Taking steps into the world of what's beneath the surface of things is a little bit scary. I remember the first time in Sedimentology lab that we were assigned to identify rocks, and with no minerology or chemistry background, I sat bewildered by what I might see through the lens. I tried to make excuses as to why I could just hold a lithic arenite in my hands and know that's what it was. I'd been using my eyes for thirty years and I got pretty used to trusting them. Besides, how could I tell a feldspar from a quartz grain?
My professor noticed my trepidation, perhaps because I was the only art major in the room, or perhaps because he's good at getting people to look at things. He slid a tray of soft sand under my scope and said, "Take a look at that." Over the inital embarassment of lifting my glasses away, I adjusted my eyes to the incredible magnification. Was I seeing this right? This was just some tan beach sand a second ago, but through the lens I saw brilliant pink hues, marvelous white calcite shell fragments, and what looked like pieces of glittery gems. I stared away and then back again. I'd later come to learn that sands from different places are made up of differing bits, and just by identifying the components of these sands, a well-trained geologist could trace the sand to its source. It's as unique as any person in that it is a product of it's origin. Sand can't tell you a lie. (Why that was so attractive to me is another story.)
I immediately started looking at all the things under the microscope, even the really obvious samples that were being easily identified by my lab mates. If I'd tested its hardness or streak, and confirmed that I knew what it was, I still placed it under the scope. Looking at rocks so close became an instant joy.
When I think of my contact with rocks, most of it has been in the form of it's detritus - sand. My youth in Florida had me form attachments to a sandy place, with tall pines that seemed to go hand in hand with the lithology. When I did collect rocks, they were hard-earned: digging them loose from the alleyway behind my house where I'd sometimes spy a gopher tortoise, or coming across a limestone, white and porous, like a strange visitor from another place. That "other place" was just tens of feet below me, in the form of the Ocala Formation limestone which made up part of the aquifer from which I drank. As a child, it seemed to be more fun to collect shells, and I anxiously awaited the weekend trips to the shore when we could spend hours picking up Conch fragments - a contest between my brother and I to see who could find the most complete one.
I didn't realize then that all those little shell fragments were just pieces on their way to becoming sand. Even the limestone I'd found at my grandparents house and scrawled my name with on the driveway (because it made a pretty decent white streak) was in a stage of erosion into sand. My artistic endeavors had helped it along, by smashing the soft matrix of the calcite stone against the harder concrete, turning rock into dust.