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The minerals of interest to the collector are not necessarily of the gem variety, however. He may be after something called a geode, the discovery of which is one of the most exciting experiences for a rockhound. To an untrained eye a geode looks like the most uninteresting, dusty, colorless boulder. But not to a rock-hound. It is a magical moment for one whose knowledge of district or formation leads him to such a rock, to take his hammer, crack it open and display to the world a myriad of fairytale crystals which have been hidden for millions of years and are so beautiful that no cut stone can possibly surpass them.
He may be looking for a gastrolith, which is no more nor less than a digestive pebble from the stomach of a dinosaur and is as smooth and shiny as a tumbled stone—which in actuality it is. Dinosaurs, it appears, ate rocks as chickens eat gravel to assist the digestion of their meals.
He may be after a crystal which contains a bubble of gas trapped in a drop of water—caught inside when the crystal formed. There is fascination in watching the rolling of a drop of water millions of years old.
The hunter may, on the other hand, be after fulgurite. Fulgurite looks like black lightning, and it is. Rather, it is the result of it. Lightning occasionally strikes sand. The tremendous heat generated by the lightning immediately melts and fuses the sand. It cools quickly, leaving the formation of the bolt itself. It is impossible not to feel in some sort of tune with the universe when you hold frozen lightning in your hand.
The rockhound has specific character traits unlike those of any other sportsman. He is with few exceptions scrupulously honest. Almost any dealer will leave valuable specimens all over his counters where they might be easily picked up. One dealer, when asked the why of this blind trust in the public, said, "It takes a certain kind of mentality to be a rockhound. Dealers love browsers in their shops. After all, the dealers themselves are hobbyists, and they love it when people admire their merchandise. Besides, there'd be no percentage in stealing a specimen—you couldn't ever show it to another rockhound; he'd be liable to recognize it. It's as if one of your children were stuck in a group of several thousand others; you'd recognize him, wouldn't you? Why? Because you love him. Same with a rockhound—if it's a good specimen he'll know it anywhere."
Second character trait: humor. Another dealer, in Palm Desert, Calif., has incessant inquiries from would-be, unknowledgeable tourist rockhounds about whether there isn't good material to be found in the desert around his place. They take up a good deal of his time, buy nothing, and when he says there isn't anything of value or interest for a couple of hundred miles, they go right out and spend the day looking anyway, return to him and take up more of his time requesting him to identify their finds. He is patient with them. "That," he will say to one, "is a fine specimen of idiotite." And, "You have found some junkite," to another. "And that is either deteriorite or inferiorite, it's hard to tell because you've smashed it up so with that sledge hammer you used." Mostly, they go away happy—still without purchasing anything.
A feeling of eternity
Third character trait: he is a non-worrier. The rockhound possesses the knowledge that the specimens he is collecting may have taken millions of years to attain their present form or may have been created by one great shattering cosmic disturbance. The knowledge gives him a broad point of view. This point of view is probably based on his feeling of eternity. The rocks he handles have remained in their present form despite thousands of years of human conflict and catastrophe and will so remain even if our present civilization blows itself to bits. This knowledge, of foreverness is inclined to make today's problems seem far less compelling. It also gives him a peculiar sense of time. I once had a date for cocktails with Dr. Richard Jahns of the California Institute of Technology, who was doing some work with the United States Geological Survey in California. I was forced to break the date, as I had to leave for New York unexpectedly. I was gone a year, and when I returned, saw Dr. Jahns, and said, "Isn't this awful—it's been a year since our date. We'll have to do something about it." "I'd love to," he said. "But don't worry; a year is just a moment in the mind of a geologist." That, of course, is a highly educated rockhound, but the identical point of view exists in those less erudite than Dr. Jahns.
Fourth character trait: A rockhound may have a satisfactory field trip, or get a satisfactory polish on a stone, or make a satisfactory display of minerals for a club exhibit, but he is never satisfied. When a rockhound is after something, it doesn't matter whether it's in a mine tunnel which may cave in, or on a shelf of rock 30 feet in the air from which he may fall and break his neck—he has to have that specimen, that's all there is to it. My then 15-year-old son and I once came dragging in from a stone hunt carrying sacks so heavy that neither of us would have lifted them for pay. We had been out since early morning looking for some quartz crystals in a vein of rock that ran along the top of a rock cliff and down into the surf of the Pacific. We had worked unceasingly with cold chisels and hammers and finally at the end of the day had dislodged some crystals and trudged up a quarter-mile hill, dragging sacks weighing probably 50 pounds apiece full of rocks. When we arrived home we were both exhausted, but not so exhausted that we couldn't get the rocks into the kitchen sink and start scrubbing them. My tired son would not have scrubbed himself, mind you, but the rocks, yes. My husband came in from a hard day at the office and there was no dinner on the stove but a great many boulders in the sink. He is a very patient man. He just said, "Darling, don't you think we have enough rocks?" He doesn't understand. There is no such thing as enough rocks.
Fifth character trait: thirst for knowledge. Delmer Daves, writer, director, producer, rockhound extraordinary, responsible for such film successes as Destination Tokyo, Task Force, and others, is a man of many interests. Collecting stones was not one of them until he was visiting the Museum of Natural History in New York one day and saw the displays of fabulous gems. It was plain love at first sight. He called a guard, asked who was curator of gems—could he see him and ask some questions? The guard said not to be ridiculous, Dr. Pough was a busy man and didn't have time to stop and talk to everyone who came in. But Daves heard a laugh behind him and a voice said, "What do you want to know? I'm Dr. Pough." Daves replied, "Everything. How do I go about learning to be a collector?" Dr. Pough said, "Anybody can collect things—paperweights, spinning wheels, bells or whatever. The man who really enjoys collecting is the one who knows something about what he collects. If you want to start anything, don't start in the middle, start at the beginning. Your knowledge is what will give you the pleasure."