Something made me stop, look and take a picture of this rock:
Undoubtedly the oldest thing within sight; the most ancient and venerable presence gracing this particular patch of Thrunton Wood in Northumberland, it emanated a strong sense of look-at-me… be aware. Its solidity was a grounding of Time. An anchor, of sorts, for the ephemeral.
That was back in the summer of 2006. Now – gradually, gradually through more recent days – I’ve been treading my way through David Abrams’ visceral and deeply grounding book Becoming Animal – An Earthly Cosmology.
Reading it is like placing your feet on the earth, following the tracery of the words through the landscape, tracking the signs and signals of the senses.
In Wood and Stone, the third chapter of Becoming Animal, David Abram describes the feeling ancient rock evokes. Of how cleaved folds of stone speak to something primal in ourselves:
‘A solitary rock or a clear-cut stump is utterly inanimate only as long as “being” itself is taken to be static and inert. Our animal senses, however, know no such passive reality………. To my animal body, the rock is first and foremost another body engaged in the world: as I turn my gaze toward it, I encounter not a defined and inanimate chunk of matter but an upturned surface basking in the sun’s warmth, or a pink and sharp-edged structure protruding from the ground like the shattered bone of the hillside, or an old and watchful guardian of this land – a resolute and sheltering presence inviting me now to crouch and lean my spine against it.
Each thing organizes the space around it, rebuffing or sidling up against other things; each thing calls, gestures, beckons to other beings or battles them for our attentions; things expose themselves to the sun or retreat among the shadows, shouting with their loud colors or whispering with their seeds; rocks snag lichen spores from the air and shelter spiders under their flanks; clouds converse with the fathomless blue and metamorphose into one another; they spill rain upon the land, which gathers in rivulets and carves out canyons………. Things “catch our eye” and sometimes refuse to let go; they “grab our focus” and “capture our attention,” and finally release us from their grasp only to dissolve back into the overabundant world. Whether ecstatic or morose, exuberant or exhausted, everything swerves and trembles; anguish, equanimity, and pleasure are not first internal moods but passions granted to us by the capricious terrain.’
…And look who “grabbed our focus,” emerging from the knotty, silent moment when the rock made us stand still:
A glimpse of red – and of wary tolerance. A recognition and appreciation of stillness. Rock-steady watching; a pact of grace:
And, beyond that; another still, cautious moment of red – a blur of red squirrel. The first any of us had ever seen in the wild:
My daughter was nine years old at the time. Standing beneath that tree – delight and concentration rooted in her small, slight frame – she thought of all the times she’d seen red squirrels in books or on TV. All the wishes she had made. All those “what-ifs” that had seeded in her mind.
“Oooh!” she exclaimed moments later, as the woods released us from our still, silent encounters. “Dreams do sometimes come true!”
And quietly, quietly, her pleased astonishment at this small, red, earthy revelation – a gift from the ‘capricious terrain’ – sealed the moment rock solid in her memory.