Recently my side hustle took me away from my lovely wife and comfortable home and deposited me in a cold, desolate east coast outpost known as Herndon Virginia. I tell you folks though it gets cold in my home state of Texas — sometimes even below forty degrees Fahrenheit — being forced to spend time in Virginia during January is in my humble opinion, brutal and inhumane punishment.
I’m being told this year the brutal weather condition is because of the polar vortex shifting. It’s a climate condition that is totally foreign and strange to me. I had no idea a pissed off herd of polar bears living in the arctic could shift an entire vortex.
But I digress, back to the side hustle. Even though the hotel arrangements were quite adequate, I’m not one to sit at a bar or endure being cooped up in a jail cell hotel room for the evening so I bundled up and took some fresh air.
Standing in the courtyard I sucked in a couple of deep breaths, effectively flash freezing most of the air sacs in my lungs. As I turned into Paul McPopcicle I stared at the courtyard flowerbeds, devoid of blooming vegetation, each possessing evergreens comprised of wild, tangled branches. That’s when I noticed the rocks and stones.
The flower beds were covered with them. Some of them were as big as the size of my two fists together and almost perfectly round, some were oblong and resembled large goose eggs. Some were gray and irregular, some pink and round, some flat, some thin, and they were all grouped together within the confines of the edging. The rocks and their cousin stones were evidently having a family reunion of the most magnificent proportions.
After choosing discretion over valor I retreated from the bitter cold, grabbed a coffee and found a spot away from the bar to reflect on what I’d seen.
I think sometimes rocks and stones get a bad rap. How many times have you listened to a friend (or an enemy, they just don’t know it yet) tell you about Jane or Jack and end their vitriol with, “they have a heart of stone.”
Or when you talk about the last nautical movie you watched and told someone the ship “sank like a stone.”
And then there’s the proverbial ironic cut down, “he’s as smart as a box of rocks.”
I have a problem with this. Everyone in the world knows that rocks can’t be smart or stupid since they have no brains…wait…
…oh…I get it now.
Well aside from this one truism most of the time rocks and stones should be revered not harangued. They are part of our everyday life. We use them to describe things going on in our day to day routine. Rocks and stones can keep you safe. If the Alamo had been made of paper mache do you think the forces of Santa Anna could have been held off for thirteen days?
Think of all the times you needed to be as impenetrable as a stone wall, or even better, thought of as the rock of Gibraltar. What about those times you wanted a — rolling stone gathers no moss — kind of lifestyle. Maybe your looks are described as chiseled with a rugged look that seems etched in stone (great for poker). Your friends may describe you as a stone cold fox.
Or like me, you might weigh eighteen stone. My doctor says I need to lose a few and that passing kidney stones doesn’t count.
You might just be a stone’s throw away from the local deli. I am and that’s why my doctor continues to harp on me. Hey, it’s my fault I know, but the sandwiches are excellent.
Because of that I’m starting to get thick as a brick.
What? I had find a way to get a Jethro Tull reference in here somehow.
The point is that rocks and stones have their place in this world. They are beautiful and yet plain, humbling but foreboding, breathtaking and at the same time life-threatening. They have their place in this world because they are this world. This spinning magnetic orb we’re stuck on has created some of the most wondrous and majestic mountains and landscapes in the universe. Just to name a few think about Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, The Rocky Mountains and Mount Saint Helens.
Okay maybe not so much about Mount Saint Helens. That sucker decided to blow off a little steam in the Eighties along with its entire north slope.
For just as long as these magnificent monsters of stone have been forming on our planet, the natural order of our world has been eroding portions of them with patient, persistent onslaughts of constant weathering. Over centuries of time nature has split mountains into rolling hills and sliced those hills into boulders. Dear Old Mother Nature has worn away at the massive boulders until they became rocks then sanded the rocks with torrents of water and wind until they morphed into pebbles and finally ground those pebbles into tiny grains of sand.
The next time you try your hand at sand art, or take in the view of a rock garden remember how that colored sand and those rocks and stones changed from grandiose and massive to miniscule and malleable. Just for a bit stop to wonder at the mysterious and all-encompassing erosive process which turned mountain ranges into grains of sand and rocks and stones. Don’t limit your pondering to a local rock quarry, think on a grander scale. Backtrack on the trail as you investigate how grains of sand were once pieces of rock splintered from boulders that were cleaved from hills and mountains. Visualize the lineage until you realize the tiny grains you’re moving about or the oblong pieces of our planet you’re dumping into your flower bed were at one time parts of a monstrous, sprawling and beautiful range of mountains.
That night, I sat and sipped my coffee staring through the large, square glass windows of the hotel lobby studying the rocks and stones in the flower beds. I remember thinking they would exist for years, maybe hundreds if not thousands of years — not necessarily in the hotel’s flowerbed but somewhere — and that they would still be here after I’m long dead and gone.
For a moment I felt humbled, even a bit insignificant.
After all, I am the arrogant and proud mankind, the species at the top of the food chain right? And yet one day I will end up being nothing more than ashes in a grave. A grave possibly adorned with a marker carved from something thought to withstand the test of time; a marker carved out of rock and stone.
I’m still waiting to hear back from Alanis Morissette on how ironic this situation is.