Of all the tasks a farmer must perform, perhaps none is more odious than picking rocks.
    For good reason. Rocks are not very pleasant company. They are also extremely rude. They never express their gratitude after you relocate them to a nice, quiet rock community where they can mingle with other stones and never again be disturbed by farm implements.     
    And, let’s face it, rocks simply are not very smart. This explains why the adage “dumber than a box of rocks” rings so true.     
    All of this came to mind one hot summer afternoon when I was moving large round bales of hay from my alfalfa field. I was not just moving bales, though; I was also tossing whatever fieldstones I happened across into the loader’s bucket. And cursing the heat. And the rocks. And wishing I had a cold beer.      
    That was my frame of mind when, as I scouted for new recruits for the rock pile, I espied an unusual stone. It was grainy, mostly flat, of a dark reddish color and peppered with elongated, otherworldly-looking little divots.     
    I puzzled over the thing for several minutes. The rock was so totally out of character from its brethren, with its ruddy hue and those funky little craters. My mind soon made a giant leap. What if it is a meteorite? What if it came from Mars?     
    Just my luck. Eons ago, an asteroid slammed into Mars with such force that rocky material was ejected into interplanetary space. In the fullness of time, a chunk of Mars tumbled into Earth’s gravity well, streaked through the atmosphere and landed in my alfalfa field. And all for the expressed purpose of breaking my mower. Stupid rock.     
    “Wait a minute,” I thought. “Aren’t Martian meteorites valuable? Didn’t I read somewhere that they’re worth approximately as much as Judy Garland’s ruby slippers? Hot dang!”     
    I could see the headline already: “Farmer finds Martian mineral, collects cash.” Visions of cosmic riches danced in my head. We would pay off the farm, buy a luxury condo and lead a life of ease. I would be highly sought after for TV appearances.
    “Well, sure, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, I suppose an ordinary guy might have simply chucked that rock onto the pile. But I could see there was something special about that stone, so I …”    
    But I was getting ahead of myself. First, I had to confirm that this rock was indeed Martian, so I took it to our local university’s geography department.     
    I found a geography professor and showed him the rock. He took a keen interest in the thing and examined it with a small magnifying glass.
    “Hmm,” he murmured. “This is keenly interesting. But I would guess that it isn’t a meteorite. I think that it could be of volcanic origin. It was probably carried down here from Canada by glacial action.”     
    There goes my ticket to Easy Street. Just for fun, I asked how old the rock might be.
    “It would have to have come from the Precambrian shield. That would make it well over a billion years old.”     
    It may not be a piece of Mars, but owning something that’s older than William Shatner was a nice consolation prize. At the geography professor’s behest, I took the rock across the campus and showed it to a geology guy.     
    The geology guy, an older man with a chalky complexion, flinty eyes and a gravelly voice scrutinized the stone.
    “This is keenly interesting,” he said. “Let’s examine it under the microscope.”     
    He plunked the rock onto the table of a large microscope and fiddled with the focus knob. I was as anxious as a father whose wife is expecting triplets.
    “Think it might be a meteorite?” I asked. “The geography guy said that it could be volcanic.”     
    “He’s full of schist.”     
    “I don’t know. He seemed knowledgeable enough to me.”     
    “No, I mean this rock. I’m seeing particles of schist and feldspar and quartz.”
    He unceremoniously handed back my precious rock.
    “What you have here,” he pronounced, “is a piece of ordinary sandstone.”    
    “Why haven’t I ever seen anything like this before in my field?” I protested. “And what about those weird divots?”     
    The old geology guy launched into a lecture regarding how these things happen, delving into plate tectonics, subduction and the physics of erosion. I went home knowing way more about that stupid rock than I ever wanted.    
    And so, I have this bona fide, could-have-been-a-Martian-meteorite rock for sale. Cheap. Heck, I’d be happy to trade it for a cold beer.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.