Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Sticks and Stones

On the table at the gun show was a piece of meteorite on display.  There was a sign that you were welcome to touch it, but don't pick it up.  It's weight was such that to do so might cause injury.  There was a tiny one as well, that you could pick up.  The weight for it's size was surprising.

Both were innocuous in appearance, yet in realizing where they came from, it was if they possessed of some secret, to galaxies far beyond the limits of imagination, created somewhere in deep space, perhaps in a time when things were not irrevocably fixed to their form.

In a container in my vehicle is another stone, this one a sturdy chunk that posses neither beauty or function but was picked up from a lake high up in the Sierras where a hundred and fifty years prior, the Donner Family was stranded.  I'd gone up there after a death in my family, to just get away from the city and be alone, as it brought back the memories of losing my Mom.

Losing a parent when one is still young is hard,  Not the very young, those who still live well in advance of all future days, those simple times that know no introspection. But rather, the youth that is a coming of age, that time that is a shadow line between  the beautiful continuity of innocence and the realization that nothing is fixed.
I'd taken the stone from the water, and used it to form and contain my campfire, located a short distance away.  Before I packed up to head home, checked the fire to ensure it was out.  I'd checked before, but it only takes a spark to start a forest fire, though it takes an entire box of matches to get a campfire going. But I checked again, anyway, even though it rained, moving that larger rock away. The rock was still warm, not enough to pull my fingers away, but enough that it possessed a luminescence heat, not the sort that would burn, but a slow steady warmth that the dying fire may scorn, rain would dilute, but only time could truly deplete. I picked it up and held it in my hand, feeling it cool. Not everything of strength and density is cold. Watching a drip of water fall to the ground I thought, even a stone can weep.

I'm not sure why I picked it up and took it home , nor why I still have it, But it's there among the tools of my trade, the archaeologist of blood, bone and steel.
On my desk are beautiful, colorful stones, heavy with color,  many of them ones I picked up as a child, out with my Mom looking for agates. After the winter's snow had retreated, we  would head outdoors, just the two of us, along the shores of local bodies of water looking for stones, stones that may have not been unearthed for years, abundant embedded in earth and sand. They're quiet treasures on the shores of the the West, wind swept lands riddled with unclaimed treasures that people simply pass and forget, not knowing what they have underneath their feet. Beneath this great land lies jeweled richness of stone, and prehistoric bones, telling tales as they surface, dotting the future with pieces of the past.
I would follow behind here, unsure in my footing, my feet not yet grown into my height, moving with the lumbering gate of a colt let out to pasture.  Mom, moved deliberately, still weak from the chemo, turning her pale skin up to the sky as if she could soak up its warmth into cold bones.  I was too naive to know yet, that she was doomed, the cancer that had come back, spreading to her liver.  But in looking back, perhaps it really wasn't she that was doomed. She was soon to be in her heavenly reward, free of the great burden of pain.  I think my brother and I were the doomed, the proprietors of grief we weren't old enough to express and yet too old to be sheltered from the pain.

Mom and I would take the stones and we'd go back home, where she would cut and polish them, her hands moving quickly and expertly with her equipment, in cutting motions into the cold stone, movements that years later, I would mimic as I cut into cold flesh and bone.
I still have some of the stones in my home. There on the shelf in my office are other such things,  small bits of history, small stones, a piece of bone that appears to have been carved, a perfect, pristine shell, both delicate and strong. Water and history, two elements of life that draw me in deeply, draw me back to such places. Part of my childhood was spent on the shores of a body of water in the West where we stayed in a little cabin with a view of the water,  years before Californians discovered it and developers took over the place, building vast condos that blocked out the sun.

My brother and I would get up while it was still dark, and march down to the waters edge, hoping to get there to see the dawn explode over the water. I could spend hours there, just watching the way the water shaped itself around the rocks and me, the gentle waves moving against the shore, like breathing. In the bright cold water, there would be all sorts of strange creatures,  all sorts of mysteries.
Big Bro and I  wade along the edges, gingerly looking, while not harming anything that was there, hoping to find a prehistoric shell to take home, knowing that at some time, all of the land where our family homesteaded had once been part of this ocean.  Sometimes we'd just find ocean sanded stone, and we'd pick one up and fling it as far as we could, calling out each others name.  Sometimes we  found bits and pieces of things much more wondrous, and found only on the beach.

Many of you have seen a sand dollar. They're commonly sold in souvenir stores. But what you see is only the remaining skeleton of a living sea creature. When living, the sand dollar is covered with fine hair like cilia that cover tiny spines, soft, and almost purple in color. But the remaining shell is beautiful, fragile, white. The essential essence of what this creature was.

They sit in Dad's house, years past his youth and his passion, as the children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren of his passion, still hold them up as carefully as if they were glass.
As children, we'd  bring them home at the end of an adventure, our pockets full of small rocks and shells and artifacts of the day. I felt somehow at home with these small bits of the ancient land, though I felt as if I was living in a alien world in the small eddy currents of their homes, among creatures that were so different from me, somehow I knew I belonged there. At night, we'd build a fire and sit and listen to the lapping of the waves, dreams of my future filled my head.

That is why, even now, I like living near the edge of a body of cold water, the gentle lapping of the surf within my horizon, the sky the color of the dream-cloudy shells that sit on my mantle. There I will gather a stick and carve a name in the sand, a name that will be spoken softly here, written in the sand as a personal note,  not carved in hard stone as some distant effigy.

One of my favorite places in the world in the rocky coast of Northern Ireland.  Being there reminds me of those days of childhood,  the rush of the water an affirmation of what draws me to search and discover. It takes me back to the taste of salt on my lips, that of rain or tears, only the years remember. The water rushes, then waits, as I do, moving in, retreating, watching, still waiting. Remembering everything past, hoping for everything good of the future, in a bone deep calm that belies the deep ache in my muscles as I climb up ancient stone steps that lead to cliffs hundreds of feet above.
There at the top, a view, an expanse that is as untouched and unchanged as what drove me here in the first place.  Steeling myself against the wind and looking at the distance down, I wondered for a moment if I'd made the right decision to come up here.  Like anything, you do your best with what you have, and you hope you make the right decisions. Sometimes the decisions seem to happen by themselves, as if found at the end of an invisible chain, somethings they are long drawn out thoughts, held in the hand and dreamt of in the night before taking human form.

I wasn't alone, though the rest of the group,took the bus back he short distance, there were a handful us, strangers but kindred spirits, not speaking, simply looking outward. The others don't dare the height, the edge, not with the wind that day, but we do, not feeling the fear until afterwards, only feeling alive, on the wind the smell and the taste of the longing to simply be here.

But for now, a few more hours, a few more artifacts of time I stole from the past, flirting with the ancients, hard rocks, the smell of peat and coal, a land brushed with snow, burnished with the traces of those that went before. Traces that say, remember me, remember this, for in it you will find yourself, and leave a piece of your heart behind.

There on top of a sea green cliff, I will call out my brothers name with a shout as I throw out a rock to watch it splash down far below, as above, I watch above, from a strong, yet fragile, light shell that houses this old soul. The rock flies through the hindrance of the deepest sleeps, through the stiff fabric of the wind, into the warm embrace of the sea.

It's only a rock, only a bit of artifact of the past that holds in it, not the prolonged burden of time that  too many embrace as they age, but the bright colored fluent movement of youth, the dancing heels of those days of risk and glory. Perhaps the days of my youth are gone, as is the rock,  yet the feel of its absoluteness will remain in my hands, in me, long after the wind goes silent.
 - Brigid