It was a couple months into this pandemic, and I was feeling low and slowly walking through my horse’s pasture, kicking clods of dirt as I went. I was checking on her after her most recent injury and was lost in thought. Looking down, I glimpsed a dull reddish shine in one of the dirt clumps. I glanced over at my mare, noted she was not bleeding, and reached down to pry loose what turned out to be not a drop of blood, but a small, semi-precious gem.
It was a carnelian, associated with health and luck, something my horse and I needed in the midst of COVID-19 and her long rehab after injuring a ligament. I posted a photo of it on my Facebook page and learned from my gem-loving friends that it’s a form of chalcedony and indeed can be found in Oregon. I decided to keep it as a good luck charm.
One of the friends commenting was Heather Woodsum, who runs vug&chisel together with her partner Gary Nelson. She confirmed the translucent lump was indeed a carnelian and offered to polish and set it for me. I mailed it off and soon she sent my back my little good luck rock polished and set with a horseshoe.
Woodsum and Nelson are avid rockhounds who have turned their passion into a small business — that just happens to be perfect for local gifting. The duo specialize in cabochons, which are polished, as opposed to faceted, stones. A “vug,” Woodsum says of their unusual business name, is a nook in a rock where crystals have formed.
“We love to make custom orders,” Woodsum tells me. “As long as the stone isn’t fractured, we can cut it and make a cabochon and turn that into a custom piece of jewelry.” So if you go out rockhounding, or like me, find a special stone, you can get it made into a one-of-a-kind piece of jewelry.
Woodsum says they got into rockhounding after a family trip to Madras collecting thundereggs, and that led them to the Willamalane Adult Center, which had a full lapidary workshop that was open to the public for a small fee. The rock and gem studio is currently closed. To set the stones they were shaping and polishing, they next took a course on silversmithing.
Now they sell their wares online via Facebook and Etsy. Woodsum says they use Oregon stones they collect themselves each summer such as obsidian, jasper, carnelian, plume agate and even petrified wood. They also sell turquoise, which is popular with customers, she says, that they buy from other rockhounds and small businesses.
Woodsum encourages people to go out and find their own stones: “Get outside and enjoy the beauty of our state.” As an added benefit for parents, “rockhounding is a fantastic way to encourage kids to be outside.” To get started, she recommends the book Rockhounding Oregon, and reading the “Rockhound’s Code of Ethics” to be informed about responsible rockhounding practices.
Woodsum and Nelson’s small business helps keep them going during COVID-19, and I now have a lovely gem, nearly the same color as my horse’s red-brown coat, to rub for good luck as the pandemic drags on.
Find vug&chisel at Facebook.com/VugAndChisel or Etsy.com/shop/VugAndChisel. Find Rockhounding Oregon: A Guide to the State’s Best Rockhounding Sites by Lars Johnson at local bookstores.