Friday, March 16, 2007

Stones, Rocks, Pebbles, Boulders...

Many who know me closely know that I can't resist rocks. I can be quite happy on a beach blanket, examining or sorting sand, enjoying each small smoothed quartzite and every bristly crystal. I can be overcome with longing to take home a stone the size of an automobile.

It's the same game I play with everything - it's about the shapes, colors, textures, and the play of light on them, composing. Rocks seem so complete, and some have a soothing perfection. Shells get to me, as well, but in a different way. It's as if the shells are the violins, and the rocks are the cellos. I love violins, but the cellos pull at me more strongly.

The photo above is of my desk at work. It's wide enough that I can still work even with my "beach" strewn for five feet across it. I know where nearly every stone came from, and how I felt, and how the light looked.

On the recent trip to Texas I asked my co-worker to stop for me at a rest area so I could get down in a ditch and get some native rocks. They are deliciously red orange and look like they've soaked up eons of hot East Texas sunlight, though I know they were underground for millenia until erosion exposed them. He took the whole thing in stride - he knows all about my desk.

One of the largest stones I've brought home my oldest (when he was about ten years old) helped me get into the back of our old van. It was a huge elongated quartz, pushed up as refuse on the edge of a constuction lot. I drove back and forth past it twice before I decided we were "by golly, just can't stand it any more" going to take it home. We had to flip it down the hill, get it propped on the new concrete curb, and then back the van up to it. We stood it on end and leaned it against the back bumper, and then we brute forced it up and over the edge. It made the van bob up and down when it rolled in; it's a wonder I didn't get a hernia. It was one of the hardest barrow loads I've ever handled, getting it down to a dirt terrace I was building, and into place as a bench in the bank at one side. Later, with the terrace long finished and green with new grass, I sat there with my two year old youngest on my lap, keeping mosquitoes off his legs, talking together for over an hour, waiting for the first flight of bats, listening to the wood thrushes, and finally watching Vega become visible as the first star in the northeast sky.

I have built many retaining walls, for terraces and raised flower beds. I love handling all the stones, arranging and stacking them, turning corners. It's a glorious jigsaw puzzle, but there are an infinite number of solutions, some much better than others. In France I watched a house lovingly being built with stones and mortar - it looked like a wonderful way to build a home.

On our Williamsburg trip we visited Grand View Nature Preserve near Norfolk. My sons and I had stayed on the beach longer, wanting to get to an island we could see up the shore. What we did not know was that the beach would be more and more composed of rocks. Both of these photos are of that beach (including the island in the second). I'll say more about this stretch of beach in another post, but you can imagine how hard it was to get there with all these stones in the way, every one of them begging to be picked up, looked at, and reluctantly put back down. I settled for small smooth black ones, a few unusual clays, some beach glass, and just one large one, still in the floorboard of my car (my trunk still has a fifteen pound slab of shale from Kentucky). My oldest son stuffed his pockets pretty full and had a handful of interesting items, including old sea worn clinkers.

But my youngest put so many stones in his sweatpants pockets that all the way back he had to hold his pants up with one hand while struggling to carry one large white rock in his other. He did it with a big grin on his face. He was triumphant when he got them all back to the van, nearly half a mile away.

I knew exactly how he felt.

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