I have to confess to an early fascination with rocks. Maybe all kids go through a passion for classification some time during their early schooling, but I think my interest became a little pathological. It began with a tiny junior geologist box from the Cincinnati Natural History Museum that contained 12 small samples labeled carefully: slate, micah, rose quartz, granite, marble, feldspar are some of the names I remember from that box. Soon after acquiring this template, I began to notice hints of quartz, glints of micah in all rocks on the school playground. In time, I had filled my Valentine box--which I kept under careful guard from my younger sisters at the foot of my bunk bed--with what I believed to be valuable rocks and minerals.
Even as an adult, I have to confess to bringing back pieces of the places I have vacationed and depositing the foreign strata in my garden here and there. So, there might be geodes among the tiger lilies and Maine beach pebbles in flower boxes. But I will assure you that none of my samples came from areas that forbid such collecting, like National Parks or endangered beaches.
So, I was delighted to come across Kentucky Agate: State Rock and Mineral Treasure of the Commonwealth by Roland L. McIntosh and Warren Anderson. Published in November by University Press of Kentucky, the book compiles hundreds of professional color photographs of agates taken by Lee Thomas along with geological maps of the areas of Kentucky most plentiful with these colorfully banded variety of chalcedony.
On page 5, the authors define agate simply as " a concretion or nodule of quartz of the variety of chalcedony. which is silicon dioxide." While the authors are well-schooled in agates(McIntosh won an award for a video documentary on them and Anderson is a geologist at University of Kentucky,) the book never becomes incomprehensible to the casual rock collector or enthusiast. The text serves to classify agates, explore their collecting history in Kentucky, outline the geographical landscape where they have been collected, and then briefly explain their formation. The rest of the book is devoted to displaying the colorful variations of Kentucky's state rock as rendered by Thomas' vivid photography. There are even full color examples of the exquisite jewelry that can be created from slicing the agates into thin layers and buffing them into cabochon gems for silver-rimmed pendants, tie clasps.and belt buckles. The designs included come from Rachel Savane´of Savane´ Silver.
The geodes containing agates are not easy to find, and according to the authors, have probably been over-collected in the past 40 years or so. However, a determined hiker in the scenic byways of Kentucky's Knobs region could be rewarded with a prized specimen by knowing the history of agate formation and where to look. While the authors acknowledge that over-collecting has made agate discovery rare, they still tell the reader when and where to look in the counties most likely to have examples of nature's artwork. So, if you study the pages of Kentucky Agates: State Rock and Mineral Treasure of the Commonwealth and plan an early spring hike along the stream beds of Estill, Powell, Jackson, Menifee, Madison or Lee County, will you find a rough geode that will reveal banded red, orange, purple and yellow designs inside? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you're like me, sometimes the quest is just as tantalizing as the prize.
This review aired in 2014 on Around Cincinnati, WVXU.org. Listen to the audio at this link.