Growing up, being into rocks meant you were just another kid perusing the spiritual outdoorsy store in the mall called Natural Wonders. Remember that place? It was like a combination of The Sharper Image and a Mother Earth shop containing everything from National Park jigsaw puzzles to didgeridoos and those walking sticks with the beads that sounded like rainfall (here’s a reminder). I recall much of my childhood and pre-teen years wandering the displays, thinking about how badly I needed that wind-charm or the folding wire toys that resembled a flying saucer. It was a mecca for me, a tomboyish kid who liked science, making things with my hands, and who dreamed of being a paleontologist in the desert like Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park.
What I loved most about Natural Wonders, wasn’t the lawn ornaments or the CD’s of nature sounds, it was the rocks.
Minerals, gemstones, and geodes would sit in bulk containers at the front of the store, and you were encouraged to choose a velvet sack and fill it to the brim with the glittering results of ancient earth movements. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, underground pressure and sediment produced the magnificence of these stones, each color, crystal and chemical composition telling a different story of creation. I still have my polished tigers eye and my turquoise rocks, a handful of smooth amethysts and a block of pyrite (fool’s gold) that sits proudly on my desk all these years later.
As a kid, I’d spend hours laying every rock on display in a clear plastic bin. My most precious stone was a teeny, oval-shaped Australian opal, its magic iridescence swirling in blues and greens. Other minerals were in baggies, like my yellow sulfur, a crumbling smelly monster of a thing that I kept more for posterity than for any other reason. It completed the collection and was therefore invaluable.
But I didn’t just like rocks, I loved them, spending most every day admiring my rainbow of geodes, crystals, and minerals – all which I tagged with names and descriptions. On class trips to museums, I’d spend hours in the rock areas. Family visits to Mount St. Helens and Maine were made more interesting by what kind of rocks I could find in the gift shops and trading posts off the side of the road. And I had the outfits to match: flannel shirts, a bolo tie and the thick eyebrows of a girl who didn’t bother with grooming – already prepared for the all-encompassing life of expeditions and digging.
Near home, I frequented the Hall of Gems in New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Sadly, they are now renovating the iconic space into something shiny and new, but I’ll always remember it as a 1970s disco womb – a cozy and dark velvet cave surrounded by backlit glittering stones. I loved seeing the huge variety of colored quartz, and the phosphorescent rocks that glowed under black-lights. So precious was the space that it felt like you should only whisper, letting the stones sleep in their decades-old home.
Now, you can imagine my surprise that rocks are back in, crystals adorn nearly every celebrity house, and blue quartz is no longer admired only for its color. Bestowed with spiritual and holistic powers, rocks today are not the rocks of my childhood. So, what happened? When did the average Coachella attendee learn how to identify lapis lazuli? It’s a little confusing for me, an old lover of minerals. But what choice do I have? I still love rocks. I love their shapes and colors, the flecks of green feldspar or a cut aquamarine. I’m drawn to their beauty and mystery, and will always be excited that you can find such incredible things deep inside the ground.
Which is why I’ve decided to embrace the trend. I like seeing rock shops pop up, and while I don’t necessarily believe in the woo-woo theories, I can enjoy crystals for what they are: the brilliant result of the natural world. Forget the didgeridoo, rocks will always be my favorite kind of natural wonder.
Did you ever collect rocks as a child? Have you been to the Hall of Gems? Also, I found some funny articles sharing New Yorkers’ reactions to the museum renovation – check them out here: 1 & 2! (Favorite comment from the second article: “I don’t know why, but being in the hall of gems and minerals made me feel like I was on the Starship Enterprise.” LOL!)