I collect rocks. When I am in a place I want to remember, I bring a piece of it home with me. I always imagine that someday I might return the rocks to where they came from. Or perhaps someone else will.
Tim collected rocks too, before I knew him (he came with a few special rocks of his own) and he would hold them and impress upon them the place of their origin, so when he held the rock later, it might tell him. I instead put the place names upon my stones with little cut-out book letters.
Rocks are what they are, certain and solid. They are strong, slow and they show where they came from. When I tumble my collection together, I see colorado meet italy, prague meet maine, california meet ontario. The white quartz stone from the first appalachian trail hike tim and I took sits next to the rock from berne where, years later, he secretly bought my engagement ring while I was at the paul klee zentrum.
I found that little moon-shaped rock in california's half-moon bay, walking on the seaweed-strewn beaches looking for green sea glass, about to camp in the chilly windy night along the stretch of beach thrown up against the dunes.
That tiny rock says all that to me. It's less subjective than a journal entry or a photograph. When I hold it in my fingers, it's proof that I was there.
Vernazza, italy. A salty swim in the bay, along the coast, bright blue fishing boats and seaweed clinging to the rocks, after a long hot hike. I was 28, and it was heaven.
Garden of the gods, colorado. I was 18, and my gramom and I shared a hotel room while we saw the national parks with my parents. She was 76, and we hiked to delicate arch.
Valley of the moon, sardignia. A hike at sunset to pink wind-sculpted rocks on the edge of the ocean. I wore linen pants, and a silk scarf, and I was 22.
There it sits now among its peers from california, nova scotia, switzerland. Each one holds a story.
Cheticamp, cape breton, nova scotia. Our honeymoon road trip, moose, the ice wine vineyards with crab shells under the vines, the breathing of the whales audible in the quiet air of the clifftops.
Stechelberg, switzerland. A long thigh-jellying hike down a mountain, hundreds of stairs through the woods, and a roaring foaming river at the bottom.
Gimli, canada. A solo pilgrimage to the narcisse snake dens, the last morning ~ watching gulls on the lake ice, collecting their dropped feathers, that delicious huge cinnamon bun from the little bakery.
My favorite rock is the one from the roman forum. It is very smooth, pale and unassuming. When I was studying in rome, I used to leave my apartment and walk past nero's palace, past the colosseum, and down the ancient roads in the forum. Sometimes I would tag along with tours and sometimes just walk, imagining. I would always look at the house of the vestal virgins for a long time. When I hold that little stone, trodden by the feet of thousands, I feel myself back there, finding my way down the crooked streets and breathing the air that they had breathed.