Teaching 500 million-year-old stones to sing Christmas hymns
By Justin Isherwood
We are, some of us, fated to be stoned most of the time. My son is like this. My granddaughter. My friend Susan has it bad, as does my insurance agent. I’ve been stoned as long as I can remember, it is quite an addiction, being stoned.
I realize this is not the sort of confession you want to read at Christmas time, another one of those too-much-information stories, but I thought it was time to come clean, to explain why at Christmas I tend to distribute. Among friends. Who I think. Should. Get stoned.
This started when I was a kid, like as not when chasing cows, to suspect a lot of my personal dimensions began then, as a farmkid, chasing cows. I was 4 or 5 at the time, chasing cows.
Cows, the loving creatures they are, let me tag along, following behind in the lane. You can’t rightly get lost on a cow lane, and as for any big bad things to happen out there, I had big wide cows to protect me, never mind the routine interpretation of shepherd is the other way around, I to protect them. As I remember, they protected me.
Core values get shaped chasing cows, learning to trust the world, to learn of nature, of birds, bird poop is a core value, nests, badger holes, fences, good fences, bad fences, the allure of spring, the lights of home, the smell of supper, thirst and stones. Cow lanes are good at stones.
It was sometime that first summer while chasing cows to the back pasture it started, my stone collection. Some pretty little stone caught my eye. Wisconsin granite admixed with fool’s gold is pretty, able to attract a kid.
I recall my disappointment when I learned that all the glitter is not gold. A child’s mind wonders, so what’s the big deal about gold? As said, life lessons are learned.
There were stones that had faces in them, dimples, there are blue stones, green stones. Typical kid, I thought all stones were gems. Arrowheads were really bullion. Soon the sock drawer in my bedroom chest of drawers was allied with a hundredweight’s worth of stone collection. This has continued ever since.
It is that among my friends at Christmas, friends to whom I am too cheap to give them something actual store-bought, I give stones. Some choice stone I liked well enough to pick up in the first place and carry in my pocket for a few days.
My wife has a box next to the washing machine she empties my pockets into. My house chore is to occasionally empty that box and sort the real keepers against what was just a momentary attraction. My wife says I have this same problem with women, I will look at anything that glitters.
Being a bit of a wood tick, I do take this stones-for-Christmas thing up a notch by sawing out a box to fit these gift stones, comes with a fitted top. A box cut from a weird tangle of lumber or interesting tree branch as causes the grain to go all kitty-wampus. Sawn-out, shaped, varnished, now with that stone nestled inside. Sometimes a birch bark box. Something out of barn boards, tree roots, tree crotches make excellent stone boxes, tung oiled or spar varnished. This to make gems out of cow lanes.
As said, an addiction. A compulsive thing this getting stoned. There are little piles of stones on my bedroom bureau, on my desk, on the dash of my pickup, on the floor of my tractor. I can’t go anywhere and fail to bring home a new collection. She hasn’t kicked me out yet, though she has legal grounds.
What brings this to a Christmas story is a stone I found a few years ago, a stratified bit of limestone, and sandstone, metamorphic, pushing 500 million years old, a bit before my time but close in relative terms, when diatoms were a big deal hereabouts. Somewhere near shore, you can see the dictation lines of time.
When I found this stone, those lines so reminded me of musical staff, the lines just waiting for the notes, so I wrote them, the notes I thought this stone deserved. Cambrian time, what life was saying and singing out loud. I have thus accomplished one of the items on my bucket list, to teach a stone to sing.
I won’t spoil this by telling you what those notes are. As a hint, I copied them from the hymnal. Those notes that pretty much sum up my life’s philosophy, and just maybe the tune to carry into Christmas.