The stories of beach stones

Ask Josie Iselin how she came up with the idea to turn computer scans of beach stones into a picture book, and you'll wind up in her laundry room.

That's where the photographer once plucked large, circular sheets of multicolored lint from a trap in her clothes dryer. Then she scanned them into her computer. It enabled her to "capture the detail and nuance of their color," she says in an interview. "That was in 1994 or 1995, and my camera's been packed up in a box ever since [then]."

"Beach Stones" (Abrams, $17.95) showcases the photographer's graduation from panels of lint to rocks of various shapes, colors, and sizes.

The book was written by Margaret Carruthers, who provides snippets of information about the origin and evolution of about 200 stones from around the world.

To Ms. Iselin, that's 200 memories: Each stone tells a story or serves as a reminder of summer vacations, friends, or trips abroad.

Her favorite is a brimstone she found near her grandparents' home on a tiny island in Penobscot Bay, off the coast of Maine. It is longer than it is wide and is smooth, shiny, and black.

"Smoothness is generally the result of a stone's journey from the bedrock from which it eroded to the beach where it was eventually laid down," says Ms. Carruthers in the book.

But not all of the stones in the book are smooth – or round. Take, for instance, the craggy sandstone from a beach on Cape Cod, Mass. It's tan and has tiny green bumps that look like "the fossilized warts of an ancient amphibian," notes Carruthers.

A rock from Lopez Island, Wash., contains a small pebble wedged in a hole near the top. Carruthers suggests that the smaller stone may have become trapped in the larger one and then burrowed its way deep inside.

Other stones contain hidden treasures. On the pebbly beaches of the West Coast, it's not uncommon to find rocks with fossils. A stone from San Francisco reveals a fossilized fragment of a sand dollar's underbelly. A rock found in Bolinas, Calif., once was a shelter for homeless clams, which explains its holes, the author says.

But perhaps the funniest rock of the lot is one from Devon, England, that looks remarkably like a "sock monkey" puppet. It has the same coloring, expression, and shape.

"Stones are appealing to everybody, but they mean different things to different people," Iselin says. "Whether you're 5 years old or 50, there's something about them that makes you want to put them in your pocket."

Once you have one in your pocket, you not only have an interesting stone, but you have an interesting story.

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