Developing a passion for rocks

By Mandy Martin

Darke Co. Parks

I’ve discovered throughout my career that environmental educators tend to pick specialties they gravitate towards. Some naturalists are passionate about fish, others can tell you everything about insects. I’ve even met a park director who knows more about ferns than any college textbook. I guess you could say that many naturalists become experts in their field.

Whatever it is they’re most passionate about, a good interpretive naturalist passes that excitement on to park visitors.

Over the years, I’ve become passionate about Monarch butterflies, native prairie plants, birds, honey bees, mushrooms and the environmental impact of balloon releases. By no means would I characterize myself as an expert, I just would say I know a little bit, about a lot. I have to chuckle as I look back on the last 25 years. There are just some aspects in nature that I had, or still have, zero interest in. Take for instance gulls, come on birdwatchers, they ALL look alike! Not to mention shorebirds; you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I still can’t get excited about fish. I’ve tried. Now this isn’t to stay I don’t care about these subjects. I certainly recognize their value in the ecosystem and can appreciate their simple beauty. Lastly, I avoided rocks and geology like the plague. Rocks seemed so complicated and how can anyone comprehend the formation process? There was never any intention on educating myself about rocks.

Then one day, it happened. A teacher called and wanted to bring classes for a field trip focusing on rocks. Not only did I have minimal interest, I was in no way prepared to teach 4th graders about rocks. The old adage, if you want to learn something, teach it, proved true! Two field trips and 120 kids later, I knew the difference between sedimentary and igneous, understood fossil formation and was able to describe metamorphic change. Who knew? Rocks aren’t intimidating or dull after all! For me, it went from avoiding rocks to becoming swiftly enthralled!

Fast forward 10 years later and I am now a bona-fide rock hound. Piles of field stone on the family farm turned into the site of treasure hunts. Huge chunks of quartz in granite boulders became mesmerizing and now line my flowerbeds. Limestone gravel mounds, both at home and work, provided hours of entertainment for me and groups of children. Could there be fossils in there? Now, wherever I go, I’m looking at the rocks. Walking down railroad tracks in West Virginia was my most recent rock hunt! A few are still in my trunk as I type this and they’ll polish up beautifully. Have you been to the parking lot at Dairy Queen in Greenville? I have but not for ice cream. Rocks around there are captivating, in fact parking lots of stores and restaurants tend to have the most beautiful variety of rocks.

It was especially fun looking through the rocks at my son’s orthodontist office. At this particular location the rock beds are waist high. Finally, no strain on my back from bending over. He was so embarrassed but I was too busy picking up rocks. I love the phrase “not all who wander are lost…some are picking up rocks.”

I now have an extensive rock collection from all over the world including Costa Rica, Africa, Mexico and dozens of states. I have rocks all over the house and my office space at work. Rocks are memories. I remember where each of them came from or who gave them to me. I use them to teach in classrooms, summer camps and park programs. Most of my collection includes igneous and sedimentary rocks. Metamorphic rock is much harder to come by. Some of my favorite pieces include a conglomerate from Guanacaste, Costa Rica. I’ll never forget pulling a piece of metamorphic sandstone, known as quartzite, out of the shores of Lake Erie. The pieces of slate that my husband extracted from our farm field polished into stunning pieces of art. Lastly, my favorite rocks to find are wishing rocks. You can trace your finger over the white line that encircles the entire rock. If you find a wishing rock you’re supposed to make a wish and throw it. I like to keep them and give to kids who delight in learning about wishing rocks. Perhaps the next one I find, I won’t give away. I’ll make a wish about gulls and throw it.