The heat that day was stifling for me. The last two, three, (had it been four?) summers here in Cold Lake, Alberta had not produced any stretches of hot weather to speak of. Not much rain and not much sun would be an apt description of what we've had so the sauna-like heat of that morning really sapped my normally superhuman strength. The plan this day for our family reunion was to go shopping in Sandpoint. Just at the last minute my son and I bailed out at the thought of the heat beating down on our product-weary heads as we aimlessly wandered the sidewalks on rubbery legs and hot mushy feet. So we hung back and took cowardly refuge in our air-conditioned room watching "The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes".
Sitting there in front of the tube I remembered the little town fourteen miles back up the road and the sign I had spotted indicating a "rock shop". I was getting restless and decided to investigate. My son declined so I got in the car and enjoyed the mountain air from the rolled down window all the way there. Drove slowly through the town, and on reaching the other side of it I realized it was the kind of sign that one only saw while traveling in the other direction. That was a good sign (pardon the pun). It indicated that this person probably didn't earn his living from the rock shop since there wasn't the effort made to pull in business from every possible direction. I drove back, found the sign easily and pulled into the driveway. This place of business had all the earmarks of a backyard. A wide-open garage sat invitingly in the middle of it with dusty boxes of rocks all around on the floor and on shelves. A large diamond saw sat waiting hopefully for another gemmy cobble to be clamped in its eager jaws. Hungry things, those saws. On the side of the garage a weathered sign said "Enter" and pointed to the house. The note on the door said, "Out on a service call - back soon, Bob." What to do?
Looks like rocks around here. I'll just wander around conspicuously for the neighbors benefit so nobody thinks I'm up to something sneaky like scouting out his stock and making my choices before we get together to deal. It's kind of nice actually to have some time to think about what I see. I was able to take a good look all around the garage and backyard and saw lots of great stuff I'd never seen before. Satisfied I'd taken a good steady look at everything I drove back to the condo and started regular phone calls to his house until I found someone home. "Yes, hello there! We're down here visiting from Canada and I'd like to do a little buying at your shop. We'll be heading back tomorrow so I'd like to get there before too long.... Oh, you're leaving tomorrow as well! ...Maybe we could stop by in the morning? Okay, that's good. We'll see you tomorrow then. Thanks!"
We find Bob in his basement. He has a lazy twang in his talk and he looks like a lazy twang. He's long and thin with a sandy mustache over his lip with such a relaxed manner that we are immediately comfortable with him. My gaze is flitting up and down and across his shelves and displays. I see gemstones worked into beautiful shapes and incorporated into what looks to me like original ideas. Crystal specimens sparkle here and there and I'm feeling that old rockhound whimsy engulfing my senses once again. That feeling of viewing rugged plains under turquoise skies where the hawks are soaring and I'm just stepping down out of the saddle to pick up something that's caught my eye.
Bob is a good cutter. His pieces are cut freeform and they are very well polished. Nothing shoddy or third-rate here. He keeps his work in neatly labeled glass topped display trays. Each tray is devoted to one particular gem material. My fifteen years involvement with this kind of thing has produced in me a reaction somewhat like that of Pavlov's dog. When I read the names of certain gemstones I salivate. Much like a motorcycle enthusiast feels when he hears the words "1911 Indian" or an art collector who hears, "There is an opportunity for you to procure a Rembrandt if you're interested." The names don't mean anything to many but to we who admire them for their beauty and cherish them for their scarcity, they draw us like moths to a porchlight. Bruneau Jasper, Morrisonite, Biggs Jasper, Owyhee, Blue Mustang and Wild Horse Picture Jasper are just a few of them. Bob has most of these things and he won't sell me any of his Morrisonite. I don't blame him, as scarce as it is. He will sell me other things though so I keep looking.
"How much for this gold and blue tiger-eye?"
"Five dollars a pound."
"Done! Weigh it up."
"This Holley Blue Agate?"
" Oh, I'll go ten dollars for that chunk and that's a deal!"
" Oh yes, I know. I'll take it! And this Orchid Rose Quartz?"
" Oh, two dollars."
" Fine!" and so on and all the time I'm trying to keep my voice at a monotone but I don't think it's working very well. I know I should be disguising the enthusiasm but that seems to be a bit beyond my reach also. Then we move out into his yard.
Some of our party are gathered around a 5-gallon bucket. It is brimming over with water and Rainbow obsidian. The top piece is probably around 4 pounds. It's about the size and shape of a head of cauliflower. The sun is on it and as we circle the bucket I can see dazzling brilliant bands of color in the glassy black depths of the stone. It's like seeing the northern lights dancing. The colors are silver, pink, green, gold and purple. You don't have to search for it or use your imagination. It is obviously there and flashing out at you. Bob won't sell me that either! I move to the other side of the yard and pick up a big rock about as broad as a pie and about five inches thick. It is a pinkish sand color but it has large translucent areas which are a gorgeous turquoise blue.
"Well, how about this piece? Will you sell this to me?"
"Oh yeah. That's the Nevada Blue. There's a lot of matrix on it but I'll have to go two bucks a pound on it."
"That's fine. Put it on the scale!"
My wife calls me over to look at something. It is a bin made of a small barrel cut in half. In it is about a hundred pounds of some jasper I don't recognize. The pieces are teal and grayish purple, orangey reds, light and dark greens with gray and brown streaks. There is a slab with a scene of a mountain on fire in it. Incredible!
"What's this, Bob?"
"That's Willie Jasper."
"Never heard of it."
"That's 'cause m'brother Willie found it. He works for the Bureau of Land Management so he has access to a lot of land y'can only reach with a 4 by 4. It wasn't far from the original Morrisonite diggings. We drove for four miles at an angle about like that," he said holding his arm up in imitation of something that must have been awfully grueling or impossible, " and then we walked another mile. That hunnerd pounds is all the two of us could pack out." So I bought some of it and brought it home to Canada. All the new rocks from that trip are beautiful and certainly have real gem potential. If they could get enough of the Willie Jasper out to the dealers it could become one of the classics. Now I have the satisfaction of knowing that there is at least three pounds of it right here in Canada. No, I don't expect to ever see anything like it in mainline jewelry stores. I would expect such things in Tucson, in custom design houses and if ever I get enough free time away from the goldsmithing to be able to cut and polish you will see it here at my store.