Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Rock Pile

I walked, talked, dreamed and played with mostly imaginary pals, roaming in the woods and fields where I grew up on the rural outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A favorite hang-out spot was a tree-hidden pile of rocks behind the home of our Superintendent of Schools and his family.

An imaginative kid who sits on rocks may converse with things in the natural world. She can make some longtime friends that way, learning to love what she’s open to hearing. Some rocks met in woodsy play may want to go home with a new buddy. And attachments formed in those carefree days might solidify in a grown-up heart into caring for the environment, with relationships grounded all around the circle of life.

Lines of rocks surround my home today. They border beds of native wild and more tamed flowers, define paths, offer easy steps up a sloping hillside and rise in a handsome wall built by my husband Dale. My true love is also a lover of rocks and nature.

We go out in search of rocks every spring, liberating them from places where they’re unearthed. We ask little or no by-your-leave from their human surroundings, but I do from their stone selves. In road cuts and subdivision clearings, lots of rocks are eager to go with folks who treat them with respect, not as merely future gravel.

As newlyweds, we journeyed to the Grand Canyon. I packed along a little tin box of rocks from our St. Louis home – all of whom were glad to go – nestled in cedar and juniper greens with tiny pine cones tucked along for the ride. Dale and I hiked together down Bright Angel Trail. The local rocks were rosy pink and ochre-yellow, sternly gray and pale as sand. If you gazed with an artist’s eye, every hue under heaven could be seen in those splendid strata.

I sat down under a scrubby pine on a stone ledge jutting over the canyon and opened my cache of Missouri rocks to the blue Arizona sky, asking an old internal question: would you like to go? I was happy to wait, with that view, for any length of rock reply. I rose from the spot with a grainy red slab, carefully wrapped up in a jacket, stowed into my knapsack between notebook and a now nearly weightless little tin.

Visiting my childhood home last winter, I rambled alone through woods to the rock pile. Outwardly it seemed flatter and broader, much like me, though inside I felt very little had changed. I sat on the cold bumps in companionable silence, listening to flying winds and geese, leaf rattle, branch scrape, enjoying stillness. I asked politely, in my mind, if any individual on that pile would like to come to my grown-up home with me. On that day, over the bridge of years, no rock answered.

Some connections I’ve made in this lovely world I carry only in my heart, where they are rock-solid.

Join Jean Ponzi for green conversations on her long-running show Earthworms, podcasting from KDHX. Pick ‘em up at Earthworms.kdhXtra.org, or thru iTunes.