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.
Both my parents are gone now, and one of the things our experiences collecting rocks together taught me, was that those rocks we collected were not just rocks, but important minerals that crept into our every day life in ways we never thought of. Picture the following things, an alabaster statue of ancient Rome, an alabaster panel depicting the Resurrection of Christ made between 1450 – 1490 from rock quarried in Nottingham, England, an Iowa farmer spreading fertilizer made of calcium sulfate dihydrate, today a carpenter putting up drywall in a new house being constructed in Forked River, an elementary student building his volcano science project out plaster of Paris. All of these were made from a mineral called gypsum.
A couple of years ago, on one of my winter vacations out west I visited a mine outside of Blythe, California to collect specimens of psilomelane, which is a manganese mineral used in making steel, directions to the mine described travel along several miles of well graded road, and that caution should be used as large trucks also used this road. As I traveled this graded section of road, I could not help but notice that both sides of this road were littered with white rocks, some quite large. Of course, being a true rockhound, I had to stop and pick one up to add to my yard-rock collection. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that, when talking to one of the local rockhounds about my collecting trip on the weekend, I was told that the drive along that dirt road on a weekday can be a bit dangerous as the big mining trucks often have a couple white rocks of gypsum bounce out of the truck when they hit a bump in the road.
When I am traveling across this great country, I often spot a place and wish I could stop, most of the time I cannot stop, there is someplace I have to be at the end of the day. When that special place you spotted is in your rear view mirror, you always wonder, what have I missed, what could I have discovered had I walked just fifty or one hundred paces off the road? There are times in my travels, when I have the time to stop, and I do. There is always some sort of discovery to be made, just a few paces off the road. The babbling brook, high up in a mountain pass in California, where I could see the flecks of gold sparkling under the water which turned out to me small pieces of mica imbedded in the rock. This made me think of the mica window in the coal stove we had in the basement when I was a kid.
Yes, I guess Mom was right, Pop and I did have rocks in our heads, as did she also, but none of us just saw the rock in our hand, we saw what the rock could become, medicine, jewelry, a craft arrangement. What do you see when you pick up a rock, a toaster, a computer, a fine etched glass, or do you see, “just a rock.” Be careful what you see, you could have rocks in your head to.