Category Archives: Down to Earth

Christmas Cards

Written By Neil Van Oost Jr.

Christmas cards … I think everyone knows what a greeting card is, an illustrated piece of card or high quality paper featuring an expression of friendship or other sentiment, but did you know that  greeting cards were exchanged in ancient times by the Chinese and Egyptians. The Chinese  exchanged handmade messages of goodwill to one another for the New Year, they were brightly colored and designed to frighten away the monster Nian, who was a beast believed to live under the sea or in the mountains. The monster only came out around the time of Chinese New Year in the spring. Nian would attack everyone, but preferred children and was reported to have a sensitivity to loud noises and had a fear of the color red. The ancient Egyptians also used papyrus scrolls to send greetings and for record keeping. Continue reading Christmas Cards

Some thoughts on technology

down to earthWritten by:  Neil Van Oost Jr.

Some thoughts on technology …… When I was around twelve, I built my first radio receiver. It was from a kit, there were only a handful of parts, as far as I can remember, there was a coil wound around an oatmeal box, a carbon headset, a diode, a piece of galena (lead ore), a stiff wire and some wire and a couple of clips to connect it all. There was no battery, you probed the piece of galena with the stiff wire until you heard an AM radio station — it was great, and I built it myself. Continue reading Some thoughts on technology

The Year 1891 in Review…

Written By Neil Van Oost Jr.

The year 1891 in review ….  A lot of important events happened in 1891 that most people would never think of these days, after all life and events of now and tomorrow take precedence over the things that happened over one hundred years ago, it was a different time. Some would say it was a simpler time, less stressful, easier living, not the hustle and bustle of today’s madcap pace,  but then again, I wonder what a person living then would say. Following are just a couple of the events that happened around the  world in 1891. Continue reading The Year 1891 in Review…

The View is Great from Up Here

The view is great from up here….  Another June has passed, and that means, I have made another rock collecting trip to Deming New Mexico. This year’s trip started off uneventful, but did not end that way. The first week was normal, I visited with my friends Ed & Judy, and Judy and I went out several trips  to the local agate fields to do some rock collecting. Continue reading The View is Great from Up Here

Rocks in My Head

Written By:  Neil Van Oost Jr.

Rocks in my head….  When my parents were alive, Mom would often say Pop and I had rocks in our heads, although we never said it to her, we were of the opinion that she also had rocks in her head. As a family we did many things together, camping, rockhounding, and crafts were just a few. When we traveled north to upstate New York for those lovely, double terminated (points at both ends) quartz crystals, known as Herkimer diamonds, we would always have to stop at this one river to pick up, smooth, water worn, round stones, for Mom to paint on. When we went to Missouri to collect mineral specimens of barite and quartz, most of our collecting went towards collecting, in Mom’s opinion, nice looking pieces that she could use in making her craft arrangements. Years after that Missouri trip, my father had to have surgery, when he came home from the hospital he asked if we still had any of that barite and quartz rock in the back yard. A strange question I thought, just coming back from the hospital!  He then told me he had to drink two glasses of barite before the operation, and it did not taste good. He had, what they call in the hospital, “a barium cocktail,” which is a barium sulfate suspension, a form of barite, used in medicine to take scans or pictures of your digestive tract. Continue reading Rocks in My Head

White Drifts

Neil Van Oost Jr.

White Drifts….  Over the past few years as Christmas approaches, I hear the call of the West, with its visions of warm sunny weather, and trips walking the desert in search treasures which have been newly exposed by wind, rain and temperature changes which can push those treasures to the surface. The treasures I look for are of the mineral variety, agates, jasper, chert, and anything else that strikes my interest. Rocks and minerals, nature, photography, and lapidary are among some of my interests, so some of the rocks will wind up cut, ground, and polished. This year my trip was different because the weather did not co-operate.

This was a year of  El Nino, which is a regularly occurring climatic feature of our planet, El Nino takes place when warmer than usual sea water exists off the coast of South America. El Nino causes climate effects around the world. This year my winter vacation out West was cold, windy, wet at times, and contained snow and ice. Collecting rocks out in the desert was not an option. I did try a couple of times, but wind chill temperatures approaching freezing were not a thing that I could cope with at my age. My vacation out West, this year, consisted of several outings. Continue reading White Drifts

The Three Gifts

The Three Gifts… As the Christmas season approaches my thoughts always turn to the nativity scene I volunteered to help put up in the early 1960’s. I was a naval weather observer stationed at Naval Air Sation  Glynco, Georgia. One day in late November, I found that my commanding officer had been placed in charge of putting up the Christmas decorations on the base, I also found out that, in the traditional Navy way,  myself and another Areographer’s mate had been volunteered to do the work. It was a week and a half of working high above the ground, in a cherry picker basket, in bitter cold thirty degree weather, putting eight foot high plywood candy canes on top of light poles. The last day was the best , because it was at ground level where it was warmer, and assembling the nativity scene was relatively easy and only took half the day. Continue reading The Three Gifts


Neil Van Oost Jr.

Rocks….  Yes, I’m into rocks. In 1954 I became a Boy Scout and this started my love of the outdoors and rocks. It was not only my introduction to to the outdoors and camping, but also my parents introduction to family camping. I remember our first camping trip to Lake Welch in Harriman State Park in Bear Mountain, NewYork. It was supposed to be a whole week of camping and wound up to to be a month long stay. My uncle Henry had talked my father into the idea and was also camping in the spot across from us, only he was staying for four weeks. After the first week went by, my parents decided to stay, Pop and my uncle would go back to work, as their vacation time was over, and commute back and forth to home and spend the weekends with us. My aunt Henrietta, was an old hand at camping as they had been camping and traveling all over the country for a long time, in fact a couple of her four children had been born on the road.

What a great summer for us kids, all kinds of places to explore and a nice lake to fish and swim in. One of the first things Pop did was to get a guide to all the trails in the area from the ranger, On the weekends, just Pop and I would explore one of the trails. Mom would make us a lunch and we would be off for the day hiking through the woods. One of the trails was supposed to lead to a mine, and on a Saturday morning, my father handed me the map and trail guide and let me pick where we would go for the day. I remember I was excited, because I had been studying the map and guide all week, I wanted to go to the mine. I had never gone to a mine before, and as a young boy, I had thoughts of gold and precious stones, it never crossed my mind at the time that all kinds of different minerals came from mines. Well we never did find that mine, not on that day or any of the five years that we camped at Lake Welch during the summer. It wasn’t that we stopped looking, we must have made two or three attempts every summer, we did find the mine garbage dump and a rusted out, semi whole, model A, Ford, and eventually what we figured out to be the tailings pile (mine rock dump), but we never found the hole in the ground that was the mine. On every one of those trips, we picked up stones, I remember picking up some pyrite (fools gold) and a stone that sparkled with mica, then when we found what we thought was the tailings pile, a black heavy stone that we never identified.

That was a wonderful time in my life and ever since then I have picked up stones, Pop, Mom and I made many camping trips and as we picked up knowledge from other people along the way, we went to many different places looking for rocks. We sought rubies and sapphires in Franklin, North Carolina and emeralds in Hiddenite. We found aquamarine at one mine and yellow flakes of thorbinite (a radioactive mineral) on a rock, at another in a mine cave that lit up red and green when I turned on my battery powered ultra violet light on.

cape may diamonds

We have searched for Cape May diamonds, those lovely New Jersey, rounded by the ocean pieces of quartz that glisten in the sun when wet. Up in Herkimer, New York we have mined those sparkly, double terminated (points at both ends) quartz crystals called Herkimer Diamonds – for thirteen years Pop and I did some serious rock mining there, until Pop went on oxygen because of breathing problem caused by working thirty-two years in a chemical plant and a life time of cigarette smoking. Where ever we went, Mom was also there, doing her thing, looking for nice rocks for her craft projects. On trips to Herkimer, we never failed to stop by the river and pick up smooth stones for her to paint on.

When I got out of the Navy in 1969, Pop and I got interested in tumble polishing rocks, which eventually lead to cutting, grinding and polishing rocks. Both my parents are long gone now and I like to picture them hunting rocks in a much better place and always finding the good ones now.  Me I still hunt rocks. I make three trips a year, California, New Mexico and Arkansas. My next trip will be my annual trip to Arkansas to hunt for one of my favorites, Quartz Crystals.

In all of my rock hunting trips, I have come to realize that its not the finding that is most important, but the looking, and the people and friends you pick up along the way. — Well, Yes I guess it is a real kick, when you find that big, shinny, sparkly one.



Written By:  Neil Van Oost Jr.

Spiders….  I had not really sat down and thought about spiders for awhile, but recently have been taking a lot more notice of them. A little bit ago, when there were still brown leaves tenaciously hanging on to the (white oak) trees, and I was hopefully finishing up the leaf raking for the seventh time, that’s when the little bugger must have hitched a ride into the house on my clothes. I did not spot him until I reached for the shaving cream the next morning, he was huge, keep in mind I had not hit the shower yet and my eyes were still half glued together with sleep. He was huge, had a dark body, and was just sitting there on the bathroom sink with legs extended. If he had of been sitting on a twenty-five cent piece, his legs would have easily gone over the edges. I put a plastic cup over him and slid a piece of paper under it, capturing him, and released him outside.

I have this “thing” about bugs, they belong outside the house, early in the spring I go around “Home Defencing” the house, I liberally spray the around the doors inside and out, and around the foundation. I do this at least once a month until Winter sets in again. Spiders, ants, crickets, and roaches seem to be immune to this treatment most times, in my opinion. I am glad I haven’t seen a roach in the house since the 80’s, I remember that day well. Mom  had gone grocery shopping and as she was taking the groceries out of the bag, a big roach crawled out. Pop saw it, but before he could squish it, it escaped into an open draw under the kitchen counter. Well, Pop and I literally tore the kitchen counter apart to get at the little bugger. Even after we killed it, Pop sprayed every piece of wood, the wall and floor with insecticide. Pop also had this thing about bugs inside the house.

Spiders are air breathing arthropods (external skeleton, segmented body, and jointed appendages), that have eight legs, chelicerae  (jaw parts) that inject poison. When I was little, I always wondered how come spiders never got caught in their own webs, I don’t remember ever getting a satisfactory answer. Now with the Internet, the answer is just a few clicks away. Try searching on the Ask search engine the question; “Why Don’t Spiders Get Stuck In Their Webs?”  or ask any smart ten year old to find out for you. You may be surprised at the answer.

Ever been bitten by a spider? I have, and spider bites are not fun, but for the most part, except for a couple of species, not life threatening. The Web site;, is a good place to start if you suspect you have been bitten by a spider.

I tried researching just how many spiders there are in a square foot of pasture land and got many different answers, from a few to hundreds, and I figure that since there are about 43,676 species of spiders (as of 2008 studies), it depends on just exactly where you are located when you do the count. I do know that when I am out in the back yard doing something, I rarely fail to see a couple.

Are spiders helpful? The following is a partial quote from the www, website; “Spiders help to keep your home, yard, garden, farm, school, and workplace free from pest insects. Spiders help the whole planet in a similar way, preventing insects from becoming overly dominant and destructive. Spiders are in turn food for other organisms, from other spiders to birds, reptiles, and small mammals like shrews. Spider venoms show promise in the field of medicine. Spider silk is among the strongest, most elastic of natural fibers. Synthesized spider silk has proven useful in creating the next generation of parachutes and bullet-proof vests. “

As for those horror flicks with the giant spiders big enough to eat a cow, well just ask one of our returning vets from overseas or research Camel Spiders on the Net, but don’t blame me if you have nightmares.

A Walk on the Beach

Written By:  Neil Van Oost Jr.

A Walk on the Beach…  It is mid April and I could hear the rain on the roof for a good part of the night. I woke late, it was almost six, I could feel twinges in my right knee, so I really did not have to look out the window to see if it was still raining, but I did, and it was. I sat back down on the bed — “What the heck,”  I thought, as I rolled over and snuggled back under the covers. By the time I got organized, checked the email and did some computer shopping, had breakfast, did yesterday’s dishes (all six of them, not counting knives, forks and spoons) it was time for lunch. A very slow start to the day.

The rain had stopped, but everything in the yard was wet, I just could not face another day of yard work, moving heavy, wet, pots of earth had done me in yesterday. As usual, when I get the clean -up bug, I do not know when to stop, thank goodness it only strikes every couple of years. This left me with two choices, do clean-up in the house or the garage, and neither of those appealed to me at the time. I made my decision on the spur of the moment, “Just get away from the house, go for a drive some place,” I thought.

I decided to set Veteran’s Bicentennial Park, on Long Beach Island, in Beach Haven as my target because I knew it well and had done quite a few craft shows and even attended a couple of Summer concerts there in the past.  I had not been out that way since way before Sandy struck, and was curious to see how the area’s  recovery was coming along.  In 1873 the town was established as a beach-front resort for wealthy summer residents from Philadelphia and  was known by  islanders as “Queen City.” On November 11, 1890, Beach Haven was incorporated as a Borough by the New Jersey Legislature. From a census population of 239 in 1900, to an estimated, almost 1200 full time residents in 2013 it has grown quite a bit, considering it only incorporates a land area of  0.978 square miles, and a water area of  1.342 square miles. I love looking a the architecture of some of the older houses and buildings which reflect the influence of the bygone Victorian and Edwardian periods.

As I left the house, the sky still showed dirty gray clouds with only a few small holes showing blue. The outside temperature had crept to just a bit over 60 degrees, and I thought, perhaps it might even be clear over the water. The drive was about thirty miles and in the Summer can take up to an hour and a half if you are doing it at the wrong time of the day. Today it took a little over an hour, I wasn’t in a hurry and because I had forgotten the street I had to turn at, I went some fifteen blocks to far. I was lucky, I spotted a friendly borough policeman at a road construction site that set me right.

Arriving at Veteran’s Bicentennial Park, I grabbed my camera and locked the car heading for the fencing and that restricted path across the dunes. The weather had not cleared, as I had hoped, but instead had deteriorated. The wind had picked up, and as I passed over the top of the dune path, I felt the cold hit me. It felt as if I had stepped across a barrier with a more than ten degree drop in temperature, and, of course I was in my t-shirt. There is a smell to the ocean here, it is unlike the smell of other ocean shores, and I have been to several. Sometimes you can smell it on the Eastern side of the  bay, if the wind is right and it declares, “You are now at the Jersey Shore.”  I almost had the entire beach to myself, except for the couple in the distance on my right and a couple of fishermen on the distant jetty to my left, and the brave seagull that walked by some fifteen foot away, not even bothering to notice me, just pecking at something in the sand every once in awhile. I suffered the cold and wind for ten minutes or so, I was worth it, like having a total reset, the day wasn’t a disaster at all.

On the way back, I took some side street trips and looked things over, there were bare lots here and there that once contained bungalows, Summer beach houses, or homes to local residents. I passed some homes that, I knew if I stopped and looked in the bare windows, they would be empty inside. I passed one house that sat on bare I-beams on top of pilings, just recently raised up from its place on the ground. Other homes and commercial buildings showed their new clothes, siding bright, paint jobs sparkling with new color. Yes, Beach Haven is coming back to its old self, stronger I hope.

But still it is the empty lots and houses that affect me the most, and the nightmares they surly contain.