Cloudy Is the Stuff of Stones
Wisdom that fits in your pocket
by Anthony Doerr
Published in the March/April 2010 issue of Orion magazine
WHENEVER I’M OUTDOORS for more than ten minutes I start picking up rocks. In Patagonia, in Phoenix, in a Home Depot parking lot—my gaze is invariably sucked downward into the gravel. I weigh the merits of pebbles by some fickle and mutable aesthetic and either pitch them back or pocket them and stack them among hundreds of their brethren on the counter behind our kitchen sink like fortifications against an army of tiny invaders.
Pebbles from Canada, pebbles from Cleveland, pebbles from carriageways in Caledonia. Maybe the echoes of miners reverberate in my genes; maybe I share a That’s-Pretty-and-I-Want-It covetousness with thieves and princesses and bowerbirds. Maybe I hope someday I’ll finally overcome the fundamental truth of pebbles and find one that looks prettier dry than wet. Or maybe I’m just an introvert, a down-gazer, a bad conversationalist.
But every night as I wash another dish or fill another mug with water, my little hoard stares up at me with its thousand imperturbable faces.
Oh, him, the stones seem to whisper. He’ll be gone soon enough.
Take this nugget of quartz: milky, egg-shaped, the size of a breath mint. Quartz is hard, harder than all the common minerals, and on its journey from mountain to dust this pebble has reached the way station of my kitchen counter by passing through an almost unfathomable series of gauntlets. This little thing is a master of endurance: survivor, abider, traveler; inside it is folded a story of creation and time so large it threatens the imagination.
Born as a crystalline vein inside some huge extrusion of granite, it probably rode a thrust fault into the light a few hundred million years ago, helped bulldoze up a mountain range, got pulverized by a glacier. Over a few millennia ice, weight, and lichen weathered the vein into boulders, the boulders into stones. Maybe this pebble was driven by a cloudburst into a great fan of other pebbles; maybe it was—after another ten thousand rainstorms—sucked back underground where it was compressed into conglomerate by heat and pressure, until it rose again, smaller and rounder, to be polished for a few more centuries in a creek bed before the creek disappeared and the sand swallowed it, incubated it, and hatched it years later into the gulch below my house.
Until last Tuesday, when it traveled into the whimsy of my frail attention. Into my pocket, onto the pile behind the sink. It sits there now and dares me to outlast it.
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