Our discovery of Ammolite, the semi-precious gemstone, began when the Alder Flats estate owners where we’d been house and pet-sitting surprised us with the gift of a week in their beautiful chalet-style condo in Canmore. The vacation, our discovery of Ammolite, and the generous friendship of former strangers, became three unexpected perks during our winter sojourn in Alberta.
A wonderful week in Canmore
We arrived in Canmore in late afternoon intent on a walk in the bracing Rocky Mountain air. Despite bundling up in snow pants, ski parkas, lined winter boots, scarves and mittens, we stumbled around in the snow for only fun a few minutes. Very soon our lungs hurt and the bones across our facial mask ached!
The wind was up, so there was no escape from the intense cold we’d already been experiencing further north. We couldn’t help comparing this visit with last summer’s when we’d driven west from Calgary to escape the forest fire smoke that was blanketing the city. As we gazed at the Three Sisters, the snow-covered mountains seemed a world away from heat and smoke.
Books for a winter’s night by the fire
On a bitterly cold evening, there’s nothing like the pleasure of a cup of hot soup and a toasted torta roll. We dozed by the fire, books on our laps. My friend had become hooked on the Louise Penny mystery series after reading the first one, and had come fortified with half a dozen more. Here’s my hearty endorsement of that particular addiction!
Foraging through the shelves in the condo, I found an older Ben Gadd novel, Raven’s End: A Tale of the Canadian Rockies. He’s excellent with the topographical, geological, and natural history of the Canadian Rockies. In fact, other years I’d used his hiking guide, Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, like a summertime bible. Picking up his novel, I recalled the Burgess books about wildlife that I had read as a child, with characters like Paddy the Beaver and Sammy Jay. I must have read a dozen of them. Remember Jonathan Livingston Seagull that our generation read in the ‘60s, with its new-age spiritualism? Gadd’s novel about the ravens of this area has a fantasy over-lay, which he controls very well within his embedded natural history realism.
The next morning dawned cold and beautiful. We took the measure of things on the balcony and couldn’t help wondering how the skiers were managing out on the slopes. We shut out the cold and hunkered down with our books. But by lunch time the urge to explore a beautiful new place had combined with our hunger, so we drove the few blocks to Crazyweed Kitchen. Very nice — try it when you’re next in Canmore.
We discover Ammolite
Close by our lunch spot, we happened on an ammonite factory. The spiral-shelled fossils lived in the ancient seas and became extinct about the same time as the dinosaur. Deposits of ammonite fossils are found world-wide, and I’d seen monster-sized ammonite fossils in Morocco, for example. But in rare instances, the fossils become infused with minerals that change the grey and white stone to beautiful colors. Once the ammonite is polished to gemstone quality it is called ammolite.
We’d seen Ammolite jewelry in all the high-end stores in Banff and Lake Louise where it was usually set in gold and surrounded by diamonds. But the Canmore factory store focused more on the Ammolite than the settings. Apparently we happened on the only commercial outlet for one of Alberta’s three mines, all found in the region of Lethbridge. The iridescent colors of Ammolite remind me a little of those you see when a bit of oil-spill swirls in a rain puddle.
Since so little ammolite exists world-wide, I suppose one could excuse our purchases as an investment. The stone is very difficult to photograph accurately, so I won’t post mine. Instead, please rely on professional pictures.