On Rocks

by Rebecca Vidra

Collecting the rocks used to be easy. When the foundation of our house was dug, huge boulders of quartz were wrested from the ground, leaving behind their smaller colleagues. Now, I have to comb the surrounding forest for jagged, white stones that seem to be ejected by the hard red clay below. The one spot that still offers easy pickings is our fire circle, created by an immense sourwood tree. The biggest sourwood I've ever seen, so large it pushed its way up into a canopy usually dominated by leafy oaks. One day, this tree finally leaned over to rest on the forest floor. I watched it slowly stretch itself out, opening a gap in the forest, just big enough for a small fire pit.

Each season, I rake the crispy pine needles and black oak leaves from the circle, careful not to disturb the slowly expanding clumps of spongy moss. Here, quartz cobbles continue to be unearthed. The sourwood tree rests on its side, roots sticking up into the air like chicken feet. In its trunk, a crevice widens into a hole, into which I place a rock, a quartz symbol of my gratitude.

* * * * *

We sit around the smoky fire, adding sticky fingerprints to the community bottle of bourbon. As the conversation between old friends lulls, I pipe up, for some unknown reason. “Can I sing a song about campfire wood?” I ask rhetorically.

I begin singing a song, suddenly aware that I am not ready, really, to sing in front of my friends, hoping I can make up for my voice with my wincing expressions. I can sense that he disapproves of either my voice or my audacity to sing. I know he thinks this whole campfire sing-a-long is super cheesy, even though ironically his voice is the one we wait to hear. He gives me that look, as if he just wishes I would be quiet or act more normally or, I don't know, just be who he thought I would be.

I don't remember finishing my song before he gets up to leave, abandoning his guitar. He doesn't return that night, leaving me to mingle with my voice and my bourbon, among the tease of sparks that reach out from the quartz circle.

* * * * *

My rock collection is less an organized inventory and more of a scattered journal of my travels and moods.  One round smooth rock I found on a beach in Maine. I liked the heavy feel of it in my palm, its curve allowing my fingers to grasp it like a baseball. For comfort, I held onto it once, hoping to infuse it with my rage and disappointment. I don't remember the reason. I just remember the feeling. Standing on that beach, wishing I could somehow trap my anger at him in this dense, mottled stone.

Heart-shaped rocks are my favorite quest, and I am not disappointed to find others who share this obsession. A few years ago, with my marriage weakened, my family spent a year living on a beach full of heart-shaped rocks. Everywhere you looked, practically, you could find one. I took it as a sign. How could I not? We made a huge collection, even shipped a box of them back to our NC home to greet us upon our return.

The most recent addition to my conglomerate collection is the quartz I hunt for on our land. I use the white stones to line paths that should be illuminated by moonlight, instead of tripping up our friends in the dark. I use the larger rocks to contain our garden beds, only to find them piled up along the fence when he replaces them with frames of cedar. My one garden art experiment, a huge heart-shaped quartz patch, was recently pierced by a resilient sourwood sapling. I wonder if it is kin to my fallen sourwood friend.

* * * * *

Isn't it funny how the deep purples and bright greens of prized wet rocks dry into faded grays? How many rocks have I collected, only to later puzzle over their concealed uniqueness? Out of local granite boulders, we build a small pond outside our bedroom window. Into the trickle of the waterfall, I place a few of these dull stones, watching their colors emerge, their beauty revealed.

* * * * *

I was recently asked if my marriage was good. Just like that, kind of out of the blue, but, really, a reasonable question to ask. Yes, it's good. Good but hard. What a tricky question to answer. Should I tell of the deliberations, of the lure of easier choices, of the bet we continually place on the outcrop of our commitment?

I don't know why I didn't expect my relationship to weather, rounded by the riffles of age, adventures, loss, and wisdom. I didn't realize that we had to continuously make the choice to stretch up into the canopy while replenishing the mortar that binds our history.

Is my marriage good? Well, collecting rocks used to be easy. But the foundation is dug, and the garden beds are planted, and the sourwood rests at the fire circle. Just last week, my daughter dropped that rock I found in Maine, dropped it on our scuffed coke-colored concrete floor. Its shattered pieces sit on a shelf, reminding me to let go of my resentment and to hold heart-shaped rocks under the faucet instead.

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