Journey Through a Geode

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Exploring something fully sometimes requires destroying it, like the dissection of a cadaver or the excavation of an archaeological site. Once the secrets it holds have been revealed, it can never be put back together.

Geodes–plain-looking, round rocks whose hollow insides are lined with crystals–are ubiquitous enough in museum stores and gem shops that they are easy to overlook. Small, glittering geode slices are found in jewelry; larger ones often quartered for bookends, and the largest are propped up for photo ops.  Its designs are occasionally used in mating rituals–e.g., lips and cakes–of high-ranking humans.

Unbroken Geodes

A little over a year ago, I stumbled upon a “Break your own geode kit” on Amazon for $24.95. I’m not affiliated with whatever industrial complex is able to procure massive amounts of geodes from our earth to market to children, but I purchased it without hesitation.

break-your-own-geodeThe geodes sat in the bag for over a year. Twice, I went to get a hammer to crack them, and Brian deliberately distracted me.

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Bag of Geodes

One day, I was going over to a friend’s house and got as far as putting some geodes in my bag. He talked me out of it, claiming they were too heavy and that I would be imposing.

“Wait”, I told him, in sudden realization. “You’re trying to save them. I know you. You think of them as our pets”. He nodded, wondering aloud why anyone would want to smash such special creatures.

It made me think. I, too, began to see them as a boxed set of friends. But I wanted to see inside.

Sandpaper + Time

I decided to wear one away gently. I got out a file folder full of sandpaper, sat down with a geode, and began to erode so slowly that I had to photograph it to ensure it was doing anything.

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It took two days for the first sign of the crystal core to emerge. Next, a tiny hole led the way to the empty space at the center.

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First glimpse inside the geode. 15x enlargement with Micro Phone Lens

I returned to the sanding table every free hour I got, watching a crystal cave open up before my eyes.

“Ancient Air in There”

As I worked, I thought about time, and considered what it meant for time to be wasted. I  looked up how much time a geode typically takes to grow: millions of years.

I learned that geodes are porous, hollow rocks that fill with groundwater or rainwater, which slowly deposits crystals on the insides of the hollow space. Then the rock around the space erodes, preserving a spherical crust around the crystal.

“Ancient air in there,” a friend commented on a photo I posted on Instagram of the emerging hole. I imagined shrinking down and dropping down the hole with a flashlight.

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Same hole, enlarged. 15x enlargement with Micro Phone Lens

Lackluster

As the hole widened, I tried looking inside with my endoscopic camera. I didn’t have much luck, and what I did see didn’t look promising.

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Endoscope Footage
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Endoscope probing geode

I began second-guessing: I could have spent all this effort on a guaranteed-beautiful geode; one that had a banded agate crust and/or amethysts inside.

Or what if I had sanded through the best crystals on the way in?

But I was determined to appreciate my geode as it was. Judging by a key on the product’s box, it probably consisted of a siderite (crystallized iron carbonate) crust and interior crystals of quartz.

As the hole widened, the inside became clearer and clearer. Despite the modest crystals, it was exciting.

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Seeing it from this angle made me realize that most geodes I’d seen were sliced to maximize the center.

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Half-sanded geode. The other half’s dust fit into my favorite shot glass.

Past the Peak

“I kind of want to keep going”, I told Brian at the halfway point. “To sand it until it’s gone”. He suggested collecting the dust. We imagined doing something different with each geode, opening each of the remaining eleven in an unusual way.

The more I sanded, the more I photographed and re-examined it, and the more interesting it became. With my micro lenses, I carefully photographed every new section as it came into range.  The crystals became like mountain ranges in close-up, and I imagined myself climbing over them.

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Interior crystals. 15x enlargement with Micro Phone Lens

I’d initially been disappointed that there weren’t more crystals like these. But when I looked closer at the non-crystals, I saw round stone formations covered in a layer of quartz, looking like it was deposited by an overnight ice storm.

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Interior crystals. 15x enlargement with Micro Phone Lens

The crystal area became smaller and smaller.

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The last few crystals. 15x enlargement with Micro Phone Lens

Time Lapse + Dust

One day, about two weeks after I began sanding, the geode was gone.

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I took photos of each stage of the process and compiled them into this timelapse.

All that was left after the two weeks of sanding, and its million(s) of years of formation, were bruises on my hand, scratches on my wrist, gigabytes of photographs, and a pile of dust.

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Quartz and siderite dust that once constituted a geode, mixed with copious amounts of sandpaper grit.

Photos and Animations by Emily Wick
Concept by Emily Wick and Brian Brooks

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