40-Year-Old Mystery Solved: What a Magical Rock Taught Me

The other day, Roger and I popped into a gem store on a whim. As a child, I had a rock collection, and I still love looking at rocks, gems, and crystals. Business was slow that afternoon, so the owner and I got to talking . . . and talking . . . and talking (as I sometimes do).

Suddenly, I remembered a picture I had on my phone and asked if I could show it to him. It’s of a “rock” I picked up when I was about ten years old while walking along a canal in Idaho. I’d tried for years to identify this rock. I’d even asked two friends who were geologists, but no one was sure. The gemologist who owned the store was confident he could identify it.

“Oh, that’s a thunder egg,” he said. “It’s rhyolite on the outside and chalcedony (agate) in the center. They’re found mostly in Oregon. Not sure how yours got to Idaho.”

My guess is someone picked it up, cut it open, started to polish it and realized, it’s really nothing special. I’ve Googled thunder eggs (or thundereggs) and seen some with beautiful insides. Mine is not beautiful. It’s really rather dumpy. So, whoever found it must have tossed it away, not realizing that this “ugly” rock would be prized by some 10-year-old girl who would view it as the star of her collection. Nor could they have guessed that 40 years later, it would still sit on the bookshelf next to my desk.

Now that I know what it is, and I know what it could have been, I love it all the more. This happy discovery capped an hour of pleasant conversation with a stranger who just happened to know the answer to a lifelong mystery.

This story reminds me of a watercolor painting I bought from a friend many years ago of a lakeshore. “Oh no,” she said, when I held it up. “That was one of my early attempts. Let’s find you a better one.”

Too late, I’d already fallen in love with my discovery. It might not have been “technically” as good as the others, but it spoke to me. I recognized that lakeshore, even though I had no idea where it was. She might have thought of that painting as a “dumpy” cousin to her others, but it was a gem to me.

No one can tell us what our treasures will be. It’s up to us to discover them, and marvel over them, and wonder about them. And no one can tell us which of our own creations will be treasured. So, don’t be surprised if the art you toss aside finds its way into someone’s prized collection. Sometimes the best things in life are not “the best.”

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