by Leslie Anthony
The accumulation of rocks in my life feels like a geological process unto itself. Loosened from the outside world by the stochastic processes of encounter or discovery, they’re carried downstream by the hands of human experience, and deposited in an eddy of my life. Sometimes I will find them in a pocket, sometimes on a counter or in a drawer. The latest was lodged in the side panel of my car, on the passenger side, a place fairly predictable for discarded objects. Still, to find a rock amidst the bricolage of bobby pins, maps, scrunched up Kleenex, and non-functional pens is a rare treat. Being a life-long aspiring geologist (and still aspiring) I’m pretty sure it was some kind of calcite, but given the vagaries of mineral identification I know I could be wrong. Its identity would probably have been easier to suss if I could remember precisely who put it there. Easier still if I knew where it came from but that wasn’t on the radar either. So there was no forensic geology to be conducted—at least not the type I’m capable of. But no worries, it’s always nice to have an interesting rock turn up at your door.
Most of the rocks in my life, of course, are self-delivered, carried home from near and far for either their intrinsic aesthetic or souvenir value. In either case they are most often reminders of outdoor travel and adventure. In my living room, under the glass of a display table can be found the crystals, chunks and weathered pebbles of beaches, benches and mountains from the four corners of the globe—though which corners are which remains elusive. Fossils like trilobites and ammonites abound, along with nondescript brown-grey shards of Ordivician and Silurian coral reefs, some fetched from the climbing cliffs of Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment and limestone plains, others from the depths of riverine gorges hiked on Anticosti Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
Which are which may have been lost in the shuffle of moving, dusting, arranging and rearranging—but the collective memories of those adventures remain vibrant. Ditto, for instance, the bright yellow sulfur, pink salts, and other minerals that journeyed home with me after a trip to Chile’s Atacama desert, a memorable sojurn that included excursions through phantasmagorical canyons, across salt lakes, and to the summit of a 6,000-metre volcano. Perhaps most of my wayward rocks, in fact, come from volcanic landscapes—whether rubble ejected far from the cone in a cataclysmic explosion or one of the myriad lavas in a spectrum of colours, cleavage and grain that have variously flowed down volcanic flanks into or under the cooling regimes air, water, snow or ice. Originating on several continents, most have been gathered on ski mountaineering trips up volcanoes in places as diverse as Mexico, Iceland, Greece, Canada, Chile and New Zealand. Now, fetched from disparate locales, they form a collective for the trope of skiing on volcanoes.
I know I’m not the only one with a diverse but undifferentiated rock collection from a career of travel. Some have them spread around their window sills, other parsed away in bags, and one friend has a giant bowl in her kitchen filled with rocks from every single one of the 130 locales in which she has worked around the world as a cinematographer for the National Film Board of Canada.
In the end, the rocks we cherish as memories of outdoor adventures may have their true identities scattered in time and space, but admiring this very quality will always remain grounding.