This is my first post for this blog; actually it’s my first post for my first ever blog…
While I am interested in a great number of many things (perhaps to the extent of exhibiting some kind of attention deficit disorder) I have chosen to make this blog about my passion for mineralogy and the joys of maintaining an ever-expanding collection of mineralogical specimens. So while I am very new to blogging at this time, I hope whatever readership I acquire will be able to put up with my currently amateur blogging skills as I continue to learn more about the maintenance and development of this on-line journal.
I’m not a mineralogist or geologist. I don’t have a science degree or any form of accreditation associated with mineralogy, gemmology, geology, or any other scientific field. What do I have is a Bachelor’s Degree in music performance and a lifelong interest in many aspects of the natural world of which mineralogy/crystallography is only a part. And I read a lot.
I originally started collecting minerals in 1987, influenced by my maternal uncle, a mathematician, who in turn had always been interested in chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and the like since he was a kid. I remember my uncle telling me stories of his youth when the commercially available kids’ chemistry sets at the time (ca. 1950’s) contained chemicals like calcium oxide, potassium nitrate, and other potentially maiming or explosive compounds. These chemistry sets would then be augmented by including even more exotic (or “nastier”) chemicals obtained from the local druggist, things one wouldn’t be able to get at today’s typical pharmacy. The Cold War was on, the Space Race about to begin, and it was a golden age of science-for-kids when one could potentially blow up the sandbox if not the entire house as a result of an overly ambitious juvenile chemistry experiment. However, my uncle only managed to burn a hole through the top of a laundry appliance and cause a house-wide evacuation due to the liberation of some kind of caustic gas.
My uncle accrued various rocks and minerals during his boyhood years well into middle age; much of these specimens were personally collected from actual sites of geological interest whenever he had the opportunity. I believe it’s been years since my uncle’s last rockhounding trip; these days he chooses to express his interest in nature by way of photographing wild flowers and travelling to exotic places, Australian locales in particular.
In 1987 I was 15 years old and spending the better part of August visiting with my cousins, aunt, and uncle in Winnipeg. I remember seeing several issues of the Mineralogical Record in a bookcase, those glossy covers displaying vivid photographs of spectacular crystals; the cover of the August 1987 issue featured a gorgeous close up of a prismatic glassy green crystal of Vivianite. At an age when boys like me would likely have been thumbing through an uncle’s magazine collection of an entirely different sort, I nevertheless found myself drawn to these issues of the Mineralogical Record. I found it incredible that perfect golden cubes of Pyrite could blossom out of sandstone, or that Silver growths can resemble metallic bonsai trees, or that virtually every imaginable colour and hue could be expressed in the world of crystals. Besides, smut or otherwise racy-magazines-read-purely-for-the-articles just wasn’t my uncle’s thing.
Of course I was already aware of my uncle’s collection of rocks and minerals. Several years earlier I remember my uncle showing me some of his specimens, one of which was deliquescent (“sweating” water, most likely Carnallite) and tasted somewhat of salt. Sometime later my cousin and I, intrigued by the tasty non-drying rock, tried to find it amongst his collection by licking every specimen we could get our hands on. Thankfully my uncle did not keep specimens of native Arsenic, Selenium, or the like.
My uncle was primarily interested in mineral species that contain the Lanthanides or Rare Earth metals. I don’t know how many specimens he had of how many applicable species, but I do recall a significant amount of his collection being radioactive, with some of the specimens stored under special shielding somewhere in or near the house. My uncle has since donated his radioactives to universities years ago and many of his more harmless specimens were simply given away to a neighbour’s kid… My uncle tells me that he still has a remaining number of his old specimens packed away somewhere, tantalizingly telling me of Platinum, Sperrylite, Marshite, and other must-haves. Maybe some day…
My uncle, seeing that I was now keen to collect rocks and minerals, gave me a number of his own specimens, mostly personally collected, to start me off. I began attending local rock and mineral shows whenever possible and I would receive various specimens as gifts for birthdays, Christmas, etc. At the time I didn’t specialize in an approach or theme for collecting. I purchased specimens rather indiscriminately, often based on how beautiful or interesting they appeared – although I do recall having a penchant for silicates, especially the Tourmalines. I also wasn’t aware of condition as a consideration – many of my early acquired specimens show a fair amount of damage. I had flimsy labels cut from lined notepad paper with the species name and locality information sloppily written in pen; later I made labels on my 1980’s MacIntosh using Super Paint. All my specimens sat on my desk in front of the window, completely exposed to sunlight, dust, and curious fumblers.
By the middle of 1990 I had moved to another city as necessitated by my mother remarrying. As often happens with this kind of family restructuring a number of changes were implemented into the family unit, among them being the cessation of my $15 a week allowance. Fair enough, I was 18 and told that it was time to get a job of my own (whilst finishing my last year of high school.) I was also learning to play guitar and very keen to purchase my own instrument with whatever money I could save up with. Suddenly I found myself re-prioritizing my interests. I stopped collecting comic books, World War One memorabilia, and rocks and minerals. My collections were boxed up and left to languish in storage for almost 20 years as I went on with life.
In August of 2009 I was performing at the Edmonton Fringe Festival. While getting food at the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market I happened across Discovery Gemstones, a vendor booth selling polished/cut stones for jewellery, lapidary supplies, and also a modest selection mineral specimens. I looked over the specimens, each one mounted in its own tiny white cardboard tray with the label printed on front: Cinnabar, Wulfenite, Barite… What little I knew of mineralogy started trickling back into my memories, and I felt a sudden surge of interest as a voice in my head seemed to say: “hey, it’s been so long since you collected anything… How about these..?” For the first time in nearly 20 years I bought a mineral specimen right then and there: a $2.00 green Grossular Garnet from Asbestos, Québec, if only because it represents my wife’s birthstone. When I returned home from the Fringe I eagerly unpacked my old mineral collection which had been sat for years amongst the basement clutter. As I unwrapped each specimen I was struck with both nostalgia and a rekindled interest in mineral collecting that soon became a fervour. The hunger had taken me. I could now feel that I had become a lycanthrope of the Rock Hound variety. Though I’ve never actually checked if my urges to purchase rocks and minerals have ever coincided with a full moon…