Maybe a casual remark tossed off by David Spade on George the other night got me started thinking about this. Spade said that, as a child, he was so poor that he collected rocks. Poor? I had never associated a rock collection with poverty. Inexpensive, yes. But collecting rocks was part of the joy of rural living, for sure. We had the freedom to explore without fear or anxiety. Although it is probably true that most of our acquisitions are gathered free of charge, at least until collectors expand into cutting, polishing, and lapidary.
Independence. Another part of rural living was often an absence of other children your own age close by. Yet in our home, the word "bored" was not allowed. "Only boring people get bored," we were assured. The point being, we were expected to learn ways to amuse ourselves when there were no other people around. We were expected to be independent.
Responsibility. Moreover, it was our responsibility, part of our duty as we grew up, to find something to do, to develop interests, preferably interests which get us outside, interacting with our environment, noticing things, asking questions, doing some primary research. Engaging with the world around us. Collecting was a common solution. Some kids collected bird eggs, bird nests, wasp nests, skeletons, skulls, feathers, butterflies, leaves, flowers. Some began "life lists" of birds encountered and identified.
Accessibility. Collecting rocks was something that was easy to do when you lived on a farm. Check out the new load of gravel dumped on the road. Perhaps it is composed of agates, or lava rock, red or black. Just walk out into the fields and look down, especially after the soil has been turned, or after a rain. Quartz and calcite will stand out white in the black till. Mica and tourmaline will wink at you. Feldspar may look pink, or jasper blood red. Iridescence may signal a fossil of some sort. Or you may find a CMO, culturally modified object, such as a "stone hammer" with a band chipped out around the centre, for binding rope to the granite, or multi-colours of flint or chert fashioned into points, scrapers, tools, or utensils. If you live in or travel to the right places, you may find jade objects, or you may be seduced by the multi-facets of crystals (quartz, amethyst), or semi-precious (garnet) or precious (ruby, emerald, sapphire, diamond) stones which are the raw material for jewels. Or gold or copper or silver nuggets washed in the river, or gold dust in the moss. And don't forget the thundereggs, the geodes, with their agate bands or smoky quartz crystals inside the hollow rock ball. Variety. Colour. Translucence. Lustre. Sparkle. Scratch. Mystery. Something will make it a "keeper."