Suburban Sisyphus

YOU don't really get to know a rock well until you've wrestled it -- out of the ground with steel pick and timbers, rediscovering the basic laws of leverage, shoving it inch by inch to some predetermined point of the garden perimeter. At first you find its dimensions, probing with spade, digging around it, discarding the smaller rocks which the huge stones seem to attract like satellites. The rock always refuses to move, refuses again, and then yields only barely. The first shift of the soil is felt rather than seen, then air seeps down around the stone. After prying and thrusting timbers under its raised side and prying again and again, it rises to the rim of its hole. Then comes the moment of the first full grappling embrace, to tilt the stone out of its pit: The smell of the earth that held the rock since the last ice age (locked the way the New England moraine seizes stone, beyond the weight of gravity), the rough granite tight against your chest, imprinting the insides of your forearms.

``Why am I doing this?'' you ask yourself, as every sensible rock wrestler has asked for every stone of his body weight or more that has been muscled to a different resting place nearby. Because there is some other pattern to the property that must be allowed to emerge, some form of line and level more powerful than the inertia of glacial sediment. The earth must yield. The misshapen yard must become a garden, the rocks of a quarter ton and more made to shoulder a terrace.

You know you can trust them to hold true to the pattern, sentinels to the next ice age, or until another master such as you. You've felt their weight, tested their resistance, sought advantage from their uneven facets. You've confidence in stones so intimately known.

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