The Ugly Rock


The little rock wasn’t one of the pretty ones found on the banks of the meandering Tesnatee River in North Georgia, nor was he one of the ones found in its riverbed. Uncovered by years of cool mountain water washing away sediment and smoothing all their rough edges away, rocks and gems found in the riverbed were the most sought after. After all, they were the prettiest, and if given a choice, everybody wants the pretty ones.

Unlike the pink and white quartzes, jaspers, or topazes, he wasn’t just lying in the bed of a mountain stream with cool water flowing over him. For as long as he could remember, perhaps a thousand years or even more, he’d been in the same place — deep in a metamorphosed black shale bed, under tons and tons of other rocks and dirt.

Over the years, the ugly rock tried many times to change into something else, but despite his best efforts, no change came. When the others, especially the rubies and amethysts, heard he was trying to change, trying to somehow better himself, they scoffed, “You’re just an ugly rock.” “Always have been — always will be.” “Your place isn’t in the daylight with us and certainly isn’t in our river.” Even the moonstone had an opinion, “Ridiculous. You’re nothing like us — you don’t look like us. You just don’t fit in.”

Nobody wants an ugly rock.

By 1828, gold was found in the Tesnatee River and surrounding hills of Dahlonega. For years the ugly rock watched prospectors panning for the precious yellow stone in the river. Gold had become so desirable; he knew if he tried one more time, perhaps gold would be his friend. Unfortunately, the flakes and small nuggets in the river didn’t say anything to him. Then again, gold seldom said anything to anybody. After all, gold was more sought after and precious than all the other rocks and gems found in the North Georgia Mountains. Why would it waste its time speaking to an ugly rock … an ugly rock stuck in the middle of a shale bed?

For the next 195 years, nothing changed. The ugly rock watched as first prospectors and then families panned for gold and gems in the river. The owners of the mountain land saw the value and decided to start selling the rocks and gems to the nearby mining company. The river was dredged, and surrounding hills dug and flattened.

Eventually explosives were used to dislodge the harder to mine rocks and gems. It was during one of these explosions that he too was dislodged from his shale bed, then scooped up and deposited in the bottom of a dump truck. For an hour, the dump truck bounced along the rough mountain road. With a ton of rocks piled on top of him, the ugly rock felt worse than he ever had back in his shale bed.

Early the next morning, the truck dumped its load of rocks in a huge bin in the back of the Consolidated Gold Mine. The pink and white quartzes, jaspers, and topazes, and even a few rubies from the river were mixed with a load of creek sand, then scooped into different sized tubs. At the bottom of one of those tubs was the sad ugly rock, still being taunted by the more desirable gems and quartzes from the river. “When we get sifted and kept, they’ll probably throw you away.” “Nobody wants an ugly rock.” “There’s nothing special about you.”

The day after the ugly rock and the other stones and gems arrived, a family of four took the forty-five-minute underground tour of the Consolidated Gold Mine in Dahlonega, Georgia — the only gold mine in the United States that has such tours. After lunch, they panned for gold and then bought one of the small tubs of creek sand.

Gathering around one of the indoor water-powered flumes, the family started sifting the sand while looking for precious stones and gems. For the next couple of hours, the grandparents took pictures and watched as their two granddaughters got a little wet, a little dirty, but shouted with glee each time the sand washed away and revealed a rock or crystal.

After the tub was finally emptied, the family took their finds over to one of the lapidarists. The stones were separated into small piles of topaz, amethyst, quartz, moonstone, garnet, tiger eye and even petrified wood. The girls squealed when they were told that they also had found small rubies, sapphires, and emeralds.

The oldest girl had a set of earrings made from the emeralds she had found, and out of one of her stones, the youngest decided on an emerald pendant. The onsite gem studio would cut, polish, and do the mounting of the stones, having everything ready in about three weeks.

As the doors to the gold mine closed that evening, the ugly rock was still stuck in the bottom of a tub — still covered with creek sand. And all the other pretty rocks, crystals, and desirable gems were still making fun of him.

Because the family had so much fun, it was an easy decision to come back the next day and go gem hunting again. So the family returned early the next morning and bought not one but two of the tubs to share. Now “experts” at gem finding, the family took just over an hour to scoop the sand, sift it in the water flumes, and collect the rocks (and hopefully more gems) in their bags.

As the two little girls took their newfound treasure to one of the lapidarists, they left the grandfather behind to clean up. As he did, he found one last scoop of creek sand in the very bottom of the tubs and decided to do one last sifting.

Unfortunately, he didn’t find anything he thought the girls would want to keep. The rushing water from the flume had only revealed a black, ugly rock. Placing it in his pocket, he went to join the rest of the family who were waiting to see what the lapidarists had to say. He arrived at the table after the sorting and exam had already been completed.

“Sorry, girls. No precious gems this time.” Then he looked up at the grandfather and asked, “Do you have any more stones?”

Reaching into his pocket, the grandfather pulled out the rock he’d found. “Just this ugly rock.”

The lapidarist took it and laughed, “You’ve been holding out on me.” He quickly pushed the pink and white quartzes, jaspers, topazes, moonrock, and others on the table to one side. After carefully examining the last stone, he slowly looked up. His eyes seemed to twinkle with a secret as he asked, “Do you know what you have here?”

“Yes, an ugly rock.”

The lapidarist gave a knowing smiled, “But it’s the ugly rocks you really want to find. Look at this.” Touching his special pen light to it, the stone instantly turned a dark green. “What you have here is an emerald.” Taking out a slide gauge, he placed it around the stone. “And it’s a big one. One of the largest I’ve seen in a while.” The excitement of the find quickly rippled through the building as other workers came over to see the rare, not-so-ugly, ugly rock.

The green light from the huge emerald cast over the rest of the stones that had been pushed aside. Still on the table, but now forgotten, they too were astonished by the beauty of the stone held in the lapidarist’s hands. At that moment, they realized how wrong they had been to judge the rock just because he looked different on the outside.

As the once ugly rock radiated his green light around the room, he saw the joy he brought to everyone reflected back at him.

And he was no longer sad.

It’s not what you look like on the outside that’s really important. It’s what’s on the inside that allows your true beauty to shine through. And if you find yourself surrounded by those who don’t appreciate your uniqueness in the world, then leave them behind. Surround yourself with those who can. It’s those who make fun of you for what and who you are that indeed are the ugly ones.

In a few weeks, The Wife and I will enjoy our 24th wedding anniversary. To celebrate we’re going to take a short trip north to the Consolidated Gold Mine in Dahlonega, Georgia. No, we’re not going to take the mine tour and go gem hunting.

We’ve already done that.

We need to pick up her present. An emerald necklace made from our not-so-ugly rock.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories weekly in The Citizen since 2001.