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  • Writer's picturejamesbriankerr

Peaceable Man Files #34: Gather Ye Rocks While Ye May

Random musings on my gypsy existence at my cabin in the Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania and wherever else life takes me.


The farmer who tends our meadows up north has been out this past week planting field corn for his cow herd. Which means it’s time for me to get out there and do a little rock gathering.


This region of the Endless Mountains is rich with Pennsylvania Bluestone and other sandstone and limestone rocks left by glacier deposits eons ago. The stones bubble up to the surface over the winter as the ice and frost do their work. When the farmer’s corn planter cuts furrows in the ground for the seeds, the disc tines loosen the rocks, making them easy pickings for an opportunistic rock gatherer such as myself.


Rachael and I love gathering the stones from the field for hardscaping projects around the cabin. The stones are gorgeous: varying shades of blue, gray, tan, and a clayish mauve. What’s more, because they’re sedimentary rocks, they come out of the ground remarkably flat, which makes them perfect for landscaping. Why pay good money for a pallet of stone from the garden center when the material is abundant in your own field?


The best things in life are free. Air. Water. Rocks. Love. Food, when we grow our own.


Over the past couple years, we used these beautiful stones to create border walls around the wraparound deck. I estimate we’ve laid about sixty feet of garden walls so far, and we continue to find uses for the stones. They add beauty and character to the place.


I feel like a kid on an Easter egg hunt whenever Rachael and I go rock-gathering. One of us drives the Kawasaki Mule UTV while the other tosses the stones in the back. At the house, we wash off the rocks with the hose, let them dry in the sun, and see what we’ve got.


Every stone is unique, like snowflakes. It’s amazing how many there are. For every stone that we pick up, two more lay within reach. In a twenty-minute run one day this past week, I gathered close to thirty of the rocks, which we plan to use to build a rock wall around the ornamental wishing well that covers the well cap in front of the house.


Beyond the beauty and the flatness of these field rocks, another reason I prefer them to quarried or manufactured stone is all the markings on the surface of the rocks. Look close and you can see the scars left by farmer’s plows and discs over the years. I know from my research that this area of northeastern Pennsylvania was settled by farmers in the early 1800s, which means there are more than 200 years of history etched into these rocks.


Whenever I pick up one of these stones and bring it to the house, I feel like I am participating, in my own small way, in the history of this ground. I am like one of those farmers of old who would painstakingly carry the stones to the edge of the field whenever their horse-drawn plows would strike a rock while plowing. You can see those old lichen-covered rock walls everywhere you drive around this area.

Farmer out planting field corn

All history, like all news, is local. It’s in the ground on which we walk.


I am a witness to that history whenever I go rock gathering. I see that history whenever I behold the border walls around the deck.


The past is alive. It’s alive in us, in the ancestors who made us who and what we are, and it’s alive as well in the materials we take from the Earth for our human purposes.


Later this week, I plan to go on another rock-gathering run. Best do it now, before the corn gets too high. To paraphrase the 17th century poet Robert Herrick


Gather ye bluestones while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying!

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