The island where I live is peopled with cranks like myself. In a cedar-shake shack on a cliff – but we all live like this – is a man in his thirties who lives alone with a stone he is trying to teach to talk.
Annie Dillard’s essay, Teaching a Stone to Talk, is one of her most brilliant. Whereas wisecracks abounded about the young man who tried to teach a stone to talk, for the most part everyone respected what Larry was doing. It is certainly less controversial to sit, partaking of a conversation with a stone that has been carved into the shape of a man.
In creative classes that I have run I have regularly dispensed stones and asked people to spend private time talking to them. Try it out for yourself! Take a walk sometime, watch for a stone that seems to grab your attention… pick it up, turn it over a few times and look for images on it’s surface. Allow those images to relay words to your mind. Let something emerge and grow.
Of course, like me, you may be content to simply photograph the stones you have been inspired to stop to discuss the meaning of life with. The ones here were photographed at the Forest Creek Diggings. After the total upheaval of the 1851 gold rush like me, in the face of compounding losses, they are mute and have little to say about their loss. They cannot find a way to tell me about the utter carnage that took place as every stone was turned over and the landscape ravaged in the mad quest to find gold. As remnants of much bigger stone, I understand and respect their silence. Perhaps if I visit regularly they will find a way to tell me how they have gone on living on this rock we both call home.
Or, like William Steig who created the delightful Sylvester and the Pebble, you may end up writing a story. Sylvester, a young donkey, finds a magic pebble and thanks to some very mixed up communication ends up trapped within it. It is a sobering reminder to be very careful what you wish for.