The National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC is nothing short of awe-inspiring. The gems and minerals gallery holds examples of ‘the biggest in the world’, ‘the best cut in the world’, ‘the least flawed’ or ‘only flawless’ etc.
There are many famous gemstones and pieces of jewellery including the Hope Diamond, one of the most famous diamonds in the world. The world’s largest flawless crystal ball is a fortune teller’s dream.
The minerals range from unexpected…
and ‘are you kidding; someone must have whipped up this one in the props room’,
to downright beautiful.
Wildlife programmes have made us familiar with the exotic plumage of birds, the lush colours and complex forms of flowers, the bizarreness of deep sea and microscopic creatures but we seldom see our mute and all but immobile friends, the minerals. It was a decade since I had seen anything like this collection and there were far fewer varieties in that exhibition.
I spent a very long time in the minerals gallery.
Almost every item on display made me want to reach for my camera but something deeper and more primitive was at work in me. I took very few photos. I needed to immerse myself and be fully present with the chunks of earth in front of me. They were gifts from the deep, from the inaccessible, from the far away, from places I would never see, and I felt privileged to be among them.
Years ago, when I completed a first aid course I finally understood our district nurse. She walked the corridors of our small school emanating calm and power. During my course, as I counted heartbeats, monitored breathing and learnt when not to apply bandages, I understood the source of her self-assuredness: she knew how to save lives.
Back at the hotel on the night of my gallery visit I felt invincible: I had seen minerals.