To soften the severe facade of our New England house, I made a couple of wavy-bordered flower beds. One of them is next to the driveway, and last winter the snow plow scraped off quite a bit of the precious mulch that I had put down.
To keep this from happening again, and to give the bed more definition, I decided to border it with stones. I wasn't thinking about a stone wall, mind you--just a row of stones laid side by side that would clearly say “flower bed” on side, and “driveway” on the other.
This being New England, I reasoned, nothing would be easier than to find just the right kind of stones for my project. After all, it was this region's rocky soil that made farmers throw up their hands and flee West, leaving behind miles of stone walls made from the rocks they had dug out of their fields.
Two such stone walls, well past their prime, border our property. In spots the rocks are so scattered that only the rusted remains of barbed wire proclaim that here is a boundary. Still, I revere these walls, and will not touch them. They are the closest thing this country has to the dolmens and menhirs that so casually adorn the woods and vineyards of my native Catalonia. To remove even a single stone would make me feel like a grave robber, a desecrator of ancient things, a creep.
With all this reverence in mind, I stood up from where I'd been working on the flower bed and looked around for stones. I wanted medium-size ones—not so big I couldn't carry them, and not so small that the snow plow would run over them.
I took a little walk, Wolfie panting beside me. There were all kinds of pebbles on the driveway, and the field was exploding with dandelions, but there wasn't a decent-size stone in sight. From some places in the driveway, I could glimpse the crumbling stone wall through the trees. But I turned my face away. I would not touch it.
It occurred to me that if the farmer who originally worked this land had to clear the fields, the place where the small field abuts the woods might hold some promise. I tore through a maze of sticker bushes and, sure enough, there were the stones. They were gorgeous, big and mossy and bursting with presence, the kind of “focal point” that my landscaper in Maryland used to charge hundreds of dollars to bring into my yard.
But these boulders were way too big for me to even think of carrying them to the flower bed. Still, where there are big stones there might be small ones, and I grabbed a stick and dug around under the old leaves and, sure enough, there was a crop of smaller rocks huddling by the big ones, like chicks under a hen.
These user-friendly stones may have looked small, but they were heavy--I'd say about 30 pounds on average. That's a lot of pounds to carry out of the woods, across the lawn and the driveway, to the flower bed, over and over and over again.
Still, I dug and carried, Wolfie following along and dragging small dead trees out of the woods in a show of empathy. And as I lugged my stones to the flower bed, I thought about the farmer and his horses, sweating and panting, urgently dragging boulders out of the fields, so the grass would grow and the sheep would graze and the family would have meat to eat, and the wife would have wool to card and spin, before they gave it all up and went West.