Wednesday, April 16, 2014


This morning, in your memoir class, an emeritus professor of geology named Bruce withdrew a rock of about the size and shape of a torpedo sandwich from a drawstring bag.  "This rock," he said, " is at least a hundred five million years old."

Funny, you thought, looking at the rock, which seemed to you to look like marble cake, you don't look a hundred five million years old.

Bruce explained some of the dating techniques used on the rock.  He also drew an idiosyncratic map on the blackboard (which was in reality white and thus needed to be written on with a black marking pen rather than white chalk) showing where the rock was when he came into possession of it.  

In the simplest of terms, the rock came from the South Pole, a place you once dreamed about when you were seven or eight, thanks to a boyhood hero worship of Admiral Byrd.  In more recent years, you have received two post cards from the McMurdo Station at the South Pole.  This remote venue seems about as far away from where you are as possibilities would allow.  At any rate, the South Pole seems to you to be limbo with penguins.  The North Pole, although remote in its own way, has no penguins, and is, thus, mere limbo.

When the rock came your way, you hefted it for the sake of a momentary fellowship with something whose origins are so remote, both in time and distance.  There was something moving and humbling about knowing the rock's age; it has weathered well.  You are filled with good natured assurances for it, as it, it does not look a day over a million, or, holding up pretty well there for your age.

You've often attempted to have conversations with rocks, in particular those who, because of their color or shape or porosity or other combinations of characteristics seem to you that most subjective of qualities, attractive.  To that extent, you wish you had Bruce's ability to talk to the rock or, at least, discern some of its secrets.  You believe most rocks you've dealt with in your life are older than you, thus you try to treat them with some respect.  

There are exceptions to this,  You have under many circumstances, used rocks as a missile to either throw at someone or something, or as that most satisfactory of games, a skimming rock, which you throw, sidearm, at a lake.

Your best guess is of at least fifty rocks in and about your apartment that you consider possessions, your rocks, for one reason or another, including two chunks of California jade from The Big Sur, and a few from the tide pools in and about Carpinteria, plus a few on the shelf o the kitchen window, given a place where you will sometimes see them, simply because you like their shape and/or color.

All these, no doubt, are older than you.  When you are no longer their custodian, they will return to being rocks of indeterminate ages, perhaps because of their provenances, kept indoors as possessions.  Otherwise, they will go where old rocks go when they are no longer someone's possession; they will go outside, somewhere, waiting out their destiny as inert matter.  More than one of these rocks has already had life-changing experiences at the hands of humans; how else would they have morphed into the shape and depiction of a sea bird?

You do not need Bruce's access to measuring materials to reckon the effects of age on your face.  Wrinkles and edges will do that for you.  Your face, once smooth, with a tendency to pout, looks now as though some carpenter has had at it with some emery cloth or rough grain sandpaper.

The only time you met, and consumed enormous quantities of beer with, the poet, W.H. Auden, you marveled at his face, which seemed at the time quite admirable to you, like a paper bag of the sort that is twisted about a pint of some fermented liquid, your best hope being for cognac.

Any number of individuals you know who are of an age with you have seen fit to cover portions of their face with some manner of hair, what veterinarians would call facial furnishings.  You make efforts to keep your face clean shaven, not wishing to cover any part of it, wishing instead to present your face as an instrument, capable of registering a broad range of responses of you, in reaction to the events you encounter and the things you see during the warp and weft of the day.

Nor do you need access to age dating when the backs of your hands are brought into the picture.  These, particularly the left, are shot through with liver spots, ranging from barely noticeable to a serious, no-nonsense brown, the size of a raindrop splatter on a windshield.

These backs of your hands were once as pristine as such areas can be.  For whatever quirky reasons, the back of the right hand has fewer splotches, none so aggressive in their liver-color as those on your left hand.

Your lifetime relationship with rocks, small enough to carry about, to propel some distance with the numerous slingshots of your youth, to admire from a distance, and to bring into your life, has been a pleasing friendship.  If your final wishes are followed, you will join some rocks, wherever they happen to be,whereupon you will pass the time with them, awaiting further orders from destiny.

Such speculations bring a sense of order into your ongoing attempts at conversation with elements that speak different languages than you.  For the moment, you have the language you speak and the languages you speculate they speak, neither of you making the mistake of thinking that raising your voices will cause greater understanding or any understanding at all.  The sense of order you notice has ties to your ability to recognize them and they, for their part, showing no immediate wish to come tumbling down upon you, nor you, wishing to combine them into some conglomerate with which to pave dirt and crushed rocks who have no say in the matter.  

For the moment, you are elementals, waiting.

No comments: