I guess like a lot of people I hadn't paid much attention to rocks. I would drive right by them on the way to the grocery store, for instance, and never feel the impulse to shout, ''Look! There's a rock!'' But all that has changed.
You see, my wife and I decided to build an embankment on the sides of our walkway using found materials, i.e., rocks. My job would be to find the found materials. Her job would be to assemble the stones with sufficient artistry to make the result resemble a wall. (Were I to take on her job, it would resemble a thoughtfully composed rock pile.)
Not only did we like the work, but we quickly became rock connoisseurs. That is to say, we now get as much enjoyment from gazing at one of these inert lumps of granite as from viewing a Van Gogh painting (sorry, Vincent). This is a felicitous development, since, in contrast with a great painting, owning a stone puts no dent in one's wallet - unless you happen to drop the stone on the wallet.
Because our duties throughout this project were dissimilar, some minor tensions did develop. My wife's task of arranging stones was much like that of arranging a bouquet, albeit a 10-ton bouquet. She was concerned with matters of color and balance. I would've preferred that she be concerned with the straining hand muscles of the husband who was left holding the boulders while she made extremely unhurried creative decisions regarding their placement. But even this had its pluses: I now have biceps on my index fingers. I can now open the screw cap on a certain pickle jar, the contents of which I'd assumed would be unobtainable in my lifetime.
At one point, my wife complained that the rocks I was bringing her were not brightly colored enough. I pointed out to her that, although these were not painted Easter eggs I was gathering, I was in fact supplying stones in a wide array of colors, such as brownish beige, earth tone, beige-brown, dirt colored, light brown, and even tan. She remained unconvinced.
Of course, this limited color spectrum only applied to the stones when dry. Once we turned the sprinklers on, the rocks came to life with speckles, streaks, and strata - all in beautiful, if subtle, hues. We decided that if we ever want to show our home to full advantage, the first thing we will do is water the rocks.
To acquire these specimens I would simply drive my truck in the outlying hills and find an area that sported a healthy crop of granite. Next I would begin evaluating individual stones on admittedly subjective and nebulous criteria, rating them for uniqueness, aesthetic contour, general likability, and winning attitude. The lucky ones would then be chauffeured to the work site by what my wife called ''Rick's Truck Limited'' (limited to one truck, she meant).
Perhaps what made my task enjoyable was the hunting aspect. I'm not saying that I was a sportsman because I was able to sneak up on a boulder that had been sedentary for centuries. But, like a hunter or a fisherman, I was in quest of a prize catch, and I found I would go to great lengths to get a beautiful stone. I climbed hills, crossed gorges, and slogged through mud. This from a person who needs a written list of 15 good reasons before he will walk across the room to get a coaster for his iced tea.
Collecting a praiseworthy batch of boulders imparted a certain feeling of wealth. When I had filled up my truck bed for the eighth and final time, it struck me that perhaps I had become greedy, hoarding nature's riches like some crazed prospector. So when, just then, a jogger happened to lope by, I said, ''Here, have a rock. Have two.'' He declined, but I felt better for having offered. In retrospect, I have to say that so long as I continue to measure my wealth in rocks, those around me will not feel too envious or deprived.
There's a certain satisfaction in knowing that one's embankment stones were not store-bought but were carefully hand-chosen from the hills. We realize that our newfound enthusiasm for rocks and boulders might strike a few friends as odd. But it's a small price to pay for a keener appreciation of these beautiful objects which all along had been right under our noses or, more specifically, under our feet.