bunch of agates. Carnelian even! Looks like we missed the good pickings." Small world. Now, I was intent on hearing why they still hung around, clinging to the center most section of barren gravel. "Oh yea?" I lead with my trademark phrase-of-interest, and slid my hips to the left, awaiting the on-coming advice. 

Figure 5: Blurry photo of the ring my fairy rockfather made from the same material he blessed Melissa and I with, hoping we would make our own jewelry from it.

"Oh man, they said they were striking a find every ten feet or so! Wish we would have come earlier, but we're retired and have been at this for years (nailed it), so we're not in any kind of rush. The river will refresh it in a couple weeks." Beaming, I threw an additional peace sign, thanked them for the heads-up, and joined Melissa in throwing sticks to a bounding Zen. "What did they want?" she asked. "Just to let us know what's out here. Didn't I tell you they were pros?" You'd think my ego would settle, knowing I am the only schmuck in my immediate social circles who gives a flying fart about rocks and minerals. Alas, maybe it'll quiet down by the time I am the white-haired woman passing along site descriptions to the rando chick and her click of cyborg nature hobbyists. 

It took us no time at all to strike an itty bitty yellow agate, and then another two minutes to find a white nug. To the satisfying sound of clinking glass, I passed the charms to Melissa, who dropped them in our jar of finds. Skip ahead about ten minutes, and I hear a hollar from down stream. Looking about, I see the older fellow, using his treasure scoop as a cane, headed our way. His arm waving to get our attention. "Hey, what's the deal? Find something good?" He hadn't heard me and instead dropped his outstretched arm to reveal a pair of rocks. I asked him to repeat what he has called over at us. "I said we're about to head out, but I wanted to seed your jar with a couple of good finds -for luck!" Overturning his palm, a set of two-inch agate vein chunks winked at us with streaks of light blue and white.

Figure 6: Photo courtesy of the NW Rockhounds.

", that's amazing, thank you!" I tenderly took one and handed the other to Melissa, who curiously analyzed it as the man justified his selection in pocket rocks. "Yea, well these are from the Stillwater area, over by where my wife and I live. It's good stuff. I go digging there all the time." He was watching us goggle over our treats. "Oh yea?" I added, then self-consciously asked a legitimate follow-up question, "Where is that? Does it require digging?" The man casually told us that he owns a claim just west of where we were standing, and that most of the land is claimed nowadays. That didn't stop him though. "I go digging on other folks' land, just like I catch people digging on mine (I thought that was hilarious). It's all the same, no one really cares, and Stillwater has some beautiful stuff if you know where to look." With that, he winked at us and brought up the back of one hand, showing off his fine lapidary craftsmanship. "I made this ring from that same material you're holding. It makes great jewelry."

I asked if I could snap a photo, and he acquiesced long enough for my phone to partially focus [Figure 5]. Almost embarrassed, he smiled again and said he hoped we used our pieces to make something of our own. We thanked him to the point of genuine embarrassment and he turned to leave. "Well, just...thank you both for being so friendly today. I hope that helps your jar and that you guys get some good finds." Leaving us, with our mostly empty jar in one hand and spontaneous token of human generosity in the other, I stood and motioned to my phone for another photo. He waved dismissively and left we three at the rushing edge of the Chehalis. 

Once the gentleman/fairy rockfather*/rock hound guru left my field of view, Melissa promptly broke our reverent silence. "Wow, that was weird. Super nice though! What a sweet old guy. He just gave us these things?" I spun around so fast and grabbed my companion by her shoulders that her surprised jolt traveled up my arms too. Ignoring the startled response, I sucked in the slightest of "deep breathes" and said, "THIS HAPPENS ALL THE FREAKING TIME. THIS IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!" Melissa squinted, waiting for a real explanation. "Remember how I'm always going on about the rockhounding community?! The pocket rocks and the people and shit?!" She gave me a certain, familiar look. "Right. Anyway, the things! Pocket rocks are totally this huge cultural phenomenon thing and...and that guy could have left without saying anything to us, but he must have gone back to his car to get these and bring them to us! For good luck! 'To seed our jar with a find for good luck!' Damn, we're a superstitious bunch." By this time, Melissa, the effervescent soul that she is,  was nodding absently at my dwindling oxygen and studying her lovely piece. 

Figure 7: Photo courtesy of the NW Rockhounds.

With quotations for my eponymous rockhound anthology already swirling around my head, like those birds from the Loony Toons, my charmed friend asked, "Can we make something out of this? I think that's be a really cool story to think about when I wear something like this." Do I really have to emphatically finish this conversation for you to know how I responded? It was decisively, conceivably, the greatest thing to happen since the last time something like that happened to me (See: the rest of this blog). 

So. Ladies and gents and smizmars,  does anyone else see the trail of spirituality here? The resonance of love and good will abounding along the basalty beaches of southwestern Washington? Let us not quibble about who dragged who into the rain that one time to find bubcus. Let us not tary on the flawed pursuit of rocks that are so plentiful, they are basically worthless unless you already have several thousand dollars worth of lapidary and metal smithing equipment. I am going to find a way to make something from these two little treats, and so many others that my companions and I will have and find out in the rugged, well manicured forests of our state. This is the real deal. Are these encounters the result of a universe screaming at sentient beings to engage with it by slapping us up side the head with oxytocin-soaked bliss? Possibly. 

Quite possibly.

Happy Hounding!

*Automagically: occurring instantaneously, as if by magic at precisely the right moment. Much like Galdalf.

*Loverocks: a kind of stone that you define yourself, but seems to fall under this term.

* Fairy rockfather/mother: a human, or other form of Earth life that carries with them the center spirit of rockosophy, spreading it like sour cream on other starry-eyed rockhounds.

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