Friday, May 6, 2011

Old Bones

     I love rocks. They are the bones of this old earth, slowly wearing down to mineral and soil and they speak to some place deep in my own bones. I can name them when I see them, although only with their familiar names, not their lineage names. Metamorphic, igneous, sedimentary…that is the extent of my scientific knowledge. I love limestone because it forms the backbone of my county; visible on some ridge tops like the knobs of vertebrae in a malnourished child. Over time, the vertebra weather off in chunks and tumble down the mountain to the fertile valleys below bringing the curiosity of fossils imprinted in their rugged sides. Seashells, snails, sponges and corals live forever in reverse depressions where they died and decayed. Our mountains were once under a shallow sea.
     The creek behind my house is not the kind of creek that graces the covers of gardening magazines. It comes down from the mountain through our open pasture at a pretty steep pitch. When we first moved here twenty four years ago, the water ran in a shallow channel close to the top of the ground, but over time it has carved itself down into a deep trench, lined with the rocky rubble of spring floods which have washed away the loose soil leaving a creek bed that is over eight feet deep in places. I planted willows in the eroding banks to stabilize them, but even they washed to lower ground and rooted at the bottom of the channel with their roots tucked in the rocky rubble. Then last week, after four inches of rain in less than three hours, the creek brought boulders from the top of the mountain down into our deep channel and filled it back up again. I went out this evening to inspect the treasures carried down from the mountain top. There were sandstone boulders bigger than a border collie and deep beds of gravel and sand. If you look carefully at the edges of the creek you can find evidence of the bed shifting back and forth over time, a pattern that repeatedly reveals and re-covers the bones of the earth.
     As I picked my way across the mounds of rocky rubble I found three perfect flat rocks. I threw them to the bank and later I will carry them to the house and complete the path through my secret garden. There were some small fossils: crinoids, porifera, and scallops, but after sorting through them I didn’t find anything that I didn’t already have, so I tossed them back into their gravelly beds.

      I located several large squarish rocks which hopefully Dan, who is getting ready to rebuild the retaining wall beside our root cellar, will find useful. I found a heart shaped rock, which I tucked into a pocket to carry back to the house. I’ve been collecting them for years now and when I die, I imagine a geologist hundreds of years in the future pondering the preponderance of heart shaped rocks in the area. I found a piece of gray shale, small and warm and breathed on it just for the smell of earth that rises off of shale when it is warm and moist, and I found a chunk of slate with white lines of quartz criss-crossing its face. A wishing rock. I’ll save it for when I really need a wish.

     When Joe and I were first married, he used to show up at the house with unusual rocks. He understood and supported my obsession. These were gifts that I treasured from him even more than the diamond I wear on my left hand. They meant that as he wandered the farm and fields, I was on his mind. His gifts are the stepping stones in my garden, and the edging of my garden beds.
     As I came back in the house, my pockets full of rocks, I happened to glance at the edge of the sidewalk where years ago, I traced an outline of each of our hands as a pattern for a friend who cut them out of stained glass. We celebrated the completion of the house by pressing them carefully into the wet cement of our new sidewalk. After fifteen years in the weather, they like the bones of the mountain, are chipping up and breaking apart. It’s comforting to consider that they will never really disappear. Instead, they will become part of the bones of this old earth, and maybe one day, a new woman digging carefully in her flower beds will find a very small chunk of green glass. She will wonder about its origins and then tuck it into her pocket next to the heart shaped rock she found buried beside it.


  1. Beautiful post! Oh, you should come visit us in Ohio. We live near a huge cache of Ordovician fossils from more than 450 million years ago. Amazing things.

  2. Susan,
    Lucky you. Do your boys like rocks and fossils?

  3. Ginny, several weeks ago Cass got engaged. Mike and I happened to be in McDowell when we received the joyous call. We were so thrilled! My energy level has skyrocketed. I am running around like mighty mouse! I just wanted you to know that after we finished talking to Cass and Ian that morning, Mike and I went on several nature excursions around the farm. I found two lady slipper plants in bloom, one pink and the other yellow, several trillium, and wild mushrooms. A little later on, I walked along the bank of Davis Run looking for some good flat rocks. Then it happened, I spotted three very special rocks. They were heart shaped. I thought of you and your "rock" story. I plan on giving these rocks as an engagement present to Cass and Ian this month. May another generation of rock collectors begin.


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