Picture them, if you will… smooth stones from a river or a beach. If you are like me (in this way), the very thought will provoke a deep, wonderful sigh; a sensation of settling and safety, solidity and rest. Stones that have been worn smooth by their time in water carry a double dose of elemental energy, but I also have known (know) a love of stones that have arisen from the earth. Now that sounds a bit too poetic, even for me.
Two images come to mind. The first is the stonewalls created by hardy farmers, all over New England. These rocks ‘arose’ through the labor of humans and horses, mules or oxen. Want to cultivate crops? Clear the rocks from the field and use them to mark the borders of your land – and perhaps keep your cows from wandering.
My earliest love affair with stone was with a huge (to a child) rock that sat atop a stonewall like a tabletop. It was my first magical place and over the hours I spent there, I came to know every crack and dip in its surface. I still get an inexplicable, quiet thrill whenever I see the remnants of an old stonewall meandering through the woods along the side of a road. What I’m calling a ‘thrill’ is like a small surge of energy. It’s a connection with earthly energy that I feel whenever I palm a nice rock.
The second image is from my midlife years and took place far from the stony fields of N.E. I was visiting The Big Island, one of the islands that make up the state of Hawaii. This island is named Hawaii, but it is not the population center, which is on the island of Oahu. When I was reading about the island of Hawaii before the trip, there was a note about possible volcanic eruptions that really surprised me. It mentioned the likelihood of traffic jams on the narrow roads of the island, in the event of a lava flow. Not from people fleeing the danger, but from people crowding in, wanting to get close to the event! I thought: “No way! Not me!”
At the center of The Big Island is Volcanoes National Park and there I was, hiking with a friend across the Kīlauea Iki, a pit crater, which is next to the main summit caldera of the Kīlauea volcano. There was sulfuric steam puffing from vents in the crater’s surface and tiny scraps of green plants poking through the rock. It was a misty day, so we wore raingear and saw few other hikers. A snapshot taken by my friend actually captures the elemental joy that I experienced standing in that shallow crater. Unlike anything I had ever felt before. Closest comparison is the thrilling surge of ions during a thunderstorm or the exhilaration of ocean air.
The difference, I guess, is that those are airborne energies and this was rock. Solid rock, through which I was rooted, connected into the center of the planet. I know, sounds a little too mystical, maybe, but I’m trying to catch an emotion in words. Does it convey some of the power if I say that I can still feel that elation today, almost thirty years later? I will also add that as we traveled around the island that week, every time I encountered a lava field, my body started to hum. Newly formed earth, lava rock to be specific, carries quite a voltage of energy. Suffice to say, I understood why the guidebook had warned of people charging in to observe a lava flow in action. I thought: “Damn, me too!”
Sometime in the years between the hours of my childhood perching on the stonewall and my hike across Kilauea Iki, I studied Native American culture. “Animism was a commonly shared doctrine, or belief, of indigenous people and various Indian Tribes of North America. It is based on the spiritual idea that all natural objects within the universe have souls or spirits. It is believed that souls or spirits exist not only in humans, but also in animals, plants, trees and rocks. This cultural belief also extends to natural phenomena such as thunder storms and rain and geological features such as mountains, caves or rivers.” It immediately made a lot of sense to me and seemed to explain the elemental connection I felt, particularly with stones.
A few months ago, when I was going through a difficult time, a friend brought me a unique and personal gift. It is a pile of small stones she collected on the beach, that can be assembled into a desktop cairn. I can’t leave it out because my cats would take great delight in scattering the stones. But that means that I have the repeated pleasure of removing them from their pouch and creating the cairn anew: handling each stone, creating balance, admiring the different surface textures, colors, shapes and patterns.
A meditation on stones, indeed.