Saturday, November 10, 2012

Past Deadline: Pretty Rocks and Geology Speak

From the Oct. 18 “Past Deadline” in The Perth Courier.
Pretty rocks and geology speak
When I was a kid (oh here she goes again), I found a pretty rock. I loved rocks – I always looked for ones that had sparkly bits or interesting stripes or, if I was really lucky, I would find one that had tiny fossils in it.
I remember having this one tiny rock, though, that was predominantly white and pink but with many tiny specks of silver throughout.
I can’t remember where I found it, but I vividly recall how I lost it.
One day, I was playing with two sisters who lived down the street. They had a babysitter that day and I joined them for a walk downtown.
As we meandered down Wilson Street, I clutched my pretty rock. We had just crossed in front of what is now Metro (I.G.A. back in the day), when the babysitter asked if I would like her to keep my rock in her purse so I wouldn’t lose it.
Seemed prudent.
And then I forgot completely about it and never saw my pretty rock again.
I now know the little specimen was probably a piece of apatite or feldspar with mica sprinkled throughout. I also know there was a time when I wouldn’t have been the only one happy to find it.
Which brings me to the present. One of the coolest things about doing the freelance work I do is the opportunity to take on new and different projects. I am always learning – sometimes complex things that involve a whole different vocabulary.
A perfect example of this is geology. I was exposed to geology in a cultural history context when I worked at Murphys Point Provincial Park as a student, and this has continued on with my involvement with the Friends of Murphys Point Park. Hopefully you’ve heard of the amazing historic gem located at the park – the Silver Queen Mine – which is one of the Seven Wonders of Lanark County, you know!
I have been down in the mine a kazillion times to see its sparkly mica, feldspar and apatite, and each time I notice or hear about something new. The park staff are constantly learning about the site, which operated as a mine in the early 1900s.

In the Silver Queen Mine at Murphys Point. (Stephanie Gray photo)

Recently I had the opportunity to do some work for the Ontario’s Highlands Tourism Organization, which has a recreational geology component. I found myself working with terminology such as parallel glacial striae and foliated mafic rock and mosaics of calcite crystals and finding ways to tie it all into the human experience.
Rocks, after all, are everywhere. Murphys Point tells the story of how the first settlers struggled to farm the rocky Canadian Shield land only to come to embrace it during a small-scale mining boom, which is when they would have been happy to find pretty rocks like the one I had.
On the weekend I had the opportunity to take in the opening of the gorgeous new geology exhibit at the Perth Museum, featuring some exquisite examples from the collection of Dr. James Wilson (circa 1850) of Perth, who discovered and named the mineral “Wilsonite.” I then accompanied a group that included several geologists on a tour of the Silver Queen Mine.
They speak in tongues, those geologists, when a group of them gets together in a mine. Despite the fact I have visited the Silver Queen a kazillion times, seeing it with a group of geologists is a different thing entirely.
It’s really cool to watch people who have a passion for a subject when they are in their element.
As for me, I still love pretty rocks, even though I don’t know all the big words. And I love my job(s) for exposing me to such wonderful things.

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