Box of Rocks
Ralph and Alice, a sort of Love story
I’d been balancing rocks for about five weeks when the box arrived.
But first the balancing thing. In early June, 2014 — about one month after the May car crash that left my noggin a bit scrambled — I received an email with this link in it. It seemed like the right thing to try.
Becoming intimate with rocks provided me with hours of quiet meditation. Just me, the rocks and the demons whirring around inside my head. By the time I’d begun with the rocks I had learned that the odd headaches, the whirring, the buzz, the eye-tracking coordination needed for balance – all of these could go on for many, many months. Even years.
The balancing helped bring me to a place of peace. At first it was small and flawed stones. The smaller and the more flaws the rocks have, the easier they are to balance.
Last July 4th was particularly challenging. I obviously avoided the various fireworks shows. I still couldn’t take much stimulation. I walked our star- spangled neighborhood at dark, wearing sunglasses, with the constant bang-bang-bang echoing through the streets all silenced by my head-gear: noise cancelling headphones.
I found myself at a lot with a nice house and landscaping full of river rock. Lots of smooth large rocks. I thought: “I could spend quite a bit of time here.” And I did. This balance at right was done in the dark, with sunglasses and headphones on… just by feel. (the camera had a flash…)
Later in July our middle child was married. For the day before the wedding, my splendid wife Audrey organized and ran a wonderful picnic for all the wedding invitees.
Wise woman that she is, she knew that in Colorado a summer afternoon storm was likely; if not the rain, at least the wind would almost surely make an uninvited appearance. Winds could catch the tablecloths, sending cups, plates, beverages, bratwurst and condiments everywhere.
So she ordered a box of river rock from a landscape company. The rocks – after being appropriately decorated – would be used to hold down the tablecloths. Brilliant!
Several days before the picnic the box of rocks arrived. I took a peak. They were perfect samples of river rock. Simply beautiful. Just the sight of them excited a young, new, inexperienced balancer of rocks, like me.
Let’s call specimens of perfect river rock Ralph and Alice. Ralph and Alice weren’t born perfect. They are igneous, born of a volcano. Through their upbringing, they were literally raised up – riding high up through the interior of a mountain – through their eons of youth and adolescence. Finally, their days of freedom can begin: they emerge at the mountain’s surface in their young adulthood.
Like any young adult, they already contain the essence of their personalities. Their individual chemistry is complete. Their shapes are more or less final; although time will certainly change that, somewhat. As with any young adult, they have plenty of rough edges. If you casually brushed up against them you could be recklessly scratched or cut. Sharp hard ridges protrude all around them. There is nary a spot where you can contact them and not be bruised, cut or injured, unless you are very tender and careful.
But these are not the perfect Ralph and Alice – the perfect river rocks – we will become endeared to.
Over more eons Ralph and Alice begin their arduous trip down the mountain. Sometimes they tumble quite far all at once. As they collide with and bounce off of other rocks, some of Ralph’s rougher edges are broken off; some of Alice’s abrasive roughness is grated away. For a million years at a time each of them – Ralph or Alice – may lie in one spot or another, with other rocks tumbling over them. Through this process, many more rough edges are rounded off.
Eons and eons of wind and rain erode their rough and pointy abrasive features further. And then … they arrive in a tiny mountain stream. Glaciers come; glaciers go. Tremendous annual snowmelt washes over them, with tiny rocks polishing their surface.
Now it is possible to touch them without much thought — without preparation, without caution — and not get cut.
The journey is not over for Ralph and Alice. Eons of flooding and flow washes them; tumbling and rumbling they go into a mountain river. Here the flow is year round. Tiny stones, many invisible to the human eyes (not just because this is before human life) are swooshing along in the river like a slurry, applying a fine polish to any exposed surface all around Ralph and Alice.
Some years, the springtime current is sufficient to flip Ralph over, so his backside is also ground smooth. Other years, Alice gets flipped and turned over, over and over again, until she looks positively aerodynamic.
Finally, man arrives. Early man does not appreciate their endless beauty, crafted by an eternity – ok, not eternity, but nearly a rock’s full life – of slow, steady work. And so the work goes on, and on, and on.
Ralph is now so smooth that man can rub him across his face and detect nothing of Ralph’s original roughness. There is no abrasiveness; no sharp corners or edges. Or perhaps Alice could be drawn across a bare buttock and elicit a most pleasant reaction. Ralph and Alice are nearly flawless. There is not a crevasse, nor a ridge, nor a crack that the human eye — the human fingertip, the human buttock — can detect.
A box of such rocks arrived at our house the week before our son’s wedding. Ralph and Alice, and lots of other nearly flawless rocks, lay before me … the new and excitable rock balancer.
To a beginner, balancing rocks with no flaws presents one of the greatest challenges. It challenges your patience, your perception, your concentration.
And such a challenge was just what I needed for my buzzing scrambled noggin. Alone that evening, for an unmeasured duration, I balanced lots of perfect little Ralphs and Alices.
At the time we were hosting some dear friends (we like to say that we go back to the war; and in a real way we do) from near Amsterdam: Peter and Audrey Kroesen, and their daughter, Aurora. My wife arranged for Audrey and Aurora to decorate the rocks so that they’d be ready for the picnic.
Each rock had a pair of google-eyes glues on, and each was embellished with green and white ribbon.
After all the rocks were decorated, and everyone had retired for the evening, I decided that I had to do a bit more balancing with Ralph and Alice.
Alone and in the dark, we patiently achieved the perfect balance … all was done by gentle touch.
It took about an hour, but we attained culmination.
Hoping you all attain some balance in life.
Joe Girard © 2015 (with apologies to the memory of Ralph and Alice Cramden — the eternal Honeymooners!)