“Hymns to the Silence”: Recently Polished Stones from Gemstone Beach

Stones are hymns to the silence of deep time, the silence of the deep past…

Helen’s Stones, and Taking Photos of Stones – Part One: Lighting, Cropping and Straightening

In June, my sister Helen and her grandson Sam came with me on a visit to Gemstone Beach. I took 15 of Sam’s stones home with me to polish (see “Sam’s Stones“) and I also took a number of stones that Helen had collected. I used two three pound barrels to tumble their stones in 320 grit and then combined them in one four pound barrel to polish them in two grades of tin oxide. Altogether, I polished 104 stones for Helen:

In this series of Posts, I will describe how I take photos of stones and how I prepare the images for posting on TumbleStone. All the photos of stones used in the examples are from the batch I recently polished for Helen. 


My small digital camera is a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX500 with a 30x optical zoom lens which I find quite good at shooting in low light conditions. I am able to take reasonable close-up shots with it – it has an automatic macro-setting that is said to be best at 5 cms distance. All the photos taken by myself that are posted on this Blog, of beaches and landscapes and stones, have been taken with this camera.


The above photos of Helen’s stones were taken inside the shed where I do my tumble polishing. In fact, they were taken next to the sink where I empty the tumblers and wash the stones, away from any natural light. There is a small florescent tube light above the sink and two lights, with compact fluorescent bulbs, along the roof beam of the shed. 

Generally stones look their best in direct sunlight, their colours and patterns and grains shown in a lively manner. However, the reflections off polished stones, even  a reflection of the camera itself, can often interfere with good images. Sometimes the sun moving behind clouds makes the light conditions better and reduces reflections. Moving inside to low light conditions can eliminate reflections to a large degree (if there are no windows or other light sources nearby) but then any minor movement blurs the photo and the stone’s colour often looks more washed out. This could be overcome by mounting the camera on a tripod, but I have not yet done so. Different lighting conditions also highlight scratches and other “imperfections” in a stone in different ways.

Examples of photos of several of Helen’s stones under two different light conditions, inside the door of the shed and outside (the photos are as they came out of the camera):

The photo above left was taken inside the shed. The stone’s colour is slightly more washed-out compared to the photo above left taken outside the shed in dull sunlight. The reflections showing on the stone are different, with the light source(s) inside interfering less. The next stone is a layered grey mudstone: 

In the photo taken outside the shed (above right), the shadowed reflection of the camera and photographer can actually be seen in the stone. The two photos of the jasper stone below also show the same issues with colour and reflection. 

Below is a stone that is a little less shiny than the previous ones. The inside photo (left) is a distinctly different hue than the outside photo (right). 


I often take photos of stones after a batch has just been polished, which means I may have anywhere between 40 and 70 to record. I might photograph only a selection, maybe the most interesting ones, but there are always quite a few to do. That is one of the reasons why I take photos of the stones in my hand – I can quickly move a stone closer to the camera if I wish, I can change the lighting conditions by moving the stone around or by going outside, and I can do a number of stones in a relatively short time (though it might still take 20 minutes or more).


When I download the photos from my camera’s memory card onto my laptop, I open them in Picasa, an image organizer and image viewer for organizing and editing digital photos. Below is the “home” page when a photo is opened in Picasa. On the left is a kind of dashboard, with “Commonly needed fixes” (the spanner icon) selected. This shows options for “Crop”, “Straighten”, “Redeye” etc.

Google offered Picasa as freeware between 2004 and 2016, but then discontinued it. They replaced it with Google Photos. I am able to use Picasa still, but Google no longer offers support for it (not that I have ever needed such support).  I will describe what I do with Picasa and I assume that other photo programs or services will be able to do similar things.

In the next section of this Post, I discuss how I use the “Crop” function then I will look at the use of the “Straighten” function. My use of other Picasa functions will be examined in the second Post in this series. 


I crop photos of stones for three reasons – to balance the elements in the photo, to get a detailed enough image of the stone, and to “zoom in” very closely on the pattern, grain, colour and texture of the stone.

crop image
Cropping in Picasa
picasa home options crop
The “Crop” icon in the dashboard

Here are three examples of progressive cropping of the image of a stone (click on them to view the full photos). The first image of each of the three (far left) is the original photo, the second is the cropping to reduce the edges around the stone to frame it for viewing, the third is a “close-up” of the majority of the stone surface, with the fourth “zooming in” more closely to provide even greater detail:

The main limitation of the most-cropped image (the far right ones) is the possibility of blurring if the focus was not very good originally. This can be off-set a certain degree by using the “Sharpen” option (see next Post).


Another option provided in Picasa is to “straighten” a photo. This is particularly useful for photos of beaches where you really want the horizon line to be as close to horizontal as possible. With this photo of the Back Beach at Riverton, the original photo (below left) was on an angle, but can easily be “straightened” (below right):

Picasa provides a bar along which the cursor can move an “indicator”. Grid lines are laid over the image so it is possible to line up a horizon with one of the horizontal lines of the grid. The main limitation is that you lose part of the edge of the image as you straighten it (it “zooms in” as it straightens).

“Straighten” can also be used to change the orientation of a photo of a stone if you want to move it around less than a 45 degrees rotation (the “rotation” function is below the image, just to the left of centre):

The “rotation” functions in Picasa

It can be useful to crop an image of a stone as close as possible to its edges to highlight the stone itself. But if the photo has the stone lying at an angle to the vertical or horizontal, the “rotation” function won’t help:

The “straighten” function allows a less-than 45 degree rotation of the stone, but at the cost of a proportion of the image:

The two end results – at left is the cropped non-straightened image, at right is the cropped straightened image. The latter is closer to the perpendicular so that cropping will end up with a “closer” view of the stone:

In Post Two of this Series, I will look at the use of the “saturation” and “brighten” functions, which are crucial for the quality of the image of a stone.

The Place of Stones, and Wendell Berry’s Poetry – Part Three: “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer” and “How to Be a Poet”

In the the first Post in this series, I showed the following photos of  eight stones and eight places and asked, What place does each stone come from? Can you put them together? In Part One, I revealed the places of origin of the first four stones. In Part Two, I identified the places to which  Stones #5 and #6 belonged. This Post locates Stones  #7 and #8. 

These Posts also dip into the views and poetry of Wendell Berry from Kentucky, whose critical insights into the social and environmental problems of modern large-scale agriculture played a role in my doctoral thesisCommentators appreciate Berry’s wisdom but also his “contrariness”. This trait is displayed in the poem I used to open Chapter Six of my thesis, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” (discussed in Part Two of this Series). There, Berry states, for example, Love the Lord. Love the world (when love of God and love of the world are often seen to be mutually exclusive opposites), and Ask the questions that have no answers. He even wrote a poem called “The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer”:

I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.

Stone #7, probably jasper, was collected from Place C, Gemstone Beach, Te Waewae Bay, Southland (see the TumbleStone Post “March 2019 Stone Collecting Trip to Southern New Zealand – Gemstone Beach, from the Car Park to the Waimeamea River Mouth“).

And in his three-part poem below, Berry is again typically contrary, just like the waves on Gemstone Beach, pushing the stones onto the shore but also pulling them back, sucking them out to sea and out of the reach of the stone collector. Berry writes this time as a poet considering his readers – Any readers who like your poems, doubt their judgment.

“How to Be a Poet” by Wendell Berry
(to remind myself)


Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.


Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.


Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

In my thesis, as a contrary academic, I pointed out some limitations with Berry’s views on agriculture and his proposed solutions to agricultural crises (pages 42-43). His positive view of the family farm and the traditional roles associated with it overlooked a number of its failings. Not all family farms are stewardly. And traditional gender roles can often be stultifying and are, in fact, unnecessary. 

Stone #8, fossil coral, was collected from Place G, Beaumaris Beach, Isle of Angelsey, Wales (see gonorthwales.co.uk). See the end of this Post for more information on Beaumaris Beach.

Despite my critical comments, Berry’s voice remains a largely prophetic one, eloquent and wise, much needed in today’s world, speaking deeply to people’s relationship to both their natural  and cultural environments.

Here is a rare television interview with Wendell Berry, 40 minutes long, during which he reads some of his poetry.



Beaumaris Beach, Isle of Anglesey, northwest Wales, has appeared only very briefly in TumbleStone before so here is some more information on it. Here is its location on Google Maps. Here is the Wikipedia article on its current character and its history. Petra and I visited Beaumaris in June 2018 while we were based on Anglesey for a few weeks. We went to visit the castle and have a walk around the historical part of the town. We also discovered the tiny beach beside the pier on the edge of the Strait of Menai (which cuts Anglesey off from the Welsh mainland) where I found Stone #8.

That beach is to the right of this virtual video walk down the pier: 

And this is a person’s personal yet informative video tour of Beaumaris Castle:

See here for a great little video of adventures in Beaumaris from a child’s point of view.

Green and Black: Green Stones and Mary Black’s “The Moon and Saint Christopher”

The poet Kay McKenzie Cooke has very kindly gifted me a copy of her hard-to-find first collection, “Feeding the Dogs”, now out of print. I am keeping it to read on the plane on my next trip to Southland’s beaches. Kay lived as a child in Orepuki. Her ancestry is a mix of Maori and Pakeha. Part of that mix is Irish Catholic, on her father’s side. She speaks of this on pages 13-14 of “Born to a Red-Headed Woman”:  

My father’s parents had a wooden home,
steeped in the sweet and sour
perfume of old coal-fires
mixed with new. It housed holy pictures
of saints and one of Jesus

with an airbrushed face,
His hands and the heart
He wore on the outside,
an unbelievable pink.
Grandpa sipped his tea from the saucer

and handed us cake-paper
from the bottom of the fruit cake
to chew. “Go on,” Granny would coo
as if only half-believing
the everyday news my father brought.

In a low, horsehair chair
in front of the open fire
with its soot-furred hook
and kettle, she sat placid,
heavy-breasted with faith.

Green is the Irish colour, and the most common colour of stones on the south coast – and the variety of greens in stones I have collected is enormous. It is the presence of a mineral in a stone that makes it green, with the common ones being iron, chromium and manganese (see thoughtco.com).

Mary Black is a fine Irish singer of traditional and modern folk, and the song below is a long-standing favourite of mine. It refers to one of the traditional Catholic saints, Saint Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Tradition has it that Christopher sought to serve Christ by helping people to cross a dangerous river. A little child asked for his help, revealing after the successful crossing to be Jesus Christ Himself. Devotional medals with St. Christopher‘s name and image are commonly worn as pendants, especially by travelers, to show devotion and as a request for his blessing. He even has an island named after him, in the West Indies, Saint Christopher Island, known more commonly as Saint Kitts.

“The Moon and Saint Christopher”
sung by Mary Black, written by Mary Chapin Carpenter

When I was young I spoke like a child, and I saw with a child’s eyes
And an open door was to a girl like the stars are to the sky
It’s funny how the world lives up to all your expectations
With adventures for the stout of heart, and the lure of the open spaces

There’s two lanes running down this road, and whichever side you’re on
Accounts for where you want to go, or what you’re running from
Back when darkness overtook me on a blind man’s curve
I relied upon the moon, I relied upon the moon,
I relied upon the moon and Saint Christopher

Now I’ve paid my dues cos I have owed them, but I’ve paid a price sometimes
For being such a stubborn woman in such stubborn times
I have run from the arms of lovers, I have run from the eyes of friends
I have run from the hands of kindness, I have run just because I can

But now I’ve grown and I speak like a woman and I see with a woman’s eyes
And an open door is to me now like the saddest of goodbyes
But it’s too late for turning back and I pray for the heart and the nerve
I rely upon the moon, I rely upon the moon,
I rely upon the moon and Saint Christopher
I rely upon the moon, I rely upon the moon,
I rely upon the moon and Saint Christopher
to be my guide.

The Place of Stones, and Wendell Berry’s Poetry – Part Two: “The Stones”, “The Peace of Wild Things” and “The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

Stones and the places they come from are closely related to each other and each provides meaning to the other. I like to know where a stone comes from. In the previous Post in this series, I showed the following photos of  eight stones and eight places and asked, What place does each stone come from? Can you put them together? In Part One, I revealed the places of the first four stones. In this Post, I will reveal the places of Stones #5 and #6.  

The other main theme of this series of Posts is the poetry of Wendell Berry. He once wrote a poem about stones, from a farmer’s point of view. They are obstacles, needing to be broken up and removed so that the land can be cultivated. But Berry also shows regard and respect for these stones, for what he calls their music, mute in them until he labours over them. I like that image, for the stones I polish reveal their own music – their colours and bands and grains – through the process of tumbling.

“The Stones” by Wendell Berry
from his book of poems “Farming: A Handbook” (1970)

I owned a slope full of stones.
Like buried pianos they lay in the ground,
shards of old sea-ledges, stumbling blocks
where the earth caught and kept them
dark, an old music mute in them
that my head keeps now I have dug them out.
I broke them where they slugged in the dark
cells, and lifted them up in pieces.
As I piled them in the light
I began their music. I heard their old lime
rouse in breath of song that had not left me.
I gave pain and weariness to their bearing out.
What bond have I made with the earth,
having worn myself against it? It is a fatal singing
I have carried with me out of that day.
The stones have given me music
that figures for me their holes in the earth
and their long lying in them dark.
They have taught me the weariness that loves the ground,
and I must prepare a fitting silence.

But Berry knows that stones are not only to be removed and piled to the side of fields. They are always underfoot, providing a place to stand. Stones also provide rich imagery, in plays with words. I have used stones as “milestones” to encourage and reward and acknowledge research students that I have supervised – see “Hard Won and Well Deserved! The Final Thesis Milestone” and “Nine Milestones at Journey’s End“. Berry has used the images of  the”stepping stone” and the “sounding stone” in this extract about walking down a stream he names Camp Branch:

From “The Book of Camp Branch” by Wendell Berry
from his book of poems “Leavings” (2010)

How much delight I’ve known
in navigating down the flow
by stepping stones, by sounding
stones, by words that are
stepping and sounding stones.

Going down stone by stone,
the song of the water changes,
changing the way I walk
which changes my thought
as I go. Stone to stone
the stream flows. Stone to stone
the walker goes. The words
stand stone still until
the flow moves them, changing
the sound – a new word –
a new place to step or stand.

Stone #5, a sandstone with fossil sea shells (4 to 5 million years old), was collected from Place F, Bluecliffs Beach, Te Waewae Bay in Southland, just on the other side of the Waiau River mouth from Gemstone Beach (see southlandnz.com/western-southland)See the end of this Post for more information on Bluecliffs Beach.

Stones belong to a natural reality, currently partly shaped by what people might do – quarrying, building roads, tumble polishing. But stones have a much longer history than people have, and will remain long after us. They belong to a wild world, as much as we domesticate them through our use of them. In another poem, Berry refers to the peace he finds when amidst wild things, something shared by the rockhound. Berry prefers “still water” while the gatherer of beach stones prefers “ever-moving water”. 

“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry
from his book of poems “Openings” (1968)

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

(You can hear this poem read here by Michael Moerman)

I consider Berry’s thinking to be wise and insightful, even though I might not always agree with him. For this reason, when I was looking for an appropriate and significant piece of literature to open the concluding chapter of my doctoral thesis, I chose one of Berry’s poems:

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry
from his book of poems “The Country of Marriage” (1973)

…Every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it…
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns…
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it… Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

In my thesis, I called Berry’s perspective on life an “anti-modernist” one. He is highly critical of the main tendencies of modern agriculture and their impacts upon the environment and upon the values and way of life of the traditional farming community he admires. He intensely dislikes the idea of applying industrial principles to agriculture. And he is highly valued by many Americans for his views and how he communicates them (as is apparent in this Humanities article).

Stone #6, probably some form of chalcedony, was collected from Place H, Slapton Sands, Devon, England (see the TumbleStone Posts “Slapton Sands, Part One: A Visit, Mid-2016” and “Slapton Sands, Part Five: Beach Stones in the Rough“).

The main interest of my thesis was how Christian-based farming groups might offer insights into sustainable and regenerative forms of agriculture. I explored the meaning of stewardship and noted how it could be defined as “earthkeeping”. I sided with Berry when he wrote that “Stewardship…involves long-term courage, perseverance, devotion, and skill… It has to do with everyday proprieties in the practical use and care of created things – with ‘right livelihood'” (“The Gift of Good Land”, page 275). For Berry, a vital farming culture entailed what any healthy culture entailed: “…a communal order of memory, insight, value, work, conviviality, reverence, aspiration. It reveals the human necessities and the human limits. It clarifies our inescapable bonds to the earth and to each other. It assumes that the necessary restraints are observed, that the necessary work is done, and that it is done well” (“The Unsettling of America”, page 43).

The next Post in this series, “The Place of Stones, and Wendell Berry’s Poetry – Part Three: ‘The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer’ and ‘How to Be a Poet'”, looks at the theme of contrariness in Berry’s writings.



Bluecliffs Beach, Te Waewae Bay, has not appeared in TumbleStone before so here is some more information on it. Most of the stones on the beach are larger than those further eastwards, towards Gemstone Beach. The waves are rougher and more powerful.

See here for its location on Google Maps in relation to Orepuki. This blog post by a Primary Science Teach identifies the shells in my stone as most likely clams. Bluecliffs Beach features in the excellent book, “The Kiwi Fossil Hunter’s Handbook” (2010) by James Crampton and Maianna Terezow, available for $35 from the GNS Online Shop.


The Place of Stones, and Wendell Berry’s Poetry – Part One: “The Sycamore” and “The Farmer and the Sea”

I always have to know where a stone comes from. I don’t feel I understand it until I know where was its last place of resting. (And of course there is also the question, where was it before that?) Here are eight stones and eight places. What place does each stone come from? Can you put them together? In the course of the three Posts in this series, I will reveal where each stone belongs.

My concern with “place” goes back a long way in my thinking and is partly why I became an academic geographer. My doctoral thesis, “Geography and religion, agriculture and stewardship: The practice of agricultural stewardship in the Christian Farmers Federations of Canada“, advocated a form of agricultural stewardship that respected the uniqueness and peculiarities of people and places, of culture and geography. It was partly inspired by writers like Wendell Berry, a writer and farmer from Kentucky who has developed critical insights into the social and environmental problems of modern large-scale agriculture.

Stone #1, an iron stained quartzite, was collected from Place D, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England (see the comments on this stone and place in a previous Post Twelve Stones, Part Three“).

Wendell Berry’s 1977 book “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture” became one of the key texts of the US environmental movement. His 1981 book “The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural” examined important examples of farming which respected the land and the people who farm it, including small farms in the US, the Old Order Amish and the traditional potato cultivators of the Andes in Peru.

Once when asked about the virtues of viewing the fragile Earth from space, Berry said that he preferred a different kind of view. “I’d want to get closer, walk around on it, even get down on my hands and knees. That’s how I prefer to see Earth.” That’s the only way to find good stones too!

Stone #2, a jasper, was collected from Place A, Waikaka, in the Shepherd’s Creek near the primary school (see Jasper Stones and Petrified Wood, Shepherd’s Creek, Waikaka“).

Wendell Berry is also a poet, and I used one of his poems, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”, as the opening to the concluding chapter of my thesis (see the next Post in this series). But it is another of his poems, “The Sycamore”, that is my favourite, that expresses perfectly the significance of place and growing things to Berry: 

“The Sycamore” by Wendell Berry
from his book of poems “Openings” (1968)

In the place that is my own place, whose earth I am
shaped in and must bear, there is an old tree growing,
a great sycamore that is a wondrous healer of itself.
Fences have been tied to it, nails driven into it,

hacks and whittles cut in it, the lightning has burned it.
There is no year it has flourished in that has not harmed it.
There is a hollow in it that is its death, though its living
brims whitely at the lip of the darkness and flows outward.

Over all its scars has come the seamless white of the bark.
It bears the gnarls of its history healed over.
It has risen to a strange perfection
in the warp and bending of its long growth.

It has gathered all accidents into its purpose.
It has become the intention and radiance of its dark fate.
It is a fact, sublime, mystical and unassailable.
In all the country there is no other like it.

I recognize in it a principle, an indwelling
the same as itself, and greater, that I would be ruled by.
I see that it stands in its place, and feeds upon it,
and is fed upon, and is native, and maker.

Stone #3, quartzite, was collected from Place E, Birdlings Flat, Canterbury (see, for example, My Visit to Birdlings Flat, Day 1 of 2“).

The life history of a tree is different from that of a stone – a stone cannot recover from its wounds, and maybe the land feeds from a stone and its erosion rather than feeding from it. Berry is also aware of this:

“The Farmer and the Sea” by Wendell Berry
from his book of poems “Farming: A Handbook” (1970)

The sea always arriving,
hissing in pebbles, is breaking
its edge where the landsman
squats on his rock. The dark
of the earth is familiar to him,
close mystery of his source
and end, always flowering
in the light and always
fading. But the dark of the sea
is perfect and strange,
the absence of any place,
immensity on the loose.
Still, he sees it is another
keeper of the land, caretaker,
shaking the earth, breaking it,
clicking the pieces, but somewhere
holding deep fields yet to rise,
shedding its richness on them
silently as snow, keeper and maker
of places wholly dark. And in him
something dark applauds.

(You can hear this poem read here by Michael Moerman)

For more on Wendell Berry, see Wikipedia and poetryfoundation.org

Stone #4, a breccia, was collected from Place B, Riverton, Southland (see, for example, The Seven Stages in Tumble Polishing Stones: Stage One, Stone Collection, Riverton, 2-6 November 2017“).

In the next Post in this series, “The Place of Stones, and Wendell Berry’s Poetry – Part Two: ‘The Stones’, ‘The Peace of Wild Things’ and ‘The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’”, I will identify the places of Stones #5 and #6.

Edinburgh’s Castle Rock and “There’s a Touch” by The Proclaimers

When I visited Edinburgh in May 2017, on my way to the Isle of Lewis, I spent a couple of hours wandering around the downtown area. The city is dominated by Edinburgh Castle situated on a volcanic hill. The hill is estimated to have formed some 350 million years ago during the early Carboniferous period. It is the remains of a volcanic pipe which cut through the surrounding sedimentary rock before cooling to form very hard dolerite, a coarser-grained equivalent of basalt, of which Stonehenge’s bluestones are also formed. Castle Rock is a classic “crag-and-tail” glacial feature, with Edinburgh Castle sitting on the “crag” whilst the Royal Mile leading up to it has been built on the “tail”. The hard dolerite has resisted being eroded away. The force of the glacier erodes the surrounding softer material, leaving the rocky block protruding from the surrounding terrain. This “crag” then serves as a partial shelter to softer material in the wake of the glacier, which remains as a ridge forming a tapered ramp (the “tail”) up the leeward side of the crag. (See here for more on the geology of Edinburgh.) 

I walked up towards the Castle, up the Royal Mile, the “tail”, and came upon Greyfriars Churchyard. I knew about Greyfriars Bobby, having seen the Disney movie ages ago, but knew nothing about the area. Bobby was a Skye Terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner until he died himself in January 1872.

I wandered through the Greyfriars Churchyard and its cemetery, and even came across part of the Flodden Wall (built in the 1500s to protect Edinburgh from an English invasion).

After some refreshment at a nearby cafe, I spotted Mr Wood’s Fossil Shop, where I bought a poster of Edinburgh’s geology.

Today that poster hangs on the wall of my tumbling shed (copies of the poster can be bought here).

And, just for fun…

Though twins Charlie and Craig Reid (The Proclaimers) were born in Edinburgh, and are known for singing in their distinctive Scottish accent, this video was filmed in Kitchener, Ontario. Their most popular songs are “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”, “Sunshine on Leith”, “I’m On My Way” and “Letter from America”. This song of lost love is given a video treatment of black humour… 

“There’s a Touch” by The Proclaimers

There’s a touch upon my lips
Left by memory’s fingertips
I still hear her voice
When there’s no sound

There’s a touch upon my skin
Left when she went back to him
All the rest has gone
She’s not around

When I saw her first
It was lust my friend
Thought it would burn
Then it would end
But I lost my old philosophy
Now I believed in love

Well the months went by and my love grew strong
Thought she felt the same but I was wrong
She held my old philosophy
Now I’m destroyed by love

There’s a touch upon my lips
Left by memory’s fingertips
I still hear her voice
When there’s no sound

There’s a touch upon my skin
Left when she went back to him
All the rest has gone
She’s not around

Well I still believed that I would win
’cause I was a better man than him
She held the new philosophy
Now she believed in love

But the love she felt was not for me
Said she would have to set me free
Now I know there’s no philosophy
That can’t be destroyed by love

There’s a touch upon my lips
Left by memory’s fingertips
I still hear her voice
When there’s no sound

There’s a touch upon my skin
Left when she went back to him
All the rest has gone
She’s not around…

Diane’s Stone, and an Introduction to Jasper

Just under a year ago, my niece Diane bought a new house in Christchurch. While doing work in the garden, she found a stone that she thought was potentially interesting. She showed it to me when I was visiting her and I recognised it as jasper. The stone was in a rough condition. It was far from smooth, and running through the middle was a brittle and pitted silica band. The photos below are of the stone after it was washed and allowed to dry:

I thought that tumbling it would at least bring out the colour, so I offered to take it away to work on it.

What is jasper? Jasper is a well-known red stone found on many beaches in New Zealand, especially in the South Island. I have found it on beaches like Birdlings Flat in Canterbury, and at Riverton and Gemstone Beach in Southland. It tends to stand out amongst other stones because of its deep red colour:

I once found a rock in a track on the farm I grew up on, The Mains near Waikaka. When trying to identify it, I thought first of all that it was chert but it turned out to be jasper (Minerals.net states that “when Jasper is dull and lacking interesting colors or patterns, it is not Jasper but rather Chert”). I eventually broke it up, with difficulty – to put it technically, jasper “fractures conchoidally” (like flint – Geology.com points out that jasper, chert and flint are very similar, all being varieties of opaque microcrystalline quartz). When polished, the pieces of the rock I found had a very glossy, almost waxy, quality. 

I later discovered that jasper is very common around the Waikaka area, being part of the gold-bearing quartz gravels of the area – see the Tumblestone Posts “Jasper Stones and Petrified Wood, Shepherd’s Creek, Waikaka” and “Waikaka’s Auriferous (Gold-Containing) Quartz Gravels“.

In Riverton, outside the museum Te Hikoi, a number of rocks from Southland are on display. One of them is a large piece of rounded jasper. Inside the museum, a number of smaller jasper stones are displayed, including a dark green one.

When I recently visited Jack Geerlings in Winton, who has an extensive collection of stones and rocks from southern New Zealand, I noticed he had a number of pieces of jasper (see photos below). He had collected some from the Coromandel Peninsula, in the North Island, and generously gave me a piece. Outside his shed, where he had a number of rocks and boulders on display, a rock of red and green jasper can be seen. And inside his shed, he showed me a polished stone of orbicular jasper. In her book “Collecting Rocks, Gems and Minerals” (3rd edition, 2016), Patti Polk has an extensive section on different types of jasper. On pages 121 and 122, in her entry on orbicular jasper, she states: “Orbicular jasper is generally a type of highly silicified rhyolite or tuff that has quartz and feldspar crystallized into radical aggregates of needle-like crystals that form orbicular ir spherical structures.” The photos below include page 122 from her book, illustrating some of the variants of orbicular jasper.

To find out more about jasper, I consulted one of my books, “The Illustrated Guide to Rocks and Minerals” (2015) by John Farndon. On page 204, he notes that jasper is a red, green or yellow variety of chalcedony. Chalcedony arises when quartz crystals forms at low temperatures in volcanic cavities. The crystals can be so small that they are visible only when magnified, which is the meaning of the term “cryptocrystalline”. The general name for cryptocrystalline quartz (also called “microcrystalline”) is chalcedony, which comes in a vast array of colours and patterns. As Farndon notes, it includes blood-red carnelian, wine-red jasper, brown-banded agate, green-moss agate, apple-green chrysoprase, and black and white onyx. The colour depends on what minerals seep into the rock. The presence of iron causes the red colour in jasper. In fact, jasper is often referred to as a coloured form of opaque agate, agate being one of the major types of chalcedony (see, for example, the wikipedia entry on chalcedony).

Mindat.org has a lot of photos of different variations of jasper. Below are also photos of some different types of jasper, with the one on the right showing rough and tumbled stones.

To get back to Diane’s jasper stone: After tumbling for just over a week (9 days and 19 hours, to be precise) in 220 silicon carbide grit (along with other stones), followed by five and a half hours tumbling in water and sunlight soap, the stone’s colours emerged much more clearly. Nevertheless, it was still rough in places, with the middle band of silica especially pitted:

However, the stone showed promise. I next tumbled it in 320 silicon carbide grit for another week (seven days and one hour to be exact), followed by 21 hours in sunlight soap. There was a small improvement in the surface condition of the stone, though of course the pits in the middle silica band were too deep to erode away:

I next tumbled the stone in pre-polish tin oxide for five days, followed by a 21 hour soap tumble. Then it spent nearly 12 days in pro-polish tin oxide, finally spending just over four days in a borax burnishing tumble. Unfortunately, these stages seemed to bring out various lines of weakness in the stone, and it failed to take a polish. I didn’t think that further tumbling would improve it:

While I found this disappointing, it is not unusual for some jasper. Many of the jasper stones found on the beach have a chip out of them or some kind of crack. There is often a brittleness in jasper that gives rise to this. 

At least Diane now has a much cleaner and more colourful stone.