After completing the blog about “God the Rock, On being chips off the old Rock”, I remembered my fascination with another kind of “chips”: stones. I don’t remember when I started collecting them, but I have been accumulating them for nearly fifty years. In Southern Michigan, where we lived for eighteen years, soils have an abundance of stones. The last glacier ground the rocks under tons of ice as it retreating north, smoothing many stones.
Our farmer friend, Lew Stoll, knew I collected round smooth stones. He had been finding me stones. Some of them bread-loaf size. But most of that size went to wife Ruth’s flower garden. After a few years, stones turned up less frequently in his fields. I attributed this to three things. First, perhaps he had plowed up most of them. Second, his tractors were getting bigger which made seeing the stones harder. Third, maybe his eyesight was getting poorer.
Gardening brought me into frequent contact with glacial rocks and small stones. Every spring, due to freezing and thawing, more stones appeared in our Michigan garden. I made a sifter to remove some them from the garden soil. The stones were dumped in our unpaved, hundred-foot-long driveway. Over winter and into the spring stones disappeared into the driveway. Stones appeared in the garden each year, after disappearing from the drive…. A natural cycle? I had a notion to spray paint some of the stones we put in the drive to see if they would reappear in the garden.
Many people have contributed stones to our collection. We wish we would have taken pictures as they were added. When we moved from Michigan to Virginia I filled a five-gallon bucket with my favorite stones. As if Virginia needed more stones….
In our travels, we have seen many round and flat smooth stones. Collecting them has provided us with some challenges (is it legal to pick them up here?) and unusual experiences (is it safe to stop here?) While visiting Nova Scotia we had collected only a few stones from a sea-shore to put in our luggage. To save space Julia put one special stone in the toe of a shoe. Going checked through customs, a scanner showed something strange in the shoe. (This was before 9/11.) Julia was anxious about what would happen when she opened the suitcase and took out her shoe. But, the inspector wasn’t interested in stones.
Cedar Valley in central Texas, has quarries with lovely yellow-tan sandstone. We were looking along the roadside for a sample and debating the wisdom (legality?) of picking up a stone from the berm. We wanted to collect some stones for us and for our friend’s water garden. As we round a curve, there on the road was a head-sized stone, plus another smaller one, probably fallen from the truck we had just pulled off the road to let pass us. So, being public-minded citizens, we pulled over and saved someone’s vehicle from a damaged tire by removing the rocks from the road—and into our trunk. Further west on that trip, where the sandstone was red, we could not find a roadside that required our clean-up assistance. So, we stopped at a landscaping business. They only sold stones in three-foot by four-foot bundles. When we told the owner that we only want one stone, he gave us a dinner-plate-sized “stepping stone” rock which looked a bit like the state of Texas.
In several states, we provided help to road crews by stopping along the highway and finding rocks in danger of sliding toward the roadway. We wanted to remove them before they could be pushed closer to the pavement. Did the road crew appreciated our help? Usually no one was coming our way when we picked up the rocks (we checked). So, our friends got more rocks for around their fish ponds.
Slab Road crosses and dams Dry River above Hinton, Va. While the River may be Dry in parts of the year, spring rains roil and churn the stones down the mountain and through Rawley Springs to where the Slab slows them and stops some. The Slab has been deadly in the spring. Some of our stepping-stones came from Dry River. During the 1985 flood in the Shenandoah Valley (and West Virginia valleys), the Virginia road commission asked people to pick up rocks and stones which had washed onto roads and bridges by the flood. We are the beneficiaries of that flood.
Our church group enjoyed a retreat at a restored farmhouse back up a valley on the Virginia/West Virginia border near the town of Bergton. There were several rock piles on the property and a fence row lined with rocks. Those piles looked to be a good source of “stepping stones” to complete our landscaping project. Several times we walked around the stone piles but could not find rocks of the right size. Later we wondered if the farmer and family had picked up the bigger stones first. As time went on, they had picked up all the big ones. All we could see were the smaller ones added last. The possibility of snakes and the certainty of hard work stopped us from testing this theory.
Now our granddaughter has begun a collection at her home in Waco, TX. Some of our stones from Michigan, Virginia and other areas we are passing on to her.
ode to a pet rock
Rough times, rubbings,
Sand scoured, wave buffed
Grinding fellow stones.
Smooth, polished rock.