Grace came home with these the other day; she calls them heart rocks.
Like me, she keeps her head down sometimes, looking for rocks. What, exactly, are we looking for in a rock? There are millions on the beach. Still, a few seem to call out to us: “Pick me, pick me!” We pick them. I look for color, and she, shape.
I live on a street named for the Massachusetts official rock, Roxbury puddingstone.
I grew up in a house across the street from a lot made unbuildable by the presence of a huge, rocky boulder. We called it The Big Rock. It was better than a playground. There were crevices in the rock to hide in, or pretend they were escalators. In neighborhood wars, one party or another claimed the rock. Daring kids, like Sally and Michael, did bike tricks around the rock and tree roots.
Surrounding our neighborhood, which was a figure-eight shaped development built in the early 1960s, was what we called The Woods. In it were acres of trees, streams, and swampy areas that made skating surfaces in the winter. There was The Old Lady who lived in a shack (really); she had a gun. There were stone walls that had tumbled down.
Sermons in Stone is one of my favorite nonfiction books. About the history of stone walls in New England, it’s riveting — history that moves a reader like a poem. I learned why there were so many stone walls in the woods of my childhood (those woods were once farmlands). I learned, too, the measure that makes a city block, and about the Ice Age and the force of glaciers.
In a writer’s workshop, another writer who read my work for the first time pointed out to me that there are a lot of stones in my work, actual and metaphorical. It was not a deliberate effect, and I had not noticed it. It’s funny what happens when someone observes something in your work: You start thinking, “That’s my thing.” And then you write more of it. And then you try not to, so as not to be obvious. And then you give up and go back to it, perhaps with more thoughtfulness.