Survivors

YOUR old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions,'' prophesied Joel. And his message comes to me again as I reflect on rocks. Some people see things in clouds, I know -- castles, camels, dragons and dragoons, eggplants, elephants, every thing the human mind can imagine. I've been down that sky-lane, lying on my back in a summer field, peering through a screen of green leaves into a blue bowl containing the choicest of daydreams. Now, somewhat older, I'm more prosaic, fancying images closer to earth -- things I can touch. Nothing less tangible than rocks. Rocks? Well, stones. But who splits hairs or hairlines, and at what precise size does a stone become a rock, or vice versa? Maybe the experts, like Joel or Solomon the Wise, can decide. I'm content to call my hold-down treasures rocks. That is, whatever I can contain in my palm is so labeled.

I do like to find some use for my rocks, of course. So I line them up on my sills, or in front of rows of books, or on my desk -- ostensibly anchoring papers. But more likely they get covered up by more papers, or slide (are slid?) behind curtains, or wind up on top of the books, having been moved there at a time when I needed one of the volumes they fronted. So be it. No more excuses, in spite of Thoreau's abhorrence of clutter -- of possessions that weigh down man's otherwise free spirit.

Especially the rocks Tyler has presented to me -- ``treasures'' he recognized as such, though he had no desire to collect them himself. (Toy cars of all kinds, even broken-down ones, yes -- but not ``significant'' or ``irresistible'' rocks.) That's what they've become, significant, meaningful, solidified imagination. Solid as Gibraltar, my chips off the old Rock of Time. They take on forms just as clouds do, resembling many essentials as well.

Take this creamy-whitish, uneven yet smooth bit that looks like a newly dug potato. It is complete with eyes and scabrous patches, with one end accidentally sliced off by a too-hasty spade. It is lovely to feel, too heavy to pocket. It wobbles a bit, yet sits flat enough on the windowsill, looking out back to spring, summer, fall, and winter with equanimity. It represents patience, tolerance, and endurance.

I can't remember on what brook-walk Ty came on it. ``It's a very special souvenir, Gocky,'' he assured me. And it weighted my pocket homeward. He scrubbed it clean and I promised to keep it forever. That was five years ago, and a long time to a nine-year-old. Sometimes I ponder the origin of that particular rock, and what its composition might be. Quartz? I could have it analyzed, but that would strip the wonder from it, uncloak the mystery of millenniums -- maybe of distant stars. New England is replete in glacier residue. It is very ancient. Daniel Webster was on solid ground, referring to the ``rock of the national resources.'' Let it be. If Thoreau had thought it out just this far, as I have, I doubt he'd have had the desire to chuck his dust-collecting rock in the pond, either.

Another specimen came from a country lane in Woodbury, Conn. We were on a Sunday stroll, leisurely advancing, when it signaled me some distance ahead. Of the four of us, only I heard and saw it. Actually it leaped out at me, in the form of a hunched frog. I remained casual until we were right up to it, then snatched up my prize. The others were politely interested -- but I know a frog when I see one, and that frog is my choicest paperweight today. Especially since Bob outlined its haunch and circled its one eye (the other side being absolutely flat).

There are marvelously veined rocks brought back from the shore. Gray, with dark rings and streaks, making them what I'm told certain Indians considered ``lucky'' stones (circles within circles). To me they're just beautiful, silent rocks, nice to have. They have nothing to do with that ``pet rock'' fad of a few years back.

Every so often I consider getting rid of a few of these fast-multiplying rocks. And I clear a shelf. Recently I even dropped an ungainly chunk of slate Tyler smeared red paint on into my basket, and left it there. But Bob thought it an accident and returned it to my desk. All those others -- scaly looking, diamond studded (mica), multicolored -- just hang in. I can't bring myself to really get rid of them. So down to the cellar they go, another shoe box full of survivors. Rocks are that, eternal survivors . . . surely ``no work of man's creative hand,'' as John Burgon said in his ``Petra.''

Meanwhile: May I offer you a stone . . . a rock? It might turn to bread -- food for thought, I stubbornly insist. Would you like a fish? A dog, a bird that won't fly away, a horse? A grounded dream? Who knows but one such won't take wing and soar. For now, let's call it Pegasus.

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