Sunday, June 17, 2012

Still Life with Pebbles

Photo by Ronn Koeppel.
Even after thousands of years of being bound to property, permanent habitation and the trappings of civilization, we still are hunter-gatherers at heart.  Few people can walk along a beach like this one without hunting and gathering pebbles; most stop at some point to look more closely.  To sit and sift through pebbles, searching for just the right ones, is to live in the moment.  Time passes unnoticed, worries fade.  After awhile, we have gathered enough of just the right ones to take home and put on a shelf.
Pebble hunters at Moonstone Beach near Cambria, California, identified by diagnostic postures.
After an hour or so of hunting, I had a handful of lovely green chert pebbles.  These beaches contain an intriguing collection of colored stones from the Franciscan Assemblage to the east, a chaotic mishmash of continental crust, deep sea floor and mantle rock.
Chert pebbles from Moonstone Beach, to 20 mm across.
Farther south, in the coves of Montaña de Oro State Park, the pebbles are equally interesting though not as well-known as those of Moonstone Beach.  Lustrous polished pebbles are less common.  Instead there is a wonderful variety of curiously-patterned ones.
Not all patterns are abstract.  It is amazing what one can find, for example “a sizable portion of the known universe” (RK photo).
To see a World in a grain of sand, and a Universe in a pebble ... why is it that we find stars and the blackness of deep space in a rock?  Maybe it’s just pareidolia, an artifact of pattern recognition.  But maybe it's a glimpse of deeper truths that lie underneath all the patterns, concepts and stories we accumulate through our lives.  Perhaps pebbles like this one are “intimations of a consciousness wider and deeper than the normal”(1).

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.

What was William Blake suggesting? ... God, paradox, innocence, oneness, psilocybin?  All have been put forward in the 200 years since he wrote Auguries of Innocence (2).  But his words may simply be a tribute to the human imagination, with its ability to entertain, amuse, inspire and take us away to more pleasurable worlds, at least for a little while.
It's here somewhere ... 

There are blue-and-brown Earth pebbles on the beaches of Montaña de Oro.  Ronn is searching for the perfect one, with all the continents and some swirling white clouds.  So far it eludes him, but there is joy in the quest itself.

To see Earth in a Pebble.
For now, I’m content with my Jurassic Earth pebble, with the supercontinent Pangaea being rifted apart.  But I know I will continue to hunt for a better one ... and for pebbles of all kinds, gathering them up, bringing them home, adding them to still lifes around the house.
Striped pebbles from the yard, perhaps deposited by the Laramie River ... or perhaps
brought home by hunter-gatherers that lived here before me.

Pebble gatherers hunting for just the right ones; photos by Ronn Koeppel.

(1)  Nicholson & Lee, eds.  The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse. 1917.
(2)  Blake, William. The Poetical Works of William Blake, ed. by John Sampson. London, New York: Oxford University Press, 1908.

1 comment:

  1. there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of finding the perfect pocketstone