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Turn over a rock, and wander gem show's avenues of exploration

Next weekend, the Buffalo Geological Society will hold its annual Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show at the Grange and Market Buildings on the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg.

I write about this event with decidedly mixed feelings. I have attended this show several times and always found it extremely interesting, but the main building is always jammed with people. Add a few more and you might have trouble breathing, to say nothing of moving. The show hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. I recommend that you choose a time when you think there might be fewer people.

In any case, don't miss it. There are exhibits for everyone. Perhaps the outstanding one is for youngsters 12 and under: the ever-popular Mini-Mine, where kids sort through hundreds of stones to find minerals and fossils that experts then help them identify.

Collecting is an excellent way to increase interest in a subject and this activity is a perfect starter for youngsters. Ask professional geologists how they got their start and many will tell you that it was through such collections when they were youngsters. Of course, their interests have expanded over time, but the identification skills they learned early on continue to assist them. (The same is true of entomologists. They too will usually tell you they got their start through early collections. But now we have people discrediting that activity. The idiots who make up the rules for science fairs do not allow such insect collections.)

Back to the geology fair. Another feature for children is Grandpa's Corner where the youngest children can take part in such activities as bead crafting and sand art.

Plan to spend plenty of time because the exhibits are widely varied and the exhibitors so forthcoming that you'll come away with information overload. There are always many unique and one-of-a-kind displays with local artisans providing demonstrations of lapidary arts, fossil preparation, sphere making, stone carving and (my favorite) glass blowing, often with opportunities for you to join their activities.

Two years ago I spent almost an hour with one gem carver. He showed me a photo of the rough rock he had started with months ago. Then I watched, fascinated, as he worked on what was now a beautiful gemstone, its facets reflecting light in ways that gave it a special individual quality. He helped me look closely at the stone to see that it was internally flawed and thus, according to him, relatively worthless. Yes, it did have a microscopic streak running through part of its interior, but I would not have been able to see it without his magnifying loupe. Despite this, he continued to work on that stone, treating it like a wayward child still worth saving. I came away thinking that we too often miss the overall value of things by focusing on details.

There are always commercial exhibits as well, this year over two dozen offering a large selection of beads, semi-precious and precious stones, and other components needed by those who specialize in the widely varied aspects of geology represented in this show.

The special focus of this year's show is on trilobites, those extinct arthropods that inhabited the planet's seas for almost 300 million years before they disappeared during the Devonian extinction 250 million years ago.
So common were these odd creatures that look somewhat like horseshoe crabs that there were more than 17,000 different species. The 2002 book, "Fossils of New York State," by Thomas Whiteley, Gerald Kloc and Carlton Brett (Cornell) describes many of those found in this region at locations like the Penn-Dixie quarry.

There also will be special displays by the New York State Museum, the state office of Parks and Recreation, New York's department of Environment and Conservation and the Hamburg Natural History Society that operates the Penn-Dixie site. Admission to the show is $5, but scouts in uniform and children under 12 are admitted free.

e-mail: insrisg@buffalo.edu

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