Montana dendritic moss agate (Yellowstone agate) is a great favorite around here, and both Rain and I love to cab it, carve it, and knap it into arrowheads and spearpoints. We can never get enough of it. So, toward that end, I often travel around Montana, stopping at all the rockshops. And sometimes, I stumble onto less likely sources that turn out to be brimming with joys.
One day last September, on the long drive home from Chicago, I stopped in a small town to fuel up and ask if there were any lapidaries nearby. The fellow behind the counter did know of one, and gave detailed directions. So off I went. After following the street down to the numbered address at the edge of town, I was disappointed to find it was a humble little residence unmarked by any ‘Rock Shop’ or ‘Lapidary’ sign. But I decided to knock on the door anyway. At the front porch, I saw a note directing me to the shop out back. Ah, a tiny glimmer of hope!! Cute little dogs with shrill barks escorted me as I made my way down the drive and around to the back. Better than any doorbell. Sure enough, I was greeted by a cane-carrying senior gentleman, who explained that the old rock shop had gone out of business and the couple who’d owned it passed away quite a number of years back. I must’ve looked visibly deflated, but perked right up when the man went on to say he had a couple of buckets’ worth of rocks ’somewhere’, and how he’d be glad to get rid of them. He said there used to be a huge pile of them when he bought the place, right in the spot his garden now occupied. Then he slipped away into his garage, leaving me standing there. Sure enough, he soon called me in and directed me to a cluttered corner where two large 10gal. containers sat on a palette, much too heavy for him to budge. It was about then that I really took a close look around, and noticed the place was literally falling down around us. The roof leaked badly. The old fellow himself didn’t look any too new either, as he told me he’d been waiting all day for his daughter to bring his weekly groceries and take him to the pharmacy. As I rummaged through the large Montana agate nodules, he went on say he felt like a terrible burden to her, since losing his pension, and that his wife of 59 years had just died the past summer. He was stooped, gaunt and thin, very sadly so, and though I didn’t see anything at all of any merit in the buckets, I became determined to buy them no matter what price he asked. So I put on a little animated excitement, pulled out a $100 bill, and held it out to him. “Is this enough to buy these?” His eyes got big and round, and he said, “Mister, that’s ten times what I was going to quote you!”. I countered by telling him that some of the pieces were really special, that it was my business to know, and that I was only offering a fair price we could both be happy with. “Besides, it’s all I have.”, and that much was true. So the deal was done. I wound up driving him to the pharmacy and the store, fixing us dinner, and spending the evening with Bill. We talked and talked, late into the night, and I found out he’d done quite a bit of rockhounding before going into the Navy. By morning, Bill and I were like old friends, and I sure felt great about that.
When I arrived home, Rain, our son Chris and my cousin dragged out every single one of those agates, wetting them and holding them up to the light. No fancy dendrites, hardly any bands, nothing but frowns. So I quickly explained the events of the day before, and got a chorus of awwwws all around. Later on, when Chris got the majority of the nodules sawn up, there were few surprises, but the large sizes did make for excellent blanks with which to knap spearheads. It wasn’t until several weeks later that I finally cut the last two smaller pieces, and found the thin, fine, almost invisible banding characteristic of iris agate. The next cuts I made extra thin, and sure enough, when held to the light, bright rainbows of color leaped out! Wow!!! Oh my, I was awestruck, completely astonished. Nearly every one was a brilliant high calibre specimen, close to forty of them in total. And I knew of an iris collector who would be thrilled to take them all…
That was how Chris and I came to drive back over to Bill’s one November weekend, with tools and a couple rolls of asphalt sheathing to fix the roof. Had to employ a lot of persuasion to cajole him into letting us help out, cuz he ‘don’t take no charity’, you know, but he did finally relent after hearing about the rainbows. heh Really jamming, Chris and I were able to get new sheetrock up also, mud and tape it, and the paint was almost dry before we left. Just in time too, for it snowed like crazy two days later… The other thing we brought Bill was a few dozen or so pounds of trimmings from our family cabbing operations, on a hunch, because I had spied an old tumbler in the garage when we first met. Lemme tell you, it was as if we’d brought GOLD, the old gent was so excited! His eyes fairly gleamed. And a few weeks ago, I finally found out exactly why. My friend had whiled away the long winter tumbling those pieces into beautiful glistening wonders, and had set them in some of the most creative wire settings I’ve ever seen. He said they’d been selling like hotcakes, almost faster than he could make them! It sure was wonderful to see him again, standing up straight and tall, proud to tell us how he’d been able to raise enough to take his daughter down to witness and help with his granddaughter’s wedding. Now THAT really misted me up, and the lump in my throat seemed absolutely enormous. Gee, it seems mighty large right now, too.
Yes indeed, rocks are truly magical things, in more ways than I can count. Like the warmth of true friendship, they’re GIFTS, gifts that come straight from the heart of our Creator, Who really does work in mysterious ways.