Mack Williams column: Garnets and frozen apples

  • Posted: Monday, February 18, 2013 12:56 a.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, February 18, 2013 1:04 a.m.

While growing up on the old Concord Road, some of my spare time was spent in reading about rocks and minerals. The variety of native rock specimens at hand in my yard was limited to one: “quartz.” Our granite steps and the granite blocks surrounding my sand pile had previously been trucked in (as well as the sand).

During the summer of 1965, after my completion of Granite Quarry School’s eighth grade and prior to beginning the ninth at East Rowan, I took advantage of an opportunity to go on a school-sponsored rock and mineral field trip led by one of our teachers at Granite Quarry, Mr. James Lyerly. I never had Mr. Lyerly for a teacher, but always considered him to be “cool,” reminding me somewhat of Clark Kent or Buddy Holly.

My mother, wanting me to be prepared, had purchased a geologist’s hammer for my use. A geologist’s hammer resembles certain styles of roofing hammers. It also looks a little bit like an ice axe, which of course, instead of the Himalayas makes me think of Mexico, and of course, Trotsky.

Mrs. Misenheimer had taken us to the quarry in the sixth grade, but we didn’t have the opportunity to get really close enough to break things. Assembled in an activity bus at East on that summer morning of 1965, our high school “freshmen eve” group headed out with Mr. Lyerly to the mica mines of Spruce Pine. 

Arriving some hours later at the mining area, we saw an enormous man-made “cave” in the side of a mountain. I don’t recall seeing one of the great “rock eating” (or rather “rock chewing”) machines, but do remember seeing large dump trucks filled with rock. The size of that cavity made it “Carlsbad class,” but without stalactites or stalagmites. I imagine that after the mining in that particular opening was eventually finished, the naturally dissolved minerals in the groundwater above the opening may grow some stalactites in the future, if not by now, just as some pencil-thin examples sometimes develop after many years in some road and railroad tunnels, the result of mineral-laden water dripping through tiny, time-caused fractures in the tunnel’s ceiling.

 There were so many hand-sized rock fragments around for the taking that I really didn’t have to use my geologist’s hammer. What we were looking at was “pegmatite,” an igneous mixture “cooked” deep within the earth, consisting of quartz, feldspar and mica, along with a little bit of garnet. Most of the garnets were tiny, consisting of small crimson specks appearing to extrude through coverings of white feldspar and white quartz.

 One day, some years later, while living off-campus at Boone in the winter of 1972 , I thought back to that trip led by Mr. Lyerly. At the time, I lived in an upstairs room rented from a kindly, elderly lady by the name of Mrs. Green, who lived downstairs. Her outside  sign of advertisement, instead of reading “Rooms for Rent,” read “Guests,” and she treated her renters as such. When her children and grandchildren came for “Sunday dinner with grandma,” she often shared the leftovers with her renters. In her baking of apple pies, Mrs. Green utilized the resource of a couple of apple trees growing in her yard.

 One winter day, I looked out my window to where some fallen apples, unchosen by Mrs. Green for pie, were being steadily covered with snow. What had started out as red spheres in the grass seemed to dwindle to barely showing specks of crimson, surrounded with white. When I saw this, I thought back to those little red garnets, baked eons ago in a molten “pie” at a place which eons later would come to be known as Spruce Pine, North Carolina, and be visited by James Lyerly along with some rock-hounding students.

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