Observations from the East Coast’s Largest Gem and Mineral Show
By Kate Sennert
Photos by Rory Gunderson
Behind booth 201, a woman points to a rock donning a $900 price tag. “This one’s spoken for,” she informers to her co-worker, “The guy gets his tax refund in three weeks.” She is wearing a baseball cap and a snugly fit tank top emblazoned with the logo for Prospectors, a new reality show on the Weather Channel about “upstart” miners in America’s Rocky Mountain region searching for gold and gems. Stars from the show are purportedly on site. A few booths over, a middle-aged woman ogles a milky, blue-green hunk of fluorite mantled in a display case under florescent lights. “We don’t need anymore fluorite,” chides her husband, who then drifts toward a collection of fiery red wulfenite specimens, each with a four-figure asking price. The MC takes then to the loudspeaker, reminding visitors not to bypass the life-size models of dinosaurs used in the film Jurassic Park.
Enter the NY/NJ Gem and Mineral Show—the largest event of its kind outside of Tucson, now boasting its second year. So well attended was the previous year’s event that the show has been moved to a mammoth, 150,000-foot exhibition hall at the end of a sprawling industrial park in Edison, New Jersey. On the surface it’s an unlikely destination for some of the earth’s most rare and alluring treasures. Yet the place is teeming with visitors, an odd mix of natural history buffs, new age healers, cowboys, geophysicists, amateur paleontologists, little boys dressed as Indiana Jones, one guy dressed up sort of like an astronaut, and rock collectors, oodles of them, who have made pilgrimages from all corners of the country.
Minerals, apparently, are the great equalizer. Their mysterious and alluring beauty lies in having come—as one friendly miner from Upstate New York put it—“from the ground.” How is it possible, you ask yourself, that these crystalline structures in colors so mesmerizing and shapes so complex come not from the hands of men, but from the very ground we walk on? Bubbly green smithsonite crystals that resemble a cluster of grapes. Rhodochrosite brighter pink than any neon sign. Juicy watermelon tourmaline with hues so tantalizing you almost want to take a bite.
If that doesn’t blow your mind, there are plenty of other gems on display: dinosaur fossils, trilobites, glow-in-the-dark rocks under UV lights, jars full of shark teeth and furniture constructed of petrified wood. For this reporter, though, it is the dazzling array of gemstones and minerals that truly delights the eye. You are supposed to call them specimens, by the way—not rocks—but there’s not a single snob in the room to correct you.
“My photographs comprise a solar diary, portraits of a moment in the life of our local star. Most are captured from my backyard in Buffalo, NY. Using a small telescope and narrow band filters I can capture details in high resolution and record movements in the solar atmosphere that change over hours and sometimes minutes.
The raw material for my work is black and white and often blurry. As I prepare the pictures, color is applied and tonality is adjusted to better render the features. It is photojournalism of a sort. The portraits are real, not painted. Aesthetic decisions are made with respect for accuracy as well as for the power of the image.”
Turns out NASA and I have something in common. Earlier this week I received a package, courtesy of Wilder, full of Kessil LED grow lights. Since unwrapping the box my brain has been filled with dreams: tropical foliage, seedlings, tomatoes growing in January in my mountain home! LED grow lights happen to be the choice of NASA, too. Not only are they long lasting, efficient, and durable enough to withstand a journey to Pluto and back, but the high quality light produced by LEDs creates vegetables with significantly higher levels of antioxidants: important nutrients which can help astronauts combat cosmic radiation. Besides all that, I think there’s another parallel to be drawn here. Let’s face it, deep space and winter have a lot in common. And what soothes and brightens dark moods better than the vibrant, leafy color, green? Try some out.
Since writing a post about ducks in the garden, I’ve had my ears and eyes out for more animal-based horticultural good-doing. This week, I got wind that a herd of goats have started grazing phragmites (an unruly invasive plant that colonizes wetlands) in Fresh Kills park, Staten Island, NYC. Fresh Kills is a little bit of a miracle in and of itself, sans invasive-species-destroying goats. Once the largest landfill in the world, it is now the largest restoration project in NYC, replacing acres of garbage with huge expanses of beautiful coastal habitat. The grazing goats emit far less methane than the machines conventionally used to control phragmites, are able to access the often tricky areas phragmites likes to grow, and correctly managed, their waste provides free fertilizer! Although goats have been used to control exotic weeds on the rangelands of the American west for many years, this urban experiment in NYC is one of the first of its kind! Read more about it here.
It’s the spring rains. It’s the warm weather. It’s the long and pleasant indian summer. There are a myriad of explanations for the spectacle of leaf color change, but only one is correct.
The fact is leaves change at the same time each year regardless of the weather. Responding to the longer nights of fall, trees start to slow production of chlorophyll, the pigment responsible for making leaves green and photosynthesis possible, towards the end of August (in the Northern hemisphere). As chlorophyll vanishes from the plant’s tissues underlying pigments (the reds, yellows, oranges we all look out for) become visible. Things like hot, sunny days combined with chilly nights cause chlorophyll production to wind down rapidly, setting up a vivid, high impact foliage display. Other factors matter too: Drought during the growing season can stress trees out to the point of early leaf drop, and frost, wind and rain can knock leaves right off the trees before they have a chance to dazzle! So now you know. And next time somebody offers you their opinion on the subject, you be the authority.
A list of great autumn color picks based on region:
Northeast and midwest: black tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) and staghorn sumac (Rhus hirta)
Southeast: smoke bush (Cotinus americana) and red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Southwest: Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa) and skunkbush sumac (Rhus trilobata)
Pacific northwest: hardhack (Spirea douglasii) and Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
Mountain states: New Mexican olive (Forestiera neomexicana) and waxflower (Jamesia americana)
In case you’re near New York, you might want to put this talk on your calendar for tonight: NASA astrobiologist Lynn Rothschild is going to be at Studio-X to discuss the “nature of biology, the possibilities for synthetic life, unexpected alternatives to DNA, and other mind-bending experiments that ask, in Rothschild’s words, “Where do we come from? Where are we going? and Are we alone?”
Sounds pretty awesome.
It’s going to be a big party tomorrow night. Cinco de Mayo will play host to the Super Moon when the orb will appear up to 30 percent brighter and 14 percent bigger than normal. According to NASA, “The best time to look is when the Moon is near the horizon. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. On May 5th, this Moon illusion will amplify a full Moon that’s extra-big to begin with. The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset should seem super indeed.”
And that’s not all. Saturday night will also be lit up by the Aquarid meteor shower. It occurs every April and May when the Earth passes through a stream of debris cast off by Halley’s comet. Expect 40-60 meteors per hour, but you’ll have to get around the super light from the super moon to catch the show. If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, you’ve got the best chance of seeing this astrological double feature. Lucky you!
Invisible, scentless, soundless. Pollen is the silent task master of the plant world. The thing is, pollen is just as beautiful as the plants that create it. Members of the Asteraceae, or sunflower family, have pollen grains that look like celestial suns. The Betulaceae, or birch and hazel family, have delicate, tricornered grains resembling a Napoleonic hat.
Despite its tiny size, pollen punches way above its weight. Those of you badly allergic to the stuff can surely agree. But did you know pollen has solved murder mysteries? In one case in Berkshire, England, a palynologist (that’s a pollen expert) discovered a dusting of pollen in a suspect’s throat. Turns out, the pollen matched a unique plant that was blooming in the field where the victim was buried. Besides all that, pollen allows scientists to reconstruct ancient landscapes. Dredging up cores of lake sediment, where pollen is well preserved, palynologists can identify the grains to incredible precision and say exactly what was growing, and where. Pretty impressive for such a little thing.
The current warm weather has gardeners itching to get out onto the fire escape or out into the backyard. From Sumatra to Norway, the blossoming of plants is triggered by environmental cues that, until recently, have been relatively constant. Across the temperate climes average annual temperatures continue to creep up the mercury, bringing earlier springs, and earlier spring flowers.
In England, dedicated naturalists have been recording the breaking of spring buds since the 1700s. Released by Britain’s Royal Society of Biological Sciences, a 250 year index shows the flowering dates of 405 species and demonstrates the impact of climate change on growth. The current index shows that for every 1C rise, bud burst occurred five days earlier.
On the U.S. side, Project BudBurst monitors the timing of phenological plant events (such as leafing, blooming and fruiting) by collecting data from citizen scientists across the country. The data they collect will help scientists understand how the alteration of to the climate will affect things like bird and insect diversity, pollination, and our own food production. The red maple and other ultra-early spring bloomers are the most doggedly watched by BudBurst’s team. Other ubiquitous, easy-to-identify plants such as common yarrow and trout lily open the study up to anyone – like maybe you?
On Growth and Form, was a groundbreaker. Scottish author D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson was pioneer in the science of morphogenesis, the biological process that causes an organism to develop its shape. First published in 1917, On Growth and Form has become a classic, essential in the study of the mathematics of biological form, and those interested in any biology and/or design. It is a true tome full imagery and and detailed, poetic descriptions.
I just ordered it today, which of course, led me down the long rabbit hole we call the internet. In short order, I came across Daniel Brown. Visual artist and programmer Brown has worked for posh brands like Mulberry, great record labels like Warp and a plethora of other favorites (Visionaire, BBC, Royal Arts). Awhile ago, Daniel used complex mathematical algorithms to make continuously animated flowers on the walls of museums and galleries . These ever-changing and continually growing flowers were titled, you guessed it, ‘On Growth and Form.’ Brown uploaded the static images of the animated work Flickr. The set contains all of his non-commissioned digital flower projects from 1999 to the present. Beautiful.
Coup of the day! PBS has been slowly increasing the amount of content they have for you to stream from their website. A recent edition is the full length, two-hour film of Michael Pollan’s Botany of Desire. Even if you’ve already read the book, I highly recommend it.