Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Scavenger I

You don't have to look far on the prairies to find a pile of weathered stones, overtaken by colonies of lichen. Wherever there are grainfields, farmers have regularly combed the surface to remove anything that might damage machinery.

We were probably the only family ever who regularly raided these stone piles. While every other farmer quarantined the geological pests in sloughs or between adjacent fields, we hauled our field stones back to the home quarter and lined the banks of the dugout to protect against erosion. Years later, when dad carved the nearby slough deeper to build his own little lake, he reinforced the steep east bank with stones as well, and built a little island in the centre fully encircled by stones, choosing and hand-placing each rock with the care of an artist. To fuel the project, we scavenged rocks from a variety of stonepiles inherited from earlier custodians of our fields, some of them so large that they could only be lifted with the front-end loader.

Aside from these artistic ventures, we went rock-picking in the fields as a necessary fieldwork task. In the sunny post-harvest days of autumn, I sat in the passenger seat of the little brown truck with dad at the steering wheel, our windows rolled down and our eyes peeled for both stones and wildlife. It was as much an exploratory safari as a stone-picking trip.

In some of my memories, we used the tractor and front-end loader on these trips. I'd sit in the bucket with my legs dangling, hopping off whenever the tractor slowed and looking for the conspicuous stone that had prompted the stop. If it looked too heavy, dad would hop out of the cab and I would sprint around the area for anything pickworthy before we moved on. I'd sit in the bucket along with the stones until it became too full, then perch on the hitch in back or climb into the cab.

My eldest brother would ramble around the fields in his ancient Datsun—more a hull than a vehicle—and load the back with stones. He'd visit all the spots that he had marked earlier with his GPS, a whole memory-full, all the sites he had noted while doing fieldwork. The driver-side door did not close—did not even have a latch—and was held shut with a tarp strap hooked one end in the door, one end between the front seats. The back door still latched, though, and at the end of his foray he would park at a steep tilt on the edge of the dugout, opening the door for gravity to tumble the stones out of the car.

My earliest collection consisted of stones. Dad would bring home interesting ones he had found, teaching me about basalt and mica, orthoclase and quartz, limestone full of fossils. He had a collection of hammerheads out in the barn, and flinty arrowheads on the livingroom chiffonier, relics of another age. On vacations, I scoured beaches for tide-smoothed stones in shades of green that we didn't have back home. We'd visit rock shops and come home with souvenirs: cavernous crystalline geodes, overgrown cubes of hematite, petrified wood, brilliant polished cross-section slices, animal figures carved from jade. A large ponderous globe, its water of lapis lazuli and the countries in a variety of gemstones.

No comments:

Post a Comment