Rock, Paper, Refuge

[Previous Suburban Farmgirl, October 2009 – October 2010]

Ever feel stuck about what to say? For somebody who goes through as many words in a week as I do, both written and spoken, you might be surprised to learn that I’m often a big blank. Either I can’t think of anything worthwhile to contribute, or I have so many different wisps of things to talk about that I can’t latch onto just one to grow, or maybe I’m feeling too private about certain details – good tale, bad timing.

Whatever the cause, I can’t get going. (And yes, I’m talking about a way of being as much as a way of blogging. )

So what do I do in tongue-tied times like those?

I stack rocks.

Sitting on my desk is a heavy Orrefors crystal bowl — I’m not a crystal girl, but this was a gift — that’s filled with smooth stones I’ve hand-plucked from Lakes Superior and Michigan. I like the contrast of fragile glass with rocks that would break it if thrown at it, rather than resting inside it. (Um, yes, also in the top foto you can see a dice-popper from my original Pop-o-matic Trouble game….)

When I’m stumped, my fingers walk themselves right over to that bowl. They pick up one or two stones – velvety, exactly the textured smoothness of the fabric, but without its nap. I raise one against my cheek. Ice cool, like the water they came from.

Then my fingers start stacking and sorting. The black and white solids look sculptural. The dull pink granite looks nothing like it did when I found it. I still like to run water over them, to make them turn raspberry and razzmatazz (a trick that used to make my kids ooh and ahh!).

Suddenly, I’m calmer. Calm enough to hear myself think.

How can a bunch of rocks hold so much allure? Well, I’m a Great Lakes gal by birth. A Michigander, my dad’s from the far northwest corner of the Upper Peninsula, closer to Wisconsin, closer to Canada, than to the Detroit suburb where I was born. Luckily, I spent every summer up there as a girl. So these stones speak to me.

What they say: “Relax. Mess around. Smell the pine. Hear the waves. Take a seat on some driftwood and let your mind wander. Count the whitecaps. Feel the sun. Come back here to this the place you love. This place that loves you.”

That’s why we all bring the outdoors in, don’t you think? Outside is where we dream bigger, feel better, feel like our real, dirty, unvarnished self. (Above: My sister Patti and I on Mackinac Island, Michigan.)

One family I know saved a baby-food jar of sand from every beach they visited. A boy brought home a different, emblematic rock from each state on an epic Out West journey (petrified wood from Arizona, gold from California, etc.). Who hasn’t pressed a plucked wildflower into a book? On shelves on my back porch, I keep pieces of whelk I plucked on long walks at Cape Hatteras:

I also bring the outside in more conventionally, with vases of flowers. They help the changing seasons come into my house, which nets the same effect, of being able to lose myself in dirt and sky, even when I have to be inside. Currently, that means I have chrysanthemums, of course (in an old sugar bucket):

…some dried eucaplytus:

…and, until Thanksgiving, pumpkins and gourds:

Wow! More than I thought. Wheat and pussywillows, too (more crystal…need some new vases!):

Best for last: Just look at these gorgeous dried “pumpkin lanterns.” I don’t even know what they are or where they come from, so I have no direct connection with their sense of place. (Anybody know? When I Google the name, which probably isn’t real, I get pictures of jack-o-lanterns.) I saw them in a florist shop through the window and, uncharacteristically, had to have them. And now I just about swoon every time I see them. Though this particular natural element whispers of mystery, not familiarity, I can get lost in their orangeness just as blissfully, as evocatively, I can get lost in my black Superior stones.

And sure enough, after zoning out in these distant places for awhile, I’m usually able to organize my thoughts into, well, a thought or two. Sometimes, even a few full sentences. Or a whole blog post!

Does bringing the outdoors in help you think, too? (We can’t all live as seamlessly indoors-outdoors as MaryJane, sleeping and bathing under the stars, especially here in suburbia. Hmmm, can we?) What brings the outside in best for you? A rock? A bouquet? A bearskin rug??

(Above: This is actually my background screen on my computer…my Superior stones in their original habitat! But playing with the real thing is much more inspirational than just looking at these digital representations….)

Leave a comment 22 Comments

  1. Heather says:

    Enjoyed your post. I love your polish pottery. I have several patterns myself. I sadly noticed a crack in one of my favorite pieces today :( No longer living in Europe a quick trip to Poland to find a replacement, just doesn’t seem to be part of the plan. I love seeing how people display their pottery. It really deserves to be seen, not just stored away in a cabinet.

  2. Terri says:

    On my work desk is a small sbowl of sea glass and shells joyously found on the Outer Banks of NC. Just a glance at the soft colors and shapes takes me right back to the beaches and memories that I love.

    BTW: Your happy orange flowers are Chinese Lanterns (physalis alkekengi), a perennial. They are beautiful!

  3. carol branum says:

    hi,your post reminded me of nights when I feel the cupard is bare and my son says there is just nothing in this house to eat and i am thinking too,that there is just nothing to eat,and then I start just throwig odds and ends together,and by the time I am actually done my meal is fabulous.Yes,bringing the outdoors in really lifts my spirits.Here in Mo.This morning all of the breakfast ladies were talking about bringing in our plants before frost.Have a great day,carol

  4. Melanie says:

    That second to last picture of the ‘pumpkin lanterns’ looks like the plant Chinese Lanterns. My neighbor here in NY grows these along an arbor. Quite unusual looking. Supposedly easy to grow from seed.

    http://www.burpee.com/perennials/chinese-lanterns/chinese-lantern-physalis-alkekengi-prod000013.html

  5. Shery says:

    Yes…bringing as much of the outdoors indoors is decorative therapy for me. I love the natural offerings that every season allows you to take samples of. A bowl of fallen leaves mixed with acorns, evergreen springs & cones is free "vitamin R"…as in Restorative :o)
    Love your post and the thought gathering journey.

  6. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Who needs Google when you have Farmgirl? Thanks for the comments (and whisper comments) identifying Chinese lanterns! Looks like there are many different varieties? Anyone grow them? Hard?

  7. Carlisa says:

    I to am a rock girl. I have a shallow dish filled with all different types of rocks tht I collected from the poudre river in Colorado. It was were I went to relax and rejuvenate when I lived outside Fort Collins, at a verystressful time in my life. I look at them almost everyday and I am transported to the cool forested mountains, riverside laying on a huge boulder just soaking in the sun and fresh pine filled air, or watching the golden fall aspens shimmer in the wind. It was and is my happy place and it always brings my mind and body peace and calm even just concentrating on the rocks that take me back there.

  8. Jennifer says:

    I love bringing the outdoors in! And yes it does calm me and help me think. I have a stick collection on my wall in my small hallway….and rocks everywhere!!(Our family inherited a love for rocks from our Dad) I also have the Chinese Lanterns. They self seed so NO they aren’t hard to grow. I collect new ones every year. Keep them out of direct sunlight and they will keep their color for years!! When we go to Mexico to visit family, my husband’s family laugh at me because I collect rocks down there to bring home!! :-)

  9. Jennifer says:

    I cannot agree more on how bringing the outdoors in can calm you and bring you joy. Great post.

  10. I live in Michigan. Did not grow up here, that I did in Indiana. But I have lived here for over 30 years and hubs and I just got back a couple of weeks ago from a long weekend in Grand Marais. We spent many hours walking on the beach and yes we always bring back a lot of pretty rocks. I usually pick out my favorite and put in a jar for that particular trip. But my grand children like to play with them and I only have one jar that has not been opened and mixed up with all the other years and beaches. I also have many pictures of the rocks covered with water that look quite like yours. I loved this post.

  11. Keleen says:

    I love your dried arrangement! I have one also, full of interesting and varied shapes and sizes. I don’t even know what all of the plants are, except for oats, thistle, and eucalyptus. Here in CA it doesn’t rain for 6 months, so there are lots to choose from–already perfectly dried just for the picking. And now I definitely need to grow some Chinese lanterns for a colorful addition. They are gorgeous! One good thing about a dried arrangement–NO WATERING!!

  12. mellee says:

    I can so relate to your post this week. Getting back to nature, even in a small way, always calms me, makes me feel centered. Even if it is just taking a walk with the dog and my son and watching the bay, or riding our bikes to the beach and feeling the sand under our tires…so relaxing. In this current issure of maryjanesfarm there is a section on bringing outside in. i have been working on such a project! I am using bark to create a "treetruck" vase for dried local flowers. cannot wait until it is done. can also relate to your screensaver; mine is a bamboo forest. look forward to your next post.

  13. Jennifer says:

    My husband and I have started collecting on our journeys – I keep them in old glass canning jars that I have collected over the years. We have shells from Florida, stones from our Maine trip, small pieces of driftwood from various beaches. We enjoy looking at the collection, but the bottles and the inhabitants of the bottles, and we look forward to building the collection together.

  14. SuburbanFarmgirl says:

    Farmgirl Dawn sent me this message via whisper because she wasn’t sure if it was okay to quote so much from the link she gave, but she did give me the okay to pass along some of the info, which I’m doing now (cut slightly) because it’s pretty interesting!

    Good morning Paula !

    From another Michigander (transplanted to various states much like yourself), I couldn’t help but do some additional reasearch for you and found the following:

    Physalis alkekengi (franchetii)
    Chinese Lanterns
    A member of the Nightshade family, this wonderfully cheerful magick herb is associated with Venus on account of its bright orange-red lanterns, which sometimes give the plant the name "Love in a Cage." The lanterns are great for love magick and make wonderful cut or dried flowers because they keep their color for a long time, being especially good to see on gloomy fall days. The plant’s small white flowers are pollinated by bees. … Inside is a red berry. The dead ripe fruit (not the lantern) is edible but doesn’t taste very good–it is sour on account of having more vitamin C than lemons. The rest of the plant, especially the leaves and unripe berries, is poisonous and can even be fatal if eaten, containing solanine, the same stuff that makes green potatoes and tomato leaves poisonous…. Western allopathic medicine is investigating the anti-tumor capabilities of this plant.
    …This plant is also known as Japanese Lantern, Winter Cherry, Strawberry Tomato…and Love In a Cage.

    What a great write up, huh? Do hope you find it as fascinating as I.

    As for bringing the outside in, let’s see, I’ve some sand, tropical plants, a glass palm tree, a crystal figurine of a beaver, ceramic jovial rabbits, seashells, and my favorite pottery which is ever grounding in its’ shades of purples, blues, and browns. And let’s not forget how MaryJane’s Farmgirls do their share and then some in keeping us all connected between the life’s everyday happenings and those times of being outside that we love and cherish so much.

    With each writing, the inspiration to ponder more frequently is ever present. Keep up the wonderful work of your heartfelt writings, you are truly so appreciated !

    Reading the Farmgirl updates helps me feel supported and nourished from like minded gals, thank you !

    May a bounty of blessings be yours.
    Happy Autumn,
    Dawn

  15. TJ says:

    I’m a rock girl too. Early this Spring I interviewed a family who were dealing with their great-grandmother suffering with Alzheimer’s. When they finally had to move Great-Grandma to a "home", one of the things they didn’t know what to do with was a big quart jar filled with her favorite rocks, as she (like me) always tucked neat rocks away in her pockets and they found their way home with her.

    As soon as I got home that day, I carried a quart mason jar around my house and moved rocks from dresser top, bookshelves, entertainment center, etc all into one central location. My Happy Rock Jar! Hopefully it will mean something to my family when I am gone, some day!!

  16. linda says:

    I love this … I understand completely! I have a coffee table piled high with beach glass, and collection of stones on my desk. Unfortunately I’m not able to deal with plants.

  17. lee says:

    I too have a sand and a shell collection. My sand comes from Maine, Virginia, Florida, San Francisco, Sand Diago, Hawaii, Cuba, Japan and Texas and Iraq…not to mention Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Many people do not understand my collection, but it cost nothing and is a reminder to me of where I have been and with whom as well as where my children have traveled to in the Military. I count it as special as my photos. It also reminds me that my children have done well and honor me and their country with their service. Lee

  18. KimberlyD says:

    Guess I am odd. I only have african violet plant and one little gourd. I did collect stuffed Garfields till my ex gave me my last one and since he is my ex, and the last one to give me one Garfield lost his appeal and I been collecting him since he came out. I did collect porclin dolls but now my adult niece has them.
    By the way I am a Michigander too…..
    When I lived in Utah for a few years and than moved back to Michigan me and a friend drove up to Tawas to Lake Huron beach for I missed the "Great" Lakes and wanted to see them and feel the sand and water, it was cold but I walked in the water anyways…heck whats cold Great Lakes water to a Michigan girl right! ;c)

  19. Christy says:

    I am a Michigan woman also…used to have little jars of rocks and sand sitting around on bookshelves. I also had 3 Creches made of driftwood found on the beaches of Lake Michigan. I went through a divorce after 32 years. I gave the Creches to my children who were raised making frequent trips to the beautiful lakes in Michigan. The rocks and sand went by the wayside when I moved to Texas. I’ve been here a couple years now…the pull to save rocks is coming back :) I have a couple sparkly pieces of rock from the Brazos River area on my kitchen windowsill. I miss Michigan.

  20. Debbie says:

    We love to bring the outdoors in too! We’ve collected rocks, shells, feathers, acorns, leaves, deer horns, driftwood, walking sticks, sand, and sea glass from all across our great United States down to picking up treasures right in our own back yard. Outside heals the inside.. We need nature to be balanced…all year round! Lucky for us we have the mountains, oceans, deserts, tropics, and farmland to lure us out of our dwellings and connect with nature!
    Great post for someone who was tongue tied…!
    Deb

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