Monday, March 16, 2009

The Fossicking Family

Learning to fossick

We have just returned from a weekend camping trip which incorporated a favourite family activity - fossicking for sapphires. The New England Tablelands in New South Wales are renowned for their gem fields, most notably, sapphires at Glen Innes and Inverell. This was our third trip to Glen Innes. On our first trip we stayed at a camping ground that offered on-site fossicking for sapphires and zircon; with a friendly chap to teach you the basics, my husband and children were soon fossicking madly! When my son found a sapphire that could be cut (about 1.5 carats worth around $200) he was officially addicted.

We had the stone cut and faceted before returning home and although reluctant to part with his treasure, he handed over the sapphire for safe keeping to his mother. Today I wear the sapphire in a ring, a band of white gold, the blue stone is off-set by four diamonds on either side. We didn't have this ring custom made. We looked into this and decided it would be too costly. One day when window shopping in a jeweller's store which had a '50 % off everything in store sale' I spied some rings on a tray with settings which had no central stone. They were designed to hold a gem stone of your own choosing. There was one ring in particular which caught my eye and guess what, the sapphire fitted perfectly, what's more it fitted my finger perfectly. That ring became a beautiful 40th birthday present. It's not just a ring, it reminds me of a very special time in my life. A gift from a loving husband, a precious stone found by a son who still calls it 'his sapphire', a memory of a wonderful day spent with my family which we will always remember.

We have also tried the 'real deal' fossicking which involves clambering down banks, wading into streams and digging up the gravel which has to be washed and sieved. You get dirty and wet, not for me thanks! But my husband and older children wanted to enjoy the experience of true fossicking. They didn't find anything of real value but did gain lots of tiny sapphires to add to their collection until my daughter tripped and 'kicked the bucket' losing all their finds in the grass, she wasn't too popular that day!

One collection of sapphires and zircons

For our third trip, we decided to go to the 'Minerama' at Glen Innes which is an annual event for the town.There are field trips to fossicking sites and a gem show with traders displaying and selling jewellery, gem stones, fossils and mineral specimens of every description.
We joined a self-drive field trip designed for novices and families, which offered pre- dug wash which you had to dig from a pile. My children who were by now, well versed in the fossicking process were into it, shaking their sieves, washing their gravel, tipping it out as one removes a cake from a tin, their tweezers poised and shouts of 'Oh yes!' Finding yet more sapphires for their collections. We will soon have enough to set into the pavers for the new patio we are building, it could look quite unique, inlaid with blue stones. Only joking kids if you're reading this!

Fossicking is a wonderful family activity and it costs a lot less than a trip to a theme park. It is so exciting for children who are natural 'treasure hunters'. If you ever travel to regions of Australia where you can go fossicking for gem stones, it is something you should consider trying out. It is an activity the whole family can participate in and there is always the chance that you might find something very valuable.
On this occasion we didn't find any stones of real monetary value, (a few were assessed as worth having cut) but we did find something of much greater value, more precious than the most beautiful gem stone we could have discovered, it was simply time spent together as a family enjoying the great outdoors.

We camped in a National Park at a nature reserve that permits camping. Much to my relief (literally!) it had toilet facilities (composting loos). There were also fireplaces and picnic tables and it was free to camp! This campsite was situated on a river, a beautiful river with natural rocky outcrops, pools and mini rapids. The children had so much fun swimming, paddling and 'riding the rapids'.

We cooked on the campfire and enjoyed hot chocolate and marshmallows as the sun began to set. There were only a few other campers and they were further down the riverbank. Our closest campers were birds that wag their tails, the willy wag-tails and wallabies that whip their tails, the whip-tailed wallabies who surveyed us with interest from a short distance away.

Time to take down the tent!

We drove home through World Heritage rain forest with tired, happy, contented children who were asking 'Can we camp there again?' and 'When can we get our sapphires cut?'

This week the geology field guides will come off the shelf again to be perused and consulted. Our first fossicking trip fostered an interest in geology which has shown no signs of dying out. A comprehensive guide to rocks and minerals was initially 'fought over' - on Christmas morning, their individual gifts forgotten, as they excitedly turned the pages exclaiming ' I found one like that' and the reply 'No you didn't, when did you go to Mexico!'

Each child has their own collection of rocks and it looks like the twins will be following the same path or should I call it 'the rocky road'! On this weekend, the girls filled their pockets with stones off the ground, later at the campsite, one of the girls turned out her pockets and onto the seat of the picnic bench fell lumps of gravel and would you believe it, five small, bright blue sapphires!

Later today, I will ask the children to write about their latest fossicking adventure. My eldest daughter has already researched sapphires and created a folder for the information she found. I like to encourage them to build their knowledge, taking what they already know and expanding it, deepening their understanding. With the subject of rocks and minerals this is not difficult, it is an established interest, so it really is 'delight directed learning'. Today, we are going to do a Bible study on the twelve precious stones that were used for the 'garments of ministry' to be worn in the tabernacle, the Holy Place. The twelve stones represented the twelve tribes of Israel and were set into a breastplate. Sapphires were used alongside turquoise and diamond. I will ask the children to read this passage from Exodus 39 10-14, then try to find pictures of the gem stones in their field guide. I want them to draw the gems in rows as described, using the correct colours for each stone. I'll ask them to label the stones and perhaps add a description, stating where they can be found in the world. This is now not only an art lesson, it's a Bible study, English assignment, a science and geography lesson. It is the type of discovery learning that I love to see my children undertake. I'll draw some outlines of gems for the twins and have them colour in with their crayons, the colours... Can you find blue for the sapphire? Green for the emerald? In this way I include the little ones in our home learning, they are working on the same subject as the older children but at their level. This is one way in which you can tailor home learning to teach children of different ages at the same time.

The girls loved making their jewels. I found noodle boxes to store their treasure in.
For boys you could create a pirate's treasure chest. This was also an opportunity to remind
them of how precious they were to mum and dad, their brothers and sisters and to God,
More precious than jewels, 'worth far above rubies.'

It also prompted me to do some further study of God's word; it is so interesting to read that God considered the gifts of artistic workmanship to be so important. In Exodus 35 v30-35 we learn that Bezalel of the tribe of Judah was filled with the Spirit of God in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze and and.... in 'cutting jewels for setting.' (verse 36) This must have been quite a feat, as it was truly handcrafted without the use of modern day devices. This really brings home to me that the ability to work with our hands and create something beautiful comes from God and it is something that He bestows and reveres alongside wisdom, knowledge and understanding. The ability to teach was also given to Bezalel, it was 'put into his heart'. It is wonderful that today, there are so many people who are passing on their artistry to others, writing books and blogs, running workshops, whether it is making jewellery, cooking, creating gardens, sewing or weaving (another art which is mentioned in this passage incidentally.)
If there is something 'in your heart' to pass on to others, which will inspire them, please do it. If there is something ' in your heart' that you have always wanted to try, give it a go, for every quilter made their first quilt, every sewer their first garment, every jeweller their first bracelet or necklace. You will find so many people willing to share their skills and knowledge with you. And don't forget to 'pass it down' to the next generation. I will not master every craft but I will develop and refine those that God has given to me and I will not covet but delight in the talents and workmanship of others.

With love and joy,

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A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Ann so beautifully written.
The fossicking would be something My Son in particular would be nuts about.
Though I would'nt know a gem from a Old rock or stone.
We live in an area that is meant to have gold.

I love how you intertwine everthing into learning and loving.
Well done you are amazing!

Dalinz said...

Love what you have written, Ann. Can you please let us know what National Park you went to? I would love to take my family there. My eldest has joined the Lapidary club in Warwick and would love to go out into the field. He already has his own sieve that my step mum's dad made and used to use. Thanks Damaris


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