Rock Enthusiast Constrained by Budget


review by Abigail Troppmann


When I learned about the Rock and Gem that was happening at West Edmonton Mall in October, I knew I had to go.

In the spring, I took a geology class to fulfill the science requirement of my degree. Rocks for jocks, as the name would suggest, was easy enough. That may not be the official course name on my transcript, but that’s what we called it at home.

After that, there was a brief stint as a ghostwriter. I had to provide an example of work, so I created an outline for a book on crystals. Now I have a startling amount of knowledge regarding crystals and astrological signs, a basic geology education, and a sudden job offer to work up at a logging camp with my estranged aunts. The money was too good to refuse, and that’s how I found myself staring at the Rockies every morning, surrounded by rocks, trees, and chain-smoking Newfies. I kept finding interesting rocks that I could identify, like snowflake obsidian, red jasper, agate, and quartz. It was a bizarre immersion back into my childhood obsession with rocks and minerals.

When I was a kid and the Sears Christmas catalogue was passed around, I would sit and stare at the rock tumblers. Some little girls want a Barbie dreamhouse, a new bicycle, or one of those fancy animatronic stuffed animals. Then there was me, drooling over the idea of making dull rocks shiny.

Sadly, I never received one, but now I have adult money. There was simply one choice for a woman with access to adult money, an endless supply of rocks, and two weeks of solitude in the woods: I bought a rock tumbler. I lugged home twenty pounds of rocks in a ginormous miracle whip container and started to tumble them. The sheer joy of fulfilling a childhood dream is indescribable.

The night before the Rock and Gem show, I had a stern discussion with myself. If I didn’t enforce a budget, I just knew I would be riding the bus home with a giant slab of labradorite on my lap and an empty bank account. Before I left for the mall, I withdrew $100 in cash. Nothing says strict budget quite like physical money!

Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe I would walk around, talk to some artisans and browse their wares like a typical craft fair. There was basically no information to be found about this event. Google told me to go to West Ed, so I went and took an educated guess that it was held in the ice rink. Speed walking through the mall’s crowds, excited to see some pretty crystals, my mind was swirling with the possibilities of what I might find. Sure enough, the ice rink was full of rocks.

After showing my ID and proof of vaccination, I grabbed a bin and entered the sea of crystals. Honestly, I was already disappointed. Instead of the separate booths I was expecting, everything was laid out on tables for people to pursue across the entire rink. Aside from the two kind ladies in the back, there were no artisans to chat with. You just walk around, peruse the pretty stones and pay upfront. There was only one exit, but I really don’t know how they prevented theft. Most items were small enough to slip into a pocket, like the tiny crystal penises I snickered at like a twelve-year-old.

My daydreams of buying a slab of labradorite came to a screeching halt when I picked up a chunk of pyrite. It was $150. The difficulty of my task dawned on me with a sinking feeling. With each stone I turned, the numbers kept growing higher. Some items I found myself saying, really? That’s $350? It’s the size of a lemon! My geology class didn’t cover the pricing of rocks and gems, so what do I know?

I had to develop a game plan. What exactly did I want? A carved skull, raw crystals to tumble, and a ring. Simple enough, but the sheer selection blew my mind. There were skulls carved with a raven on top, or a snake coming out of its mouth. Carvings of turtles, dogs, dragons, mushrooms, and so much more. Predictably, the most attractive items laughed in the face of my budget. While the carvings and smoothed stones were cool, I had really been hoping for more raw rock forms. I wanted to geek out and make a game out of identifying the rocks and minerals. Instead, I fondled many crystal orbs and pouted a little bit.

So, what does $100 get you at a rock and gem show? I’m glad you asked. Behold my pirate’s bounty! $28 got me a jade skull that is a light green, and has a mossy head. After an hour of searching, I finally found an affordable A+ grade smoky quartz cluster for $20. It has three points on it, and is fairly clear. I have it propped up beside my plants at home, and it makes me smile whenever I see it. $23 for a lapis lazuli egg with streaks of gold running through it, which I was excited by because I had learned the beautiful blue paint the ancient Egyptians used was created from ground lapis lazuli. I did not know it had streaks of gold running through it!

Immediately upon entering the rink, I had snagged two mystery boxes for $15 a piece. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for surprise bags. There was a medium sized piece of tumbled sandstone, which is a pinkish/orangish colour, but the box also had three other pieces of raw sandstone. It isn’t even that cool of a mineral! Everything in that box sucked, and I should have chosen more carefully.

The other surprise box was full of three pendulums, all of which were individually priced at $15. I only like one of them, but I did get a pretty good bang for my buck. There is a weird acorn/petrified wood one, and one with what looks like aquarium pebbles drowning in resin. The one I like has clear quartz on the top and bottom, and stretches like a slinky.

I picked out five different raw stones: fluorite, tiger’s eye, garnet, tree agate and labradorite. I’ve always loved fluorite, because the purples and greens remind me of the Northern Lights. I like tiger’s eye because I kind of want to eat it. The garnet looks like a meteorite, and the tree agate looks like it’s covered in moss. The labradorite has a beautiful pearlescent shine. They were all priced differently, but when I paid at the register, the nice person ringing me through priced them all at $2. Probably my favourite decor item is a magenta grapevine made out of unknown stones for $25, which seemed like a steal because it was beautiful and looked delicious. They were a hot commodity after three different old ladies asked me where I found them. The last two items were a golden Aries pendant for $8 and a red carnelian fang for $2.

For the budget constraint, it was a pretty good haul that I have enjoyed having on my bookcase with my plants. The show itself disappointed me. I didn’t like the impersonal experience, because I had so many questions that were left unanswered, like where are these stones sourced from? Is it ethical? Are they local? Moral of the story is, shopping for rocks is cool, but it will always be more fun to wade in a river and find your own.

Dear reader, I have a confession to make. I failed at the budget. Miserably. I bought a beautiful blue tourmaline and sterling silver ring for $44. The band is thick, and stamped with what looks like snake skin, and the oval stone is beautifully cracked inside. It is now my favourite piece of jewelry, and it felt wrong to have it on my finger while I type this article, pretending like I’m the sort of honorable woman that can stick to a budget.

I had actually pulled out $200…

I am aware of my flaws!


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