Saturday, July 13, 2013


My dad is down in the basement with the saws-all, trimming off the stubborn tail-end of a stud beneath the stairs to the basement so that we can hang one of the last, small sheets of drywall to finish our work in the basement, much of which we did back in February, before he had retired from 34 years with the same company, Diamond Tool & Abrasives, a small, family-owned company based in Elgin, Illinois.  We are currently in Michigan, and I am currently on the porch that the nice guest bedroom on the second floor opens onto.  Lake Michigan is about 80 yards off, about 80 yards west of this computer from which I am now about to upload some geological history.  

These are the stairs that descend the bluff to the sandy and stony beach below.  There are 87 stairs punctuated by several landings.  I counted them this morning after stretching my hamstrings and calf muscles on the beach.  Then I ran, not along the beach, but along the Blue Star highway that follows the lake shore, sometimes within an eye-shot of the lake and other times further east.  

There are many large, man-made aggregate boulders on the beach that have been put in place to slow the erosion of the bluff, and I used one of them as a table to sort the handfuls of stones I would scoop up from the line of stones that runs parallel to the water's edge.  At first I was grabbing smaller stones, such as you can see above, but then I went for medium stones, though when speaking of the gauge of a stone, all things are naturally relative.  Perhaps the same idea should be applied to our personal problems.  One small stone can indeed seem like a medium-sized stone or even a large stone when put beside a grain of sand.  Furthermore, if you wake up with a bad head, you should wait until you've cleared your bad head before you assess yourself and the day that lies before you.  The stones in your path may indeed shrink as you take pleasure in the world and regain your sense of self.

Sifting through stones is a very meditative practice, as is rinsing them in the cup of your hand while you stand, sometimes crotch deep in a very cold lake, and it is something I have done for all my life, each time I had the opportunity to stand in a body of water, be it stream or a lake, and look down at my feet, aqueous and white.  Collecting stones as a meditative practice and a hobby, on the other hand, is something relatively new to me, and it's a very welcome newcomer.  I don't know what I intend to do with the stones—collections and hobbies provide their own functions—so it's likely that I would have done just as well to leave these stones on the beach.  Instead, I took them up to the house to photograph them.  Were it not for the drywall that needs to be hung, I could have done this all afternoon: wading out, crouching, gathering, rinsing, sorting, selecting, admiring, brushing away the discards, then returning to the lake for another handful.  

It's hard to be anxious when there are so many beautiful stones.  If I could be on permanent vacation, run each morning, cool off in the lake and then gather stones beneath a 100 foot bluff for an hour afterward, I could live a much healthier, saner life, one perhaps free of anxiety.  Even sitting down with an iced coffee after lunch to reflect on all of this is making me a touch unsettled.  It seems that this is pretty normal, that most of us do our best to bridge the distances between the moments of serenity that dot, like stones, the beaches of our lives.   

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