Silica has never been top of the list of most-often-written-about subjects for poets. One might argue that quartz, because of its crystalline property, should inspire heavenly thoughts – but it doesn’t seem to do that in great works of literature generally. Perhaps it is because, after feldspars, it is the most abundant mineral. Does familiarity really breed contempt, I wonder? I cannot be contemptuous of the richness in variety and colour of this ghostly beauty. My first recollection of quartz is associated with those carefree school holidays when we would wander down our dusty lane towards the abandoned gatehouse at Burnham Beck. To my brother and to me this was a special place as we knew that our maternal grandmother was brought up there. The lane is no longer dusty and the fields on either side are now equally ornamented hardcore as a housing estate – no surprises there then. However, in those days, this country child found her own gemstones in the beck. They were significant amongst the water cress and wild flowers growing along the water margins. At first, to our childish eyes, they were broken pieces of glass, but interested adults pointed us in the direction of our research. To me they were as beautiful as jewels – natural gifts which gave as much joy as a diamond necklace would have given to Elizabeth Taylor.
Quartz has fascinated me since then. On Steep Hill in Lincoln and wherever else I have come across little shops displaying rocks and minerals, my eye is always drawn to the varieties of quartz. They almost speak – certainly communicate – a permanence to me. There are few things which convey the same sense of forever.
When we had been married for only a short time, my husband presented me with a piece of quartz, hoping to further my geological education. He failed. I treasure that cool and almost transparent rock but I find it difficult to see beyond it when it comes to minerals. I am able to look to the side and learn more about quartz and its varieties but I am so much in thrall to it that my geological knowledge, outwith its sphere, is limited. Admitting defeat perhaps, later, my lovely man gave me a stunning piece of translucent rose quartz – the pink of which is exquisite. I defy anyone to find a more delicate and yet more powerful shade. Cool, yet on fire with kindly light.
We have too, a large, clear piece of quartz on display – quite a stunner – which I purchased for the man’s Christmas present from a most unlikely place. Certainly the retailer can have had no idea of its value or I wouldn’t have been able to buy it.
Flint arrowheads have fired the imagination of young children from time immemorial. We would shriek with excitement whenever the spade turned up one of these lethal nodules and try to imagine – and sometimes emulate – how they were crafted to form weapons. In days gone by – long gone by – the ancient peoples believed that quartz was very deep frozen ice which was beyond the stage of remelting. Quartz has had uses for man for thousands of years but often as decorative items. In the late 1960’s onyx enjoyed renewed popularity and my grandparents bought a standard lamp with onyx in its stem and also a cigarette lighter with a base made from onyx. They were simply doing the Roman thing. Pliny described remarkable vessels carved from onyx and cornelian in Ancient Rome. They must have been a treat for the Roman eye.
Amethyst, with its stunning violet-purple transparent appearance is another quartz and one treasured by our would-have-been palaeontologist daughter since she received a piece as a gift from her friend’s family when they took her to the Orkney Rock and Fossil Museum in Burray as a little girl. You can imagine how delectable the amethyst and rose quartz appear as they are united in display.
In a corner of a window we have a stone which has been cut and the flat surface polished. This is a potato stone – agate – a finely banded quartz often disguising itself as a potato. We also have, near to it, a “potato”, or rather an uncut potato stone, never having displayed its beauties to man. It is priceless as it was given to us by my father shortly before he died. He was so intrigued by our agate that he set out to find a partner for it. So now we have the whole story – the secret of stones – the uncut as well as the cut and polished version.
Today I may go for a walk along “my” beach and there is a very good chance that I will find a specimen of quartz. They crop up all through my life. I would never be able to keep them all – nor should I. It doesnt matter how man fashions this amazing mineral, craftsmanship is secondary to the “krystallos” of Pliny. We all have clocks and watches which keep time because of the inclusion of quartz in their manufacture. It is well-known that quartz is used to make glass and porcelain. But the real ingenuity is in the formation of this true international – a cool beauty found in its various guises across the globe. Timeless treasure.