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This past winter brought me to the usual collection of disparate destinations, and I helped myself to iconic granite from the Bugaboos in the Purcell Mountains in eastern B.C., and equally iconic dolomite in the eponymous Dolomites of northeastern Italy. Iceland in particular, where I found myself again this past March, is a place where I can't keep my hands off the ground when it comes to rocks. With every kind of lava imaginable found here, when snow grips the land any exposed piece of ground offers a wondrous slice of Earth history — a virtual geologic shopping mall. Inside of an hour in the Lake Mvatn region north of the tidy Nordic town of Akureyri, I plucked popcorn lava from the cinder-cone slopes of Hverfell, twisted gas-bubble chunks amongst the preternatural towers of Dimmuborgir ("dark castles"), and colourful pebbles near the steaming vents of the Krafka fissure swarm — a microcosm of the country's interior where the rhyolite hills surrounding lava deserts like Landmannalauger are aflame in canary yellow, rich ochre and blood red. Such landscapes are quintessential Iceland, but tourist magnets more for their volcanic drama than the bigger picture — and it's a very big picture indeed. Iceland straddles the active mid-Atlantic Ridge, part of the longest mountain range in the world (stretching almost pole-to-pole), where tectonic plates have been rifting apart for 150 million years — the reason why rocks in Nova Scotia find their closest relations in Scotland and South America's nose fits in the crook of West Africa. It's a humbling reality that a little piece of rock in your pocket can continue to remind you of.
I know I'm not the only one with a rock collection from a career of travel. Some have them spread around across shelves and windowsills, others parsed away in bags. One friend even has a giant bowl in her kitchen filled with rocks from every single one of the 130 locales in which she has worked around the world as a cinematographer for the National Film Board of Canada — and she can remember the circumstances of each and every one of them.
In the end, the true identities of the rocks I cherish as memories of outdoor adventures might become scattered in time and space, but admiring this very quality will itself always remain grounding.