Extrapolation of reaction paths and rates of metamorphic mineral growth from experimental to natural systems is complicated by a number of factors. Many of these factors are difficult to evaluate for natural systems. A combination of textural modeling and stable isotope analysis allows for a distinction between several possible reaction paths for olivine growth in a siliceous dolomite contact aureole. It is suggested that olivine forms directly from dolomite and quartz. The formation of olivine from this metastable reaction implies metamorphic crystallization far from equilibrium. Stable and metastable reaction paths predict the textures observed (calcite haloes around bladed olivine crystals) well. It is possible to discriminate between individual reaction paths only on the basis of the oxygen isotope compositions of the minerals involved. Products were found to be in stable isotope equilibrium, but in disequilibrium with the reactants. Only the metastable overall reaction dolomite + quartz → olivine + calcite + CO2 produces no dolomite by local reactions, and hence agrees with the oxygen isotope data. Thus, significant mineral growth occurred far from equilibrium with respect to the thermodynamically stable reactions of the system. This amazing finding implies that metamorphism of contact aureoles has to be reinterpreted in a more complex, dynamic fashion, involving metastable reactions and metastable equilibria as well. The spatial distribution of metamorphic mineral assemblages in a contact aureole cannot be interpreted as a proxy for the temporal evolution of a single rock specimen, because each rock undergoes a different reaction path, depending on temperature, heating rate, and fluid-infiltration rate.