The shores of this island I call home are covered in rocks.
Most fit comfortably in my hand, their rough edges worn smooth by the constant tumbling of the ocean currents. When they are wet, each one is a jewel, glowing rich and warm. But when they are dry they almost fade into one another. Indistinct, their meaning is collective, rather than singular. As a group, they move and shift, telling stories of the ocean’s roaring and raging. But in their constant tumbling, they tell each other’s stories, too, shaping and polishing that warm smoothness that I cup in my hands.
I’ve heard that you’re not really supposed to pick up the beach rocks. You aren’t supposed to collect them, no matter how cozy they feel in the palm of your hands. Even still, a few somehow mysteriously found their way into a hand-felted bowl in our house.
As I turn them around in my palm, listening for their voices and their stories, I think of Lidia Yuknavitch’s meditation on the meanings of rocks:
“Collect rocks,” she writes in The Chronology of Water:
That’s all. But not just any rocks. You are an intelligent woman so you look for the unimaginable inside the ordinary. Go to places you would not ordinarily go alone – riverbanks. Deep woods. The part of the ocean shore where peoples’ gazes disappear. Wade in all waters. When you find a group of rocks, you must stare at them a long while before you choose, let your eyes adjust, use what you know of the long wait waiting. Let your imagination change what you know. Suddenly a gray rock becomes ashen or clouded with dream. A ring round a rock is luck. To find a red rock is to discover earthblood. Blue rocks make you believe in them. Patterns and flecks on rocks are bits of different countries and terrains, speckled questions. Conglomerates are the movement of land in the freedom of water, smoothed into a small thing you can hold in your hand, rub against your face. Sandstone is soothing and lucid. Shale, of course, is rational. Find pleasure in these ordinary palm worlds. Help yourself prepare for a life. Recognize when there are no words for the pain, when there are no words for the joy, there are rocks. Fill all the clear drinking glasses in your house with rocks, no matter what your husband or lover thinks. Gather rocks in small piles on the counters, the tables, the windowsills. Divide rocks by color, texture, size, shape. Collect some larger stones, place them along the floor of your living room, never mind what the guests think, build an intricate labyrinth of inanimates. Move around your rocks like a curl of water. Begin to detect smells and sounds to different varieties of rock. Give names to some, not geological, but of your own making. (31-32)
My father, a (now retired) geologist, once said that he couldn’t understand how some geologists could study sand. To him, sand was dull, boring. He couldn’t hear the stories. But rocks cluttered many of the open spaces in our living room. Not the smooth tumbled rocks of the Newfoundland shoreline, but jagged minerals jutting their colours and powers into the air. Agate. Amethyst. Pyrite. Obsidian. More rocks nestled in newspaper reposed in our workshop, banished from public sight. But these rocks told stories: my dad could trace his training and his travels through the rocks, and I could trace my childhood. Now, some of these rocks are slowly making their way east, into my son’s rock collection, where they are telling new stories, shaping new histories.
“The rocks,” writes Yuknavitch. “They carry the chronology of water. All things simultaneously living and dead in your hands.” (33)
What stories do your rocks tell you?
Yuknavitch, Lidia. The Chronology of Water. Portland: Hawthorne Books, 2010.
© Sonja Boon, 2015