MARYSVILLE — Susan Ingram peered at one of her gems under a hot, bright lamp in the middle of the Totem Middle School gymnasium, before putting the stone to her milling machine.
The Arlington woman’s path to attending this year’s “Rocktoberfest,” held Oct. 1-2, started in 2009, when she and her husband were looking for hobbies they could pursue together in the great outdoors.
Within a month of attending a rock show in Everett, the Marysville Rock & Gem Club invited them to become members.
“I learned faceting from Vern Tovrea about four years ago,” Ingram said. “When I first sat down at this machine, I felt like I’d found my niche. It was fascinating to me that I could create something so beautiful. I love working in my garden for the same reason.”
Ingram even shaped a quartz crystal into a chrysanthemum flower, as a tribute to both of her hobbies.
“It’s in my blood now,” Ingram said. “I love looking at other folks’ work with stones, too. Their talent is amazing.”
Dad Dean Curry will freely admit he has no such talent, but he and daughters Sharmi and Chantel love being rockhounds nonetheless.
“I just wish we had more time to do it,” said Sharmi, 11, as she and her sister sorted through bowls of gravel at the Rocktoberfest, looking for something shiny. “It’s really cool when you find stones that are so colorful.”
Chantel, 9, agreed: “I’m surprised by how bright they can get, when they come from these dirty rocks. An ugly rock can become really pretty if you polish it right.”
Dean sees rockhounding as a valuable avenue toward interactive learning for his girls, who can spot fossils and even distinguish between different types of stones.
Over at one of the slab tables, Seattle’s Alex Gutierrez joined Stanwood’s Julie Johnson and her grandson Orion in sorting through cut but otherwise unworked stones in shallow trays filled with water.
“One of my friends told me to check out this event,” Gutierrez said. “Sorting through tubs full of slabs is really fun. I’ve been into fossils for about five years, but I’m not sure I’d call myself a rockhound. I just like minerals in general. They’re tangible evidence of a very old, slow-moving process. It’s a broad swath of history, encapsulated in a very small piece.”
Orion, 12, lives in Marysville and attends Totem Middle School, but he’s gone to rock shows far and wide with his grandma.
“I look for unique patterns in the rocks, and how the light flows through them,” Johnson said. “I honestly have no idea what types of stones they are. Maybe I’ll get around to learning that once I retire.”
In the opinion of Auburn’s Russ Allen, who was representing the Maple Tree Lapidary at the show, you can’t beat Labradorite for a distinctive, eye-catching stone.
“It’s been one of our best-sellers today,” Allen said, while chatting with customer Cynthia Elvrom of Marysville. “It’s feldspar, so it’s got those specks that show up once you polish it up. It’ll show hints of blue, gold, even pink under the right light.”
Allen admitted that he “knew absolutely nothing” about stones when he first got into rockhounding seven years ago, but the differences between the stones, and that such gems can come out of the rough earth, has captivated him ever since.
“I always learn something about the craft when I come to these shows,” Allen said. “Every year, I learn a little more.”