Obsidian A Fascinating Rock!

Obsidian

A volcanic glass, Obsidian occurs in volcanic areas such as the western United States.

We’re honored to welcome visitors to our Winding Pathways website seeking information on obsidian. Many have probably learned of this rock through video games.

Ironically Winding Pathways is located in Iowa, a state where natural deposits of obsidian aren’t found. However, the rock was so useful to Native Americans that an extensive trade network existed in North America and it was carried far and wide by prehistoric traders. All Iowa obsidian was carried here by Native Americans and has only been found as artifacts.

Obsidian is an amazing rock. It formed when lava cooled so quickly that the molten rock could not form a crystalline structure. Usually black, obsidian can be of many other colors.  It occurs naturally around the world where volcanism occurred relatively recently. Fairly common in western states it has also been found in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia. A well-known hillside in Yellowstone National Park is composed of this rock. It’s fun to see but collecting is not allowed in national parks.

Obsidian Points

The smaller piece is the back of a point. The larger piece is the broken tip of a point.

Because of its amorphous, or non-crystalline, structure obsidian breaks cleanly creating extremely sharp edges. It’s been used by people for at least 1.5 million years as the raw material that could be crafted into  knives, spear points and other sharp tools. Today obsidian is often made into jewelry, and there are reports of ultra-sharp shards of it being used for surgery.

An easy way to see obsidian and hundreds of other types of rocks and minerals is to visit a rock shop. They are common in tourist areas, and we’ve always found visiting them fun. Often the owner is so happy to see a customer that he’ll give a personal tour and share oodles of rock information, even if no money is exchanged.

Another great way to see obsidian……and buy a chunk……..is to visit a rock show. Held around the country they bring rock enthusiasts together to talk, barter, buy and sell. To locate a show near your home check RockNGem  and show-dates.

Eastern Iowa’s 2016 Cedar Valley Rock and Mineral Society’s big Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show will be April 16 and 17 at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids.  Programs, demonstrations, pebble pits for kids, gorgeous jewelry, equipment and raw materials all will be featured.

Wherever you live, take in a rock show and rub elbows with rock hounds and lapidists, and invest in some cool rocks and crystals.

Rainwater Barrels and Gardens

How ironic that many homeowners don’t harvest the rain that falls on their property, yet they buy water to irrigate their lawn and garden. Harvest free water by using rain barrels and rain gardens.

RAIN BARRELS

Since ancient times families have captured rain falling on their roof to use for irrigation. It worked thousands of years ago and still works today. A rain barrel is a large container positioned under a gutter downspout to catch and hold water for later use. They can be homemade but most people prefer buying one. Hundreds of models are on the market and range from simple and inexpensive ones to elaborately designed barrels that are practical and decorative. We purchased ours from Rainwater Solutions and have placed six under the downspouts of two buildings. The free water irrigates our vegetable garden and provides water for our small flock of chickens. For more information see the Winding Pathways blog of April 2015 or check http://www.rainwatersolutions.com/

RAIN GARDENS

Rain gardens are more permanent than barrels. Like the barrels they range from the simple to the elaborate. Rain gardens aren’t used to harvest water for irrigation but channel roof runoff into the ground rather than into storm sewers.

Our rain garden is simple and cost nothing to create. We dug a shallow basin in the lawn about the size of a bath tub where our downspout discharges gutter water. During a light to moderate rain our rain garden absorbs all the roof water and puts it back into the ground where it moistens roots and eventually helps recharge the aquafer. During a fierce thunderstorm it overflows a little but we channel that to the lawn. Between the garden and lawn all the rain falling on our roof stays on our property, benefiting our plants and not creating flooding downhill.

The Indian Creek Nature Center and Linn County  Master Gardeners will hold  workshops in March 2016 to help participants learn how to make their own rain garden. Other nature centers, master gardener and Extension Offices hold similar workshops in many locations across the country. Books and websites are available to help homeowners plan their rain garden. One of our favorite information sources is the Low Impact Development Center.

Besides harvesting water and reducing downstream flooding there’s another benefit of having a rain garden. Flowering plants that require wet soil flourish in rain gardens but can’t live in nearby dry soil.

Kids Write About Playing In The Snow

Kids enthusiasm about playing in the snow is evident with snowmen around town, tracks across yards, piles of wet boots and mittens and gay laughter ringing through the town.  Two children share their reasons they love to “Go Outside and Play!”

-Savannah.  “I like to play outside when it’s snowing because we can do several different things. We can throw snowballs at each other. We can make big snow forts and hide in them. We also slide down our icy slide so we can go extra fast. So all together, we play in the snow whenever we get the chance.”
-Breanna. “When it’s snowing I like to go outside. The reason I like to go outside is because I like to go sledding really fast down a hill. I also like to build snowmen while my brother and sister go find accessories. I like to find cool foot prints in the snow. And I think it is fun to throw snowballs at my brother and sisters. And that is why I like to go outside.”

Enjoy “Awful” Weather

Enjoying Winter Outside

Dress in Layers, wear sturdy, insulted boots, and soak up Vitamin D with a brief “sun bath” even on cold winter days.

The woman giving our local television station’s weather report issued a dire warning. “It’s going to be below zero tomorrow with strong wind. It will feel like 30 below zero out. Stay inside”, she advised!

A gorgeous sunrise launched the next morning. It was a cold six below zero out but with only slight wind. Birds and squirrels arrived at the feeder, snatched a few seeds and flew or scampered off to enjoy breakfast in a sunny spot sheltered from the breeze.

Rarely do we have weather so bad that everyone must stay indoors. Certainly some days are more pleasant than others but at Winding Pathways we go outside, even if briefly, whether it’s frigid or broiling out -mainly to tend our animals. We mimic wildlife.

When August’s heat and humidity envelop Iowa we follow the pattern of the cottontail that lives in our yard. He and we are out in the evening and early morning. In mid-day we shun the sun and enjoy our maple’s cool shade.  On blustery winter days we layer up and explore our yard, even if for just a short time. Modern clothing is amazingly effective keeping us comfortable as long as we do like our chickadees and find a sunny place out of the wind. We don’t fool around with tornadoes. If one’s approaching we heed the weather caster’s advice and stay in the basement. But, as soon as it passes we’re out in the yard.

Take temperature extremes seriously. Unusually hot or cold weather can cause serious physical problems, even death, but a prudent person who takes precautions and uses common sense will enjoy fresh air even in extreme weather.

BE CAREFUL, DRESS APPROPRIATELY, AND AVOID BEING UNDULY “SCARED” BY THE WEATHER REPORT.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves,” John Muir.

Reflections on Crystals and Life

At three a.m.the mind wanders many paths.  Sometimes they re-join and a message emerges.

During an early morning thunderstorm awakening, I recalled an experience at the open pit mine in Arkansas digging through the muddy rubble for crystals. Small points eluded me until an experienced crystal hunter helped train my eye. A few way too large chunks unrealistically tempted me.  At one point, filthy, covered head to boot heel with thick red Razorback mud, I paused and looked around.

Arkansas Crystal Mine

Razorback Red soil heaped up for crystal seekers to dig through.

Four things happened in quick succession. Surveying the devastation of mining, I started to cry. As I reached down in the ruined earth to apologize to the elegant, imposing crystal in front of me,  a thought as clear as a refined crystal came to me, “Mining is a vicious activity.” As if to confirm my thought, deep red blood splattered on the rock.  It took a few moments for me to realize the blood was mine! I had sliced open my little finger along the length of the last phalange on a razor sharp edge of the rock.

I just stoode there watching the blood drip on the crystal and sinking into the brick colored soil. I let the bleeding go, partly from shock, partly to wash out dirt, partly as a tribute for the violence done to the earth.

When I returned to the car we cleaned off and bound the wound, which kept bleeding for hours and opened up and bled many days after. On the way home, I reflected on the raw crystals and the lovely pure white and clear refined crystals we “ohhh” and “ahhh” over and buy in stores.

Our lives are like these crystals.  Sometimes we are torn from all we think we know and love. The forms of violence are endless. The list goes on and on. In the raw we are rough, stained and fairly unattractive.  Refined, we can glimmer, gleam and shine – sometimes in genuine completeness. Other times if too refined, we can become phony looking because our true selves are hidden by another factor – false perfection.

As I reflected, my little finger began to ache – again. A reminder of a time when I sympathized with Mother Earth and received a scolding from her. A lesson to share.

Obsidian or Slag – What Does It Matter?

Obsidian nugget surrounded by blue slag

Obsidian has one characteristic that slag generally lacks – a hint of translucence.

On our recent Antiquities Tour, Rich and I came across interesting rocks on an abandoned railroad bed in Eastern Colorado. The chunks looked like obsidian. They fractured like obsidian and had the feel of obsidian. But, they didn’t quite look right. But blue and pretty!  So, we put a bunch in the car. Rich was excited.

One of my geologists colleagues confirmed my observation on the fracturing and glassy feel of the rocks. But, they didn’t have the slightly translucent look of obsidian. Still I like them. So, I gave some to friends.

One scientist friend, Linda Mueller, appreciated the rock and investigated further. Here is our conversation on FB.

“I’ve been asking around about the rock you gave me. The consensus seems to be that the colors indicate that it’s slag glass and not obsidian. Certain areas in Colorado use it as railroad ballast.  Obsidian and glass slag are so similar that it’s often difficult the tell the difference. Unscrupulous ebay sellers have taken advantage of this and have sold the artificial form as the real thing.

“Anyhow, whatever it is, I’m still fascinated by it. It’s beautiful and it will remain on my desk as a paperweight.  Thank you again for it.”

I replied, “Thanks for checking this out!”

Linda added, “I was hoping for something interesting like turquoise. Still the stone is calming in a odd sort of way. It’s cool to the touch and smooth among the rough (parts).”

My thought: “Maybe good energy can come from slag. Say, that might be a good blog!  Help me write it?”

So Linda did the work!

Linda:  “I think so. The rock is truly entrancing. I can’t explain it. From the moment I saw it, I was fascinated by it. It was a special gift. I truly mean that.

“When you think about it, it does look a lot  like obsidian, which is volcanic glass. I can’t remember what you said the spiritual properties of obsidian are but I wonder if they mirror the history of the stone? A huge amount of geothermal energy is needed to create obsidian. It flows from a volcano, then cools and solidifies. Tension moving toward calm? (Great analogy, I thought!)

Glass slag is similar to obsidian; it, too, consists mainly of silica dioxide. It’s formed by heating ores (rock) to high temperatures. It’s a human-made rock, but it’s not a new technique. Humans have been creating it since the late bronze age (1500 – 1000 BCE). At least three thousand years!  Wow!  Ancient man found other uses for the leftover glass slag. They recycled it even then. Somehow we lost sight of that when technology gave us easier ways to make glass and pottery.  Now we’ve come full circle and have found uses for it again.

“Might glass slag have properties similar to obsidian since the two are so similar?  When I hold the rock, I feel calm.  It takes away tension.  The coolness and the weight of the stone is comfortable.  Like obsidian, it was formed from heat/molten rock (tension) and it’s present state is cool/solid rock (calm).

“When you think about it, it fits. You and I have a strong interest in preservation, recycling, taking care of the earth. The rock cries out:

“‘Hey, look at the beauty and usefulness I have!  Quit taking rocks from the earth to crush for railroad ballast when you already have me. I was needed for another purpose and now that it is complete, I’m moving on to my next one.’

“Everyone I’ve shown it to has had positive reactions to it. I wonder why that is?”

So, our on-line conversation ended here.  But perhaps readers can weigh in and add to this. Obsidian or Slag – What Does it Matter?

The gift had the intention of love, perhaps that is a clue.