Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Subtitle: Adventures in Rock Polishing

Did you have a rock tumbler as a kid? Or, like me, did you just wish you had one?

Some childhood dreams do come true. I am now the owner of a rock tumbler. Or Kolbe is. He got one for Christmas last year, and we're now getting around to using it. The rock tumbler came with detailed instructions, but they omitted three rather important steps:

Step 1: Build a detached garage.

Step 2: If Step 1 proves impossible, invest in high quality ear protection.

Step 3: Negotiate lower rates with your power company.

The process of transforming these rough rocks into polished gems is Loud and Long.

We first took kids gem mining last summer, and, oh, was it fun. Hokey, yes. But also fun. And not wholly and completely a racket. There really is a Sapphire County, North Carolina, because sapphires really are in them thar hills. This summer I took the little people to Cherokee, North Carolina, while Dave was white water rafting with the big guys. Let me just admit from the get go that I was fully prepared to dislike Cherokee. As we entered the town, we spotted a sign for Totem Pole Loans. And then there was Tomahawk Quik Mart (or Title Pawn or Quik Lube). Lots of tee-pees and souvenir shops galore!

John, of course, was mesmerized by it all, curious to know if Native Americans really exist, and oh so disappointed to hear that cowboys and Indians really don't fight anymore. Oh, the perspective of a six-year-old boy!

Let me state for the record that most of Cherokee is actually lovely. As we drove through town, I spotted a gem mining operation. Pan 'Fer Gold, the sign invited us.

We were game.

John and Ainsey stood on their little stools and panned away. They unearthed all manner of interesting gems. Ainsley's lode included an enormous, rough amethyst.

So here's the drill: You "mine"; you take your haul into the store; a "gemologist" helps you identify your finds and tries to talk you into having a few of them finished into jewelry quality stones.

The guy seemed nice enough. He identified all of John's treasures and then moved onto Ainsley's. He looked at her stash and quickly said, "Let's just wash these off first."

He pulled her tray under the table and back up again a few seconds later. Though I couldn't prove it in a court of law, I swear her large amethyst had been replaced by a much smaller one. It all happened so fast, I didn't respond. And then we left. And I debated whether to go back and say something. And then I thought, "Kelly, get a grip. You came so that the kids could have fun, not to bag an amethyst."

I looked back at the place. Pan 'Fer Gold. Got to love the apostrophe that indicates neither possession nor omission. And then there was the sign as you entered the "mining" area. Apparently, John and Michelle Jones of Somewhere, Georgia, had Panned 'Fer Gold and uncovered an 1,100 carrot (sic) Amathist (sic).

So said the sign.

And I was really going to get into it with these folks?


We drove to a gorgeous park on the Oconaluftee River. It was a cool, sunny day. John and Ainsley spent an hour runner through sparkling water, collecting more "gems", and searching for shark's teeth. John was sure he found a few.

"'Shark's teeth," he yelled.

He claims to have found a few in Lake Erie as well.

And that's the real treasure I find when I spend time with these kids of mine. Their sense of wonder is so refreshing, so sweet, and, as I know too well, so fleeting. Rocks, sea glass, crescent moons, birds' eggs, fire flies -- truly, they love it all.

In 12-21 days we will have a cupful of  polished gems.  I am grateful to say, I have a houseful of unpolished ones.


Kris said...

I was laughing at your description of Cherokee! We went on a camping trip in the same area at the end of July and we took all the big kids tubing at Deep Creek and some of the moms went with the small fry to Cherokee. The overwhelming consensus was that the kids loved it and the moms found it hokey. But it was a fun day for all the reasons you listed.

Mary @ Better Than Eden said...

I always always wanted a rock tumbler. Now I'm realizing why that gift never showed up under the tree :) Sweet post! Hope that amethyst shines up nicely!