Saturday, March 20, 2010

Old Stones

"I miss old stones" my father used to say after we moved to the U.S. He would mostly say it after we emerged from Mass in some spanking-new church, half soaring A-frame, half brick rambler. He was missing the dark, mysterious churches of Spain, redolent of incense and candle wax, made of stones that had been quarried and carried and sculpted hundreds of years ago.

Even today, in Europe if you trip on a stone it's possible that it was placed there by a Roman building a road or a baron building a castle. Some years ago we co-owned with a group of friends a house in Catalonia, on the foothills of the Pyrenees, just south of the French border. This is Romanesque country, where villages cluster around stone churches built on or before the 12th century.

Hiking through the cork oak woods, or walking by a vineyard, I would sometimes come across a dolmen (a table-like structure made of three enormous stone slabs) tucked among the vines, or a menhir standing straight and still and weird among the trees. How many of my short but determined Stone Age ancestors had it taken to lug that huge stone and heave it until it was perfectly upright? In the village next to ours, smack in the middle of the square, in front of the (what else?) Romanesque church sat a dolmen, surrounded by a ring of scarlet geraniums. That must have been one powerful spot, to attract both a dolmen and a church.

In this country, I too miss old stones--not geologically old, but stones that have been touched by human hand and put to use. That is why I like New England, and rejoice in the crumbling stone wall that delineates our property. Somebody stacked those stones up and made them mean something.

In the last few balmy days I have been working outdoors, carving my piece of slate. When I look up at a certain spot between the lawn and the woods, bare now but soon to become a mess of brambles, I can see a big pile of boulders. Knowing the history of farming in these parts, it is likely that they were dragged out of the field in front of the house sometime in the last couple of centuries (it is also possible that they were dragged out of what became our basement, a mere 15 years ago).

Something in me refuses to let those boulders be. This may be because I lived in Maryland not long ago, where if you wanted a nice stone for your yard you had to go to a nursery and pay a major sum for it. Or maybe it's the same impulse that prompted my Neolithic great-grandparents to heft big stones around. My boulders are way too heavy for me to shift, and too dense for me to carve. I could hire a man with a machine to come and move them--but where?

Perhaps, instead of carving the stones or moving them, I should make a path to them through the brambles, and go and sit there and meditate.

For mere inanimate beings, some stones give off major vibes.

4 comments :

  1. Lali,
    Searching for you, I found your blog and am subscribing. I have started one too - on books and favorite reads - ncbookbunch.wordpress.com

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  2. Thanks for getting in touch. I've looked up your blog and will check it for book recommendations. In case you don't get my e-mail, what does RFW stand for? Do we know each other from North Carolina? I'm embarrassed to have to ask, but would love to know who you are!

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  3. Lali -- what a lovely essay to stones.

    Now that I think about it, I think the old stones are what keep calling me back to England, Scotland and Ireland.

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  4. Dona, Thanks. Yes, check out those cromlechs (that's what they call dolmens, right?) while you're there!

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