An Illustrated Love Letter to Deep Time and Earth’s Memory – The Marginalian


A Stone Is a Story: An Illustrated Love Letter to Deep Time and Earth’s Memory

We are denizens of an enormous pebble drifting through the cosmic ocean of pure spacetime — a planet made a world largely by its rockiness. Rock gave us mountains and beaches, bridges and kitchen countertops, gave us the first Promethean fire that sparked civilization. A rock is a reliquary of the story of life on Earth — the open face of a canyon, its lined strata exposing evolutionary epochs; the fossil undusted on the forest trail, embodying the haunting truth that “we are all potential fossils still carrying within our bodies the crudities of former existences.”

This, perhaps, is what makes rocks so comforting, so pleasing to the touch of hand and mind. Lining my bookshelf are stones collected from places I have been: a perfectly round pebble of milky quartz from Puget Sound, a dark piece of basalt with dazzling white veins from Big Sur, a sparkly piece of metamorphic schist from the Rila Mountains of my native Bulgaria — a kind of altar to deep time and to the memory of the Earth.

That is what Leslie Barnard Booth celebrates in her poetic book A Stone Is a Story (public library), illustrated in soulful watercolor by Australian artist and bookmaker Marc Martin.

The story begins with that most primal of delights — a child on a beach picking up a stone — out of which unspools a tunnel into deep time: the lava oozing from Earth’s magmatic depths to make the rock, the mighty roots of ancient trees sculpting it into shape, the glaciers grinding it and sending it down the river, until it is “ground down to a speck of sand and sent to sea.”

it has waited
for millions of years.
Bits of seaweed and shell and bone
have piled on top of it
have become part of it.

A stone has felt the slow drifting
the slow           shifting
of the surface of the earth.

In their slow formation, rocks become the planet’s most steadfast witness — we see the dinosaurs come and go, we see the first humans make the first music, we see mountains rise and crumble, until they become the pebbles on the beach by the wonder-smitten child.

Every rock we touch is the emissary of timescales we cannot begin to comprehend without confronting our own transience, and yet radiating from it is also the quiet assurance that the world goes on and on, that we are part of something vast and magnificent, that beneath all the tumult and turmoil of our human lives there is a steadfast continuity that anchors life to eternity.

Complement A Stone Is a Story with Rita Dove’s stunning poem “The Fish in the Stone” and Temujin Doran’s beautiful short film about the life and death of mountains, then revisit this illustrated love letter to rivers.


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