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Speaking Of Stones

“It is the nature of stone to be satisfied…” 

—Mary Oliver

One of my passions is gathering stones. You might say it’s an obsession. 

My fiancée laughs if we’re at an outdoor event and someone asks if we have a fire pit at home. “Oh, yes!” she responds. “This man’s obsessed!” Then she turns to me and says, “Tell these folks about your love of stones.”

And so I explain how, for years, I had a ritual of carrying logs up from the forest to cut and split for winter fuel, but then one hot April day when I had worry on my mind, I carried a stone instead. As I cradled the granitic gneiss like a football, the stone worked like a tonic to keep me calm and cool. After 30 walks that spring, I had 30 stones. 

I’ve always been a fan of routine and chipping away to make progress every day. We see the results of consistency in running, biking, swimming, and other sports. The same applies to the gathering of stones. For months, I added one stone to a circle each time I took a walk, and soon a fire pit emerged. Over the years, I’ve come to consider the fire pit a companion—a co-worker, if you will—that helps turn fallen tree limbs into potash for tomatoes. If I’m mulling over problems or unsure what next to do in life, I gravitate to the pit. The pit is also a favored meeting place for friends to share food and wine on moonlit nights. In winter, we hold warm stones on our lap as children roast marshmallows and do a primal dance. For years, visitors referred to the pit as one of the nicest they’d ever seen, even posting pics online saying, “Take a look at this!” 

Nowadays, these same folks laugh and roll their eyes at the massive cairn that continues to grow skyward with no end in sight. Some say the pit has begun to resemble a Hobbit house while others refer to it as the “Henge” and suggest I need an intervention. I’ll admit that the pit may be a tad on the large side, that it’s become cumbersome, even dangerous, to climb inside and risk life and limb while lighting fires. Some friends joke that if I go missing for a week, my partner should check inside the pit.

And yet, I keep gathering stones when there’s no need for more because it brings me joy. Stones connect me to the earth, make me feel grounded, and the handling of stones is said to reduce stress. Carrying stones up from the forest is my favorite combination of exercise and meditation. I’m most content when I put down my phone and hold a stone. 

And while I’m not an especially competitive person, stones have taught me many lessons. Once (while I was still a bachelor), I went to the house-warming party of a man who was, and still is, a huge success. He and his wife live on a beautiful property with mountain views, three well-behaved children, and a hand-crafted home. While I don’t begrudge all that my friend has achieved, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a tinge of envy. 

In fact, I was about to slip away early when my friend’s wife noticed and said, “Oh, don’t go yet, we’re about to light the bonfire.”

That’s when I went outside to get my first glimpse of the fire pit of my friend. Then I was somewhat pleased, relieved, perhaps even buoyed by jubilance and haughty pride. For all this man’s success, his pit was the pits, consisting of nine puny-looking rocks arranged in a sloppy oval. The envy I’d been feeling melted into pity for this man. And I drove off that evening, feeling as if I had won. 

When I got home, I sat alone by my pit feeling proud. I rarely use that word “proud,” but I can attest: pride leads to falls. The next day I was thinking of my successful friend with his perfect life and puny pit when I climbed inside my massive folly and struck a match. Just as the newspaper and kindling were catching fire, the wind shifted and flames leapt toward my face.

As I tumbled backward and crawled to safety, I laughed at my blunder as I wondered, Have I gone too far? 

In “Who makes these changes,” the great Sufi poet Rumi writes,

I dig pits to trap others

And fall in.

I should be suspicious

Of what I want.

Amen, brother. 

Today, as I saunter about my beloved fire pit at sunrise drinking coffee, I consider the words of Confucius: “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” As I set forth in the woods with singed eyebrows to fetch yet another stone, it occurs to me that the mountain I must move might just be myself

Cover photo: Photo courtesy of the author

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