Rocks call to me. I could say simply that I collect rocks, but that feels reductive. Or perhaps even the opposite of what is true. Rocks collect me.
Just this morning, The Husband mumbled that if I bring one more rock into the house, the floor might collapse.
Picking up stones, pebbles, and rocks is a lifelong habit. Smoothed by river or lake water; cleaved from the earth newly jagged; rocks of varying colors, textures, and sizes, sparkling with crystal deposits or of a flat and impenetrable gray. Small ones that nestle quietly in the pocket of my jeans, and large softball-sized rocks placed around the living room or perched on windowsills. Palm-sized rocks corralled in a bowl like the fossilized fruit of the earth’s crust. Boulders crouched in the garden.
I have a poetic soul-connection to rocks.
Growing up in suburbia did not afford me much in the way of rock exploration. My parents were both city kids, so we didn’t camp or hike, and our neighborhood was newly built in the 1970s on longtime farmland. The only rocks around were the white, crushed marble stone landscaping around our front arborvitae. Manicured lawns and new sidewalks did not offer up anything that slumbered below ground. But I did find rocks on any excursion to a park or beach, or even a parking lot. Or, rather, rocks found me.
My mom knew of this connection I had to these solids from the earth’s innards. Prescient, maybe, as she did after all name me “Terra,” Latin for Earth or land. She took me to a gem and mineral show at the local museum and science center when I was around 8 years old. We visited an auditorium full of rows and rows of tables covered with…rocks.
I saw my first geode there, and ended up with a polished example that I keep on my desk today; on one side a dome of pitted gray not unlike the lunar surface, and the other side a frozen-in-time bowl of liquid crystal the color of a summer thunderstorm.
The show had an attraction especially for kids: a papier mache mine shaft that a small child could crawl through to dig around in staged dirt for rocks to fill a paper lunch bag. I was in there so long my mom had to send in some random kid to fetch me.
Fast forward 3+ decades and I’m still captivated by stones and rocks. They just feel right. The weight in my hand is like a soul-anchor to the earth. Smooth or rough, each is a sensory satisfaction. And, no, they never feel cold to my hand.
As an adult with my own yard, an important feature of our garden is what I call the hardscape. There was a number of good-sized rocks in our yard when we moved in; every spring I move them to the patio to rake out the beds, then spend an afternoon “emoting” them back into place. I stack them into balanced cairns, pile them into natural groupings, and one season created a patio-side space for succulents planted in soil wedged between lovingly, purposefully placed rocks.
Under the shade of the pine tree, surrounded by hostas, these rocks are meditation made solid. To place them in the spring and to gaze at them all summer quiets something deep down inside of me.
When we had a new driveway put in a couple of years ago, I could not believe my good fortune at finding a chip of purplish quartz among the load of gravel that made up the foundation. There it was, glinting in the sunshine against a vast landscape of battleship gray crushed granite. It was a jewel, offered up by the earth itself, serendipitously transported to the would-be driveway of someone who would gasp and snatch it up, falling in love at first sight.
My passion for rock hunting—or “rock hounding” as a close friend and fellow petraphile calls it—has only grown as I age. I reconnected to rocks in a big way (no pun intended) when we started visiting the Adirondack Mountains about 10 years ago. Something about that ancient rock underfoot as I hiked those trails, and stretching out on a bald peak with the rock of the mountain itself under me and the sky above, reignited my need for more rocks.
This past spring while hiking a nearby trail with yet another fellow petraphile (I seem to be pulling rock lovers into my orbit), we came upon a pile of large rocks. We both stopped in our tracks, silenced by this offering. Rocks of different shapes and hues, all bread loaf-sized or larger. Some looked like the cast-offs of a project—formerly hewn blocks of white granite, now broken into pieces. As we admired this trove, she remarked, “There’s not a bad rock in that pile.”
I wanted that rock pile. But how do you move a large pile of rocks to your house from a point that is located a mile+ away down a forest trail?
Borrow a wagon or yard cart? No, the terrain is likely too cumbersome, plus once the wagon was loaded it would be too heavy to pull and then definitely too cumbersome for the terrain. The solution dawned on me one day as I stooped to pocket a stone that I had just tripped over (rock collecting rule: if you trip over it, the earth wants you to pick it up.).
Q: How do you move a large pile of rocks out of the forest?
A: You carry them out, one by one.
The next morning I stepped onto the trail with my hiking daypack padded by bath towels, and a pair of work gloves tucked in the pocket. I carried home, strapped to my back, the first of 15 large rocks.
Lessons learned from moving a pile of rocks:
I would get up early, gather my backpack, and get on the trail at the end of my street. It is a half hour hike along a former railroad bed, parallel to the eastern border of the Seneca Park Zoo. Being springtime, I saw lots of plump robins and migrating orioles, and endured more than one soaking rain shower.
Regularly walking this trail has fed my soul over the past few years, and these purposeful treks were a meditative necessity. I mean, you can’t haul rocks on your back without it meaning more than just mechanically moving a pile of rocks. Turns out this near-Sisyphean task did reveal some truths, both literal and metaphoric:
- It’s okay to start small and work up to the big ones.
- After you’ve carried a 20-30 pound rock in a backpack for a mile, you will find a new appreciation for your body, and for the term “light on your feet.”
- Bring a walking stick, because if you crouch to pick up a stone with a rock on your back, you might need help getting back up.
- Sometimes you just have do something hard because your body and mind need it.
- If not for yourself, carry the rocks for someone else.
I kept carrying rocks well after I felt I had enough to add to my yard. I just couldn’t leave them. It was an extension of a habit I have of picking up any stone I notice, even if it doesn’t particularly speak to me. More often than not, when I offer that hitchhiker to any one of a small circle of rock lover friends, asking, “Is this your rock?” The answer is always “YES!”
What is the point of writing about my rock obsession? Only to acknowledge that there are forces in the Universe that bind us to nature, and to each other. That the way our bodies feel interacting with the elements is something we should heed. Maybe for you it is the cool water of lakes or oceans that complete you. Or the whisper of wind through tree leaves. Or the radiance of a fire. Or the crunch of snow underfoot. Or soft soil between your fingers and under your nails.
All I know is that when I pick up a rock, it feels like life itself, that I am connected to creation, and that I am home.
Terra, your writing is so fabulous I couldn’t stop reading this story! I, too am a petraphile, although I’ve never heard of that word before! I grew up across the street from Ward’s Natural Science Establishment in Irondequoit. Outside their building they had fences positioned around huge rocks – what they did with them I don’t know – but they dumped their “rejects” in a pile that was behind my friend’s house. I took home so many rocks, and created quite a collection (and drove my mother crazy!). It started a life-long love of rocks and I think back fondly of my rock-collecting days. I have 4 rocks balancing on my desk next to my monitor that I carried home from Sicily, and a little bag of treasured Sicilian rocks I have to keep me connected to my ancestral home. I always look forward to reading your posts!
ANOTHER petraphile!? …I think I may have made up that word! Mark “The Husband” says he also used to dig around the Ward’s reject rock pile! …I think there must be many of us women who love rocks, all of us driving loved ones crazy and thinking ourselves weird. My rocks from the Adirondacks are treasures. I hope you still have your Ward’s rocks!
Loved your writing, Terra! My association with rocks is mostly in Maine, on the coast near Portland, our summer home. My girls collected the pebbles more than I did, but my favorite rocks couldn’t be picked up. They were the ledges running in a straight line down the front of our property to the cove and the frigid ocean. In our yard, I spent many, many happy hours developing a rock garden in the crevasses (with a grand view of the water). At the beach, we could climb over them and inspect the tide pools when the tide was low, or fish for cunners (little and bony, but very tasty), standing at the edge with our poles. I was always impressed that, by some mysterious means, some very different boulders had long ago been deposited there – dark and smooth, (more comfortable to sit on).
Thank you for sparking my memories – they are good ones!
I have heard so much about the rocks on the Maine coast… I must see it someday. Diana, your memories have transported me! Thank YOU!