← This is me (2015; in front of a photomicrograph poster of sapphirine-bearing granulite).
From my LinkedIn profile summary:
Adapted and expanded (with photos and added text) from my Mindat.org profile:
This rock greatly intrigued me, for it was so remarkably different from what I’d ever seen before (and yet unbeknownst to me then, so eerily related, by little more than temperature and pressure, to the widespread limestone just underfoot). I knew, or at least eventually figured out, that this rock was marble, and that it wasn’t locally quarried. It was exotic, in every sense of the word. In time, with the aid of a magnifying glass and several new beginner mineral books, I discovered that the thin brown wisps were actually bands of many tiny, shiny, golden-brown flakes, which I came to understand were mica (and indeed almost certainly phlogopite). With this rock thoroughly studied, to the degree a pre-teen with limited resources could accomplish, I was inspired enough to expand my collection. But local collecting opportunities in the swampland were still extremely limited. A nearby abandoned and partially flooded gravel pit, which in Florida real estate jargon is called a lake, offered the occasional geode filled with crystals of a pale golden calcite (which I discovered, in conjunction with my first UV lamp, to be fluorescent and phosphorescent… very cool!) To my parents’ horror, my next collecting locality was the train tracks near my dad’s business, where I found abundant anthracite that had fallen off the overloaded coal cars, as well as the ubiquitous cobbles of presumably Appalachian granite and gneiss that served as the ballast to hold the railroad ties in place. By that time, I had learned enough to understand that these kinds of igneous and metamorphic rocks might have interesting minor and accessory minerals, and I examined them closely in search of rare and valuable crystals. But alas, my train track rock collecting was largely fruitless, although I can say, to my parents’ great relief, that at least I never got hit by a train.
Then in the summer of 1980, my family undertook the age-old American ritual of the family road-trip. Whereas the usual narrative is probably that most vacationers flock to Florida for travel, those of us relegated to the flat endless landscapes of sand and palms were actually quite excited at the prospect of seeing real deciduous trees and topography, and hence planned a vacation to western North Carolina. I knew this was my chance at real mineral collecting. With Jay Ellis Ransom’s “Gems and Minerals of America” checked out from the library as the unofficial trip guidebook, I pretty much co-opted the family vacation for my own single-minded collecting desires, only tossing in enough scenic overviews to placate the rest of my then less-than-enthusiastic family.
Fortunately, some of the best collecting was also in some of the prettiest countryside, so in the end the trip was enjoyed by all. Stops in Cowee Valley, Spruce Pine, and Hiddenite were of course a must, and even random stops along little roadside creeks to pan for gold and discover those elusive alluvial diamonds (yes, I had high expectations!) were on the agenda.
In the photos below, I’m panning for gold and screening gravel for gemstones (North Carolina, 1980). ↓
And while I didn’t find any gold or diamonds, I did bring home vials of small rubies, sapphires and rhodolite garnet from Franklin, rutilated quartz from Hiddenite, and even a small emerald from Spruce Pine (which I subsequently lost between the sofa cushions at home… grrr). As for the little roadside creeks, all I found were endless mosquitos, and the creepiest encounter I’ve ever had with what seemed like thousands of ticks.
The photo below is of one of the mining operations in the mineralized pegmatites of the Spruce Pine area. I’m not 100% sure which particular mine this is (we visited several), but I think it’s the Bon Ami Mine in what now appears to be a tourist center called “Emerald Village”. ↓
Back in Florida, I realized that for my mineral collecting to truly expand, realistically it would have to grow by mail-order. Dr. David Garske was the dealer I best recall buying from, first from when he was still in Illinois to later when he moved to Bisbee [update: I had the fortunate pleasure to finally meet Dr. Garske in person during the 2017 Tucson mineral show. He had a dealer booth set up at the old Century 12 Theater along with a few other vendors, and apparently it was the first time in many years that he’d set up a booth]. I still have most of the purchased specimens from those days, although some fell victim as starting materials to my increasing interests in backyard chemistry (another one of my 1970s/1980s edutainment activities that by more cautious modern standards might now not seem so appropriate for a kid… lol). Perhaps it was the early necessity of having to buy minerals growing up in a place with so few local collecting opportunities, but even when self-collecting was actually an option: my high school senior year in the outback mining town of Mount Isa in Australia, college in mineral-rich Colorado, and eventually graduate school in the porphyry-copper province of southern Arizona, collecting my own samples always took a back seat to simply buying them. First it was through mail order, but then finally I graduated to Heaven on Earth: the annual Tucson show. For all the mountains and mines I was surrounded by in my late teens and thereafter, I guess my self-collected Lake Corella iolite, Table Mountain zeolites, and Old Yuma Mine vanadinites were just never quite as attractive as what I could buy at the show, even with just my paltry budget.
So those childhood experiences were the roots to what grew from a hobby to a career. Indeed, what started out as just a curiosity about a piece of stolen marble from a construction site ultimately turned into a now almost 40 year passion for all things mineral. Over the years my uglier or more compositionally-unique samples became fodder for my chemistry experiments, and today I’ve melded my interests in chemistry and minerals into my specialty area of analytical mineralogy. As a professional mineralogist, I still occasionally crush up minerals for chemistry experiments, but these days I’ve bought them just for that express purpose, and the experiments tend to be a bit more sophisticated and controlled than those of my youth. In recent years, I’ve reinvigorated my long-time enthusiasm for the seemingly lost skill of petrography, and so I’ve become that odd buyer at TGMS who asks dealers not for showy display samples, but rather for those small ugly ones representing unique and interesting assemblages. Unlike the proud displays afforded to those always-sought finest specimens, the misfits of the mineral collectors’ world I now purchase are resigned to a much more gruesome fate, however, first sawn into billets and then made into polished thin sections. Unattractive in bulk, but fittingly beautiful under the microscope and chemically fascinating under the microprobe, a few examples of these thin sections may be found among my photo collection [on mindat.org] and at my personal website [you’re here], where I’ve uploaded paired scans, in both unpolarized and crossed polarized light, of over 200 thin sections that currently comprise my teaching collection of rare and “exotic” igneous, metamorphic and metasomatic rocks.
Somewhere in one of the unpacked boxes I lug around the country from move to move, I believe I still have that original piece of marble. And I’m much less wild these days than I was in my youth; I haven’t looted any construction sites since I was 10 years old… 🙂 .”
By the way, two things you’ll discover about my writing style, for better or worse: I’m generous with adjectives and adverbs (perhaps a bit too generous), and I may have a real addiction to parentheses… 😮