plain view

At the corner of Dickle Road and Dickle Road rises a series of hills no one cared about until it was too late.  And so, a junk yard was born. The gullies and ravines are stacked with smashed cars, such that an eight-foot-high fence was later built to shield the countryside from the eyesore. But, given that the junkyard is on a slope, the fence doesn’t do its job. We still see the flash of beached car bodies pressed against the Emerald Hills.  Eventually enough people cared enough to name the hills,  but by then it was  too late to move the junkyard further east.

Opposite the junkman’s corner sits a loosely fenced pasture of grasses and out buildings, sharing a history with a small house near the county road. Last weekend, the gravel drive sported one yellow Estate Sale yard sign.

Before I saw the sign, I saw the post. Stop, I said.

We stopped.

Between the mailbox and the chicken-wire fencing stood a six-foot-tall blonde post, with a girth easily eighteen inches in diameter.  Petrified wood serving as a gate post!

I waded through the dewy, tall grasses  to the backside of an old stucco shed, and found my place beside an elderly Hispanic man stooped and shuffling along the edges of the out buildings, pushing a 30 gallon bucket. A bucket o rocks for $5! After he had sorted all the rocks in front of him that were piled along the edge of the shed, he’d scoot to his left and I’d scoot with him, sorting through the rocks he hadn’t taken. Dinosaur bones, agate, crystals, lava, petrified wood, pretty sandstone.

Hewhostoppedwithoutaskingwhy had disappeared inside the house. I scooted and shuffled with the little man to my left. Now and then he would grunt and lean his stooped body towards mine. I’d lean my stooped body towards his to hear him whisper: ya ya that’s a good one. you have dinosaur bone. Or: take that one, you find crystals when you crack it open. He was striking stones, looking for flint. I had my mind on fossils. Hewhostops eventually came to find me and never once said More Rocks, Sherry, Really?, but instead he joined our stooped line.

I told him I had already looked through the rocks he was looking through. He gave me one of those I Hear What You Are Saying But I Am Choosing Not To Listen smiles. And in short order he nudged me, with two fist-sized rocks in his hands. I nodded my That Is Neither Flint Nor Fossil nod. He nudged me harder.  I slid my glasses back to the bridge of my nose. There in his hands were two artifacts the Indians must have used in scraping hides and grinding grain.

This from the man who had earlier noticed that every knife in the kitchen drawer and every $1 pocket knife for sale inside the shambled house were sharply sharpened, such that he complimented the grandson running the estate sale of his grandfather’s house; such that the grandson was so pleased someone would take the time to notice something that spoke kindly of his grandfather, he took Hewhostops out to the garage in the far pasture and located four hard-to-find files; such that from now on when we go camping, the sharp axe we take with us will chop firewood in memory of Manwhosharpenedblades.

And at home, my home: I spilled the bucket of rocks beneath my bedroom window.  I don’t want to say I own these rocks. I don’t want to say I have them. I want someone to come stoop beneath my window and fondle the fossils and agates and geodes, strike one against the other checking for a source of flint. And in the course of doing so, I want someone else to take a scraper rock in hand and feel the way it feels to hold onto something others held long before we lived.


And did I add a geode to my bucket of rocks? Yes, I did. And did I crack it open? No, I will not.




About redmitten

author of Cracking Geodes Open, Making Good Use of August, and The Peppermint Bottle. poetry editor for IthacaLit. website:

25 responses to “plain view

  1. Love the rocks, and the uncracked rock.

  2. John

    “I Hear What You Are Saying But I Am Choosing Not To Listen smile.” I’m familiar with that one but have never encountered “That Is Neither Flint Nor Fossil nod.” At least I don’t think so.

    Love the rocks and what they say.

  3. Mike Harrell

    And did the joy, so present in this writing, delight us? Why yes. Yes it did.

  4. kerry

    If rocks could talk…I try to listen all the time. When I find an ancient arrowhead on the beach, I want to know it’s story…This post , I feel the dust on the side of the road and hear the cars baking in the sun. Lovely images. Thanks.

  5. wuffda

    why choose not to crack? are you hoarding that which might be over the uncertainty of what is? i think you have already cracked it in your mind and you know exactly what is inside…me too….

  6. Pingback: our river, our rock « too much august not enough snow

  7. rolls like thunder through the hills. enjoyed this very much, right from the exquisite, powerful first sentence to the last. cheers from berlin!

  8. “one of those I Hear What You Are Saying But I Am Choosing Not To Listen smiles” is a universally-known fact, but I have never seen it written before … and I am glad you will not crack open the geode.

  9. I love this post. I laughed at the name Hewhostoppedwithoutaskingwhy. Very clever. And don’t worry you aren’t the only one who brings rocks and things home. I live in Alaska and I have lots of interesting rocks and seaweed and shells and driftwood and feathers and…..

  10. I love this captivating piece and you’re unique voice throughout. Original, interesting and very clever!

  11. What a fabulous opening paragraph 🙂

  12. Rose Hunter

    “I don’t want to say I own these rocks. I don’t want to say I have them….” that para. 🙂 ++

    That geode will crack open one day, all on its own, is what I think.

  13. Hate these smiles: “He gave me one of those I Hear What You Are Saying But I Am Choosing Not To Listen smiles.”
    Love this piece. The final image and symbolism… remarkable.

  14. really enjoyed… I tried to pick out a favourite bit but couldn’t, the whole atmosphere of the piece was just warm and comforting and filled with discovery, especially those discoveries where you say “oh I know that xxx” and see it in words for the first time

    • redmitten

      julia- good to hear from you. it’s way cool to discover the warmth/comfort in this reached you. and to see it in words for the first time…that makes me think of what it is like to see my words in your artwork for the first time. (!)

  15. It’s a good choice not to crack it open, I think, not knowing and just imagining the secrets is sometimes the true gift. I have stones from my ‘home’ river next to my computer screen too, so I can look at them any time I want.

    • redmitten

      brigita- i like your term: “my home river”. not every river gives the same rocks, and it’s nice to run into someone with rocks always within reach!

  16. Lou

    Wonderful contribution. You really did give me such a sense of place, especially with that rich first paragraph. A real treat to read.

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