When you’re young, collecting knick-knacks, mementos, books, and everything related to different hobbies brings enjoyment. As you get older, the collective weight of that stuff drags. At some point you realize that someone else will have to get rid of it all when you’re gone. And who want to burden anyone with that?

Yesterday I began the first of many trips to Goodwill. My goal is to make a drop-off to a charity on each day of next week. I’ll keep my paintings as they still bring joy and I don’t want to look at bare walls while waiting for an end to all of this. Whenever that is.

My chief problem in finalizing things has been my cat. But the humane society that gave him to me said that I could give him back if things didn’t work out. Most importantly, I’ll give them a generous check for their trouble. Right now, this is sad, emotional work. But in the end, the right thing to do.

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A Jumble of Colors from a Six Dollar Rock

These are extremely small vanadinite crystals, barely forming a red haze in a seemingly featureless six dollar rock from Arizona. Under the microscope, they present a wealth of red, with a few showing vanadinite’s true hexagonal crystals. Click on the image for the Big Picture. Or here.

I am suffering mightily with this new scope. I cannot get it to operate with my fast desktop Mac and I have been reduced to experimenting with an old Windows machine running System 7. The lag time between adjusting the scope and the images it presents on the screen is several seconds, impossible to do any meaningful work.

Look at the second photo below. You can see the asbestos like fibers on serpentinite.

And just for fun. Gold in quartz self collected near Auburn in Placer County, California.

Self collected gold flake while dredging Oregon Creek in Yuba County, California.

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Close Up Photography

Close up or macro photography is expensive and challenging. Never-the-less, it can bring to life specimens you’ve self-collected or bought at rock shops or over the internet. This is a picture of native copper. I bought the material for a few dollars at a rock shop in Duncan, Arizona. Doug Barlow, the owner, says the copper came from the Santa Rita Mine near Silver City, New Mexico.

This copper piece is only two inches across but a photograph brings it alive for easy, contemplative viewing. Click on the image or here to see it up close. This was taken in one shot, no special techniques in Photoshop required. Just a macro lens on a tripod, with the rock inside a light tent. Notice how the support stand is visible? I’ll try to remove it the next time I photograph the copper. There is always room for improvement in this hobby within a hobby. Oh, and I hope to have more closeups like this in my book.


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Her Beautiful Death

Touching, tragic story of Toronto sculptor Gillian Genser, whose work with mussel shells is now killing her.

“I spent 15 years sanding and grinding mussel shells to create my sculptures. Then I was diagnosed with heavy-metal poisoning.”

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New Post at

New post, simple yet vital for all wandering naturalists:

I had the pleasure today of meeting Jim Boone, a professional ecologist who maintains, the definitive resource to outdoor life around Las Vegas:

Jim was headed off to hike in one direction while I was going the other way. On my hike I was unable to locate a fossil I had previously photographed, but I came across a cottontail rabbit and a Road Runner intent on being secretive. Also, a penstemon with deeply serrated margins, who Boone thinks may be Yellow Pinto Penstemon:

The photo shows a raggedy plant but this is a survivor, as tough as nearly any cactus. It has managed to grow among rock, flowering, setting seed, perhaps enabling future penstemons. A study in persistence and resilience.

The Fossil Ridge area in the Red Rock National Conservation Area is a wonderful location to hike and explore. The area is closed to collecting but there is also a joy in acquiring photographs and experiences, without necessarily dragging something home in the trunk.

On a personal note, because this is a personal site, my nightmares and bad dreams (internal link) are getting worse. Work alone, and life in general, is not providing enough encouragement to warrant seeing the images I am routinely confronted with. I continue seeking solutions but nothing has worked long term. Several questions come up.

Given thirty years of nightmares and even more of paralyzing anxiety, is it mentally healthy to continue on in the same way for another thirty years? At what point does staying with a pointless, chronic condition become self-abuse? When does continuing become mentally disturbed? Is the only reason for staying alive to satisfy a social norm that others have set, most of whom don’t deal with debilitating diseases that last decades? At what point do we say enough? For our own good?

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33 Steps to Being an Artist

33 Steps to Being an Artist is an excellent read by Jerry Salz originally appearing in New York Magazine. Archived here by the Vulture (external link) Well worth fifteen minutes.

I’d add that being an artist means taking away, reducing, eliminating the unnecessary. Strunk and White wrote in the Elements of Style that,

“Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.”

This may not feel natural as it is a process of tearing down, not building up.

Salz says something I find impossible to follow,

Lesson 24: Artists Must Be Vampires

Stay up late every night with other artists around your age. Show up. Go to openings, events, parties, wherever there are more than two of your kind.

Artists must commune with their own kind all the time. There are no exceptions to this rule, even if you live “out in the woods.” Preferably commune in person, but online is more than fine. It doesn’t matter where you live: big city, small city, little town. You will fight and love together; you will develop new languages together and give each other comfort, conversation, and the strength to carry on. This is how you will change the world — and your art.

I’m currently trying to explain the basics of crystallography for my book. After a discussion of idealized crystal forms, I mention terms describing the aggregates of crystals. Words like acicular, bladed, and botryoidal. I don’t know anyone I can “commune with” that can help me with my writing. Another writer would have to be familiar with the same subject matter, both of us struggling at the same time to sort out an inherently difficult language.

I don’t know of any openings, events, or parties that cater to my kind or to any non-fiction writer working in the sciences. At the coffee shop I go to, at three in the morning, each person is intensely focussed on their own work, whatever that is, staring fixedly into a screen in front of them. I don’t know what they are working on and no conversation takes place among us, talk being confined to those out being social. We are all alone with our work.

For me, the only telling summary of our often excruciating creative process is a quote by 4 Non Blondes:

And so I cry sometimes
When I’m lying in bed just to get it all out
What’s in my head
And I, I am feeling a little peculiar

That’s it. I don’t feel right until I get my words right. I feel out of sorts when my thoughts are out of sorts, when I don’t yet know enough to explain something well enough. It is only when I think clearly that I can write clearly. That’s the struggle. if I could find someone to party with who understands what orbicular means, well life might be fine indeed. But right now I have a deadline to meet and a solid red jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces to put together.

Returning back to the aorticle that Salz wrote, I do not mean to criticize his work as a whole. It is a fine piece of writing and well worth your time.

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Make Sure That You Warn Me If You’re Coming to Birmingham

Sorry, listening to The English Beat. “Jeanette.”

“No, no, no I’ll never forget you
Shared one last cigarette and swapped false addresses”

The English Beat had absolutely the best cover art of any 80’s band. To wit:

Speaking of art, I just bought four pounds of foreign language magazines at my local library. Discards, for a total of forty cents. One French and three Japanese. They’ll make great collage material if I get the urge again. Returning to that subject, I learned some lessons from my last hasty project. (internal link)

First, my materials should be pasted onto something firmer. Board, not construction paper or heavy cardboard. When I applied a gesso like material to seal my collage the underlying paper curled up and warped. Secondly, to keep thin or narrow pieces firmly in place, a glue stick won’t do. The whole project should be done in something like Elmer’s Glue or another substantial paste. More work, slower work, but better work.


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