between-our-steps05-03-17-double"Rock, paper, scissors." Twice recently I played this, once to figure out who went first in a board game, and once to entertain a bored child that I did not know very well. It's easy to see that scissors cut paper and rock breaks scissors. Why paper covers rock is less intuitive but important to balance out the game.

Rocks are strong. Rocks are the foundation for our barn and our house. On our land, there are places where bedrock rises to the surface, and those are spots that neither we nor the settlers attempted to clear. There is no budging that solid foundation, so trees reign and wildflowers flourish. Rail fence is laid across the rock to keep the sheep in the pasture: there was no point attempting to put in posts for a wire fence.

Rock cliffs mark our landscape, standing strong and high above the fields and shoreline. Rocks, collected when land is worked, line our fields providing a place for trees and shrubs and grape vines to flourish. Rocks protect fragile shorelines and build sheltered harbours.

The strength of rock is known to us. Though forged metal can be stronger, when we want a metaphor for strength and endurance, we choose rocks.

But rocks are changed by water. We visited Delphi point before the snow had completely gone, and we found slabs of shale had broken off during the winter. Waves roll up and over the shale, working under ledges, weakening the connection. Water seeps into cracks, and in the cold, it freezes and expands, breaking off pieces of rock.

At the base of the many falls in our area, rocks are piled. Again, water seeped into cracks and froze weakening the connection of stone to cliff. Pounding water, especially during spring run-off, presses the loosened rock until it tumbles to the base of the falls.

In mid April, when I went to Big Bay, I found that the round rocks we love to skip had been piled into a two meter high wall. Wind and waves had lifted the stones. Ice pushed them inland. Winter water had rearranged the stones of the shore to make a wall.

The stones of Big Bay have been shaped by water. Years of waves rolling over them, rolling them against each other, removed the rough edges, took off any points, smoothed them into perfect skipping stones.

Water will carve rock. A human who wants to shape stone needs tools of forged metal, hard and sharp. Water just needs time. A stream flowing over a rock will polish it. An eddy in the stream will swirl against the rock, rounding out a pocket in it. The heavy flow of spring, the steady flow over the years will carve the stream's shape into the rock. Deep canyons were carved by rivers that year after year held their course across the rock and then through it.

There are boulders in our fields that were carried by the ice that covered this land, deposited in places cleared by settlers, worked around every time the field was plowed up. The jagged granite speaks of a place far away that it was carried from, and the edges show the way it was shaped by ice and rain and what it hit along the way.

Rough flat limestone is a mirror of the piece that was broken away. When picking stones, the work of ice and water is seen in those pieces that split apart in our hands.

A couple years ago, we found a natural linga, an image used in Hindu worship of the god Shiva. On a smooth round base, a tall cone had been carved and polished. Different types of stone, welded together by heat and pressure in a distant time had been worked by water to make a perfect image of that god's power to create, destroy and recreate.

Drops of water falling one at a time onto a rock will mark their spot, carve a bowl. Soft refreshing rain will be remembered, at least by the rock it falls on.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister, and writer living near Walters Falls.


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