Thursday, June 21, 2007

Tuffy and his Pocket Rocks

Tuffy shifted his weight to the right, dug the toe of his boot into the muck and leaned into the air-pick to gain leverage on the hidden vein he was attempting to dislodge. A dark object about the size of a half-dollar popped loose, and he deftly caught it with his left hand. Leaning back, Tuffy put the stone to his mouth, licked it and eyed it closely. Grunting contentedly, he dropped the nugget into his shirt pocket and repositioned himself to continue the assault.

Turquoise Veins
Turquoise Veins

"Let me see!" I said, nudging Tuffy on the shoulder. He rocked back on his heels and wrapped his hand around the air leak where the heavy rubber hose connected to the quick-connect metal fitting and proceeded to play an obnoxious tune. Tuffy thoughtfully considered the exposed wall in front of him while the steady, mechanical beat of the air compressor above us exaggerated his silence. "You sure are nosy!" he said shortly, and went back to work, hammering loudly.

I considered the cantankerous miner next to me and then the shovel in my hand, thinking I might use it to make an impression. I looked at Steve sitting patiently on a pile of rocks a few feet away and caught his cautioning eye. As if reading my mind, he shook his head from side to side, as if saying, "Don't get him started." I knew he was right, Tuffy is as volatile and unstable as 55 year old dynamite. Lighting his fuse is a sure way to initiate a catastrophic explosion. I resisted the impulse. "Good thinking!" Steve said out loud, relaxing a bit.

Tuffy owns and operates two turquoise mines, which are located in central Nevada. His two mines produce some of the finest quality natural turquoise available in today's market. We have known Tuffy and his turquoise for quite some time now, and have, thus far, survived the relationship. To acquire these exquisite stones, you must deal directly and exclusively with Tuffy and his bad attitude.

Tuffy called me around the first of the year and extended an invitation for Steve and me to visit him at the mines in June. Since invitations to witness Tuffy extracting rare and beautiful gemstones are extremely unusual, I was dubious to say the least. My first unthinking, reactionary response was, "Why?" Tuffy snorted, and quickly responded, "Because I intend to carry out my promise of breaking your knee caps and planting you in a mine shaft." That was more like it, this was the Tuffy I knew and understood. He is forever threatening me with bodily harm and telling me he will withhold his turquoise if I don't act properly. Tuffy knows I, like him, rarely act properly, so we are always at fictional odds with one another. I don't understand the underlying psychology, his or mine, and certainly don't expect either of us to undergo evaluation or therapy. It is what it is!

Needless to say, Steve and I took Tuffy up on his generous offer and met him at the mine. Tuffy went right to work, and excavated a 30 foot wall, exposing six recognizable veins of turquoise and a mysterious mud bank containing hidden nuggets. We then watched as he set up the air-pick and began extracting chunks of skystone. He would hammer away at the wall and dump chunks and lumps of rock into a recycled five gallon plastic bucket marked, "Scoop Away Kitty Litter."

Every once in a while Tuffy would find something he considered worth placing in his pocket rather than the bucket. Occasionally he would stroll over to his SUV and empty his pockets to make room for more. This practice was getting the best of my curiosity, and causing me great frustration. I wanted to see what was so special about those "pocket rocks,"but Tuffy was not forthcoming.

Barry holding Turquoise
Turquoise from the mine.

By the end of the day, I was mad; I wanted to see those pocket rocks! That evening, I cornered Tuffy in the parking lot of the motel and complained about his lack of sensitivity and selfish nature. "Well, if you're going to whine about it!" said Tuffy, reaching between the seats of his vehicle. He pulled out a cantaloupe-sized plastic bag of rocks and knelled down onto the black asphalt. In the evening light Tuffy poured out the contents of the bag. I picked up one of the flat stones and saw color. Licking my thumb, I ran it across the blue streak; an intense, neon blue with tight black matrix sprang to life.

Tuffy and I spent the next 20 minutes looking at a treasure trove of incredible, straight from the earth turquoise. He was in his element now, exhibiting a sincere passion for the stone. As I examined the rocks, he explained how he would cut and polish each piece. Each stone was unique, and I was amazed at the diversity of color and matrix patterns. "Am I ever going to see these stones again?" I asked. "Probably not! snorted Tuffy," probably not!"

With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

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