Few things are as enjoyable to me as digging in the dirt, moving around stones and creating a space that blends natural elements to create a place for people to gather, reflect or enjoy.
Remember Pet Rocks? If you’re old enough you may remember hearing about them. I think the granite of the Canadian Shield here at our Algonquin Park home are my pet rocks. I’m also partial to colourless limestone or virtually any stones that find their way to our home.
Have you ever travelled and brought back a stone from your journey? Do you keep it nearby? In a garden? On a shelf? Why? Over the years we’ve lived at Northern Edge Algonquin on Kawawaymog Lake, I’ve spoken to many folks who have returned home with luggage that weighed a bit more upon return than departure because of the friends they have brought home. Last week when we were hosting a group of students one of the students, handling a rather large crystal amethyst stone asked if he could bring it home. Some stones I said, can leave, but others, like this one we had placed on the land in the hopes that it would inspire guests who encountered it. So it was meant to stay. I hope he looked around and found something smaller that he could remember his visit by.
My connection to granite first took root on a canoe trip into Algonquin Park where quite by accident I discovered a sense of timeless peace by balancing granite boulders one-atop-another. I would seek to find a balance point by slowly spinning the stone so that it rested – seeming to defy gravity – in perfect balance with the stone’s centre of gravity located over a very small base. I then progressed to balancing these temporary stone sculptures many stones high. When a bit wind would blow, down would topple my temporary sculpture. I’m sure more than a few folks on canoe trips in Algonquin Park encountered my temporary structures, only to touch them to see whether they were glued together causing them to tumble onto the ground.
I remember watching in glee one time at folks following us through an Algonquin Park portage where I had left just such a statue of stone. As the stones tumbled to the ground, they looked around to see if anyone had noticed their infraction.
I had learned to appreciate impermanence of working with stones – albeit much smaller ones, when we hosted Tibetan monks for multiple retreats in the late 1990’s and early part of the 21st century. Over 3-4 days four monks would painstakingly create a three dimensional sand painting of a mandela, only to sweep the sand up during a grand ceremony and procession to pour the sand into Kawawaymog Lake to bring peace to all waters connected to our watershed.
Such beauty, such attention to detail – destroyed in a few moments.
These days, I hope my stonework lasts a little longer.
I’ve purchased and stacked thousands of boulders and stones along our breakwall to create a softer interface between land and water. It’s really only visible from the lake, but we spend so much time paddling we get to enjoy the views as we look back to the Algonquin Park nature retreat – and the stone wall.
I created a stone garden – an outdoor gathering place for a handful of folks to sit upon large boulders in the forest, sharing stories, listening to the wind or just catching their breath after walking up the hill to the Humble Hearth log cabin or fire circle.
Three stone patios – two at the lakefront (one granite, the other limestone) are the base for patio tables and chairs where guests can enjoy an outdoor dining experience or just sit among the gardens. The most recent patio surrounds our well at the Humble Hearth 120-year-old log cabin.
Despite the occasional visit by a number of hungry black flies, the warm weather of May always seems to be the time of the year I get down on my hands and knees, get dirty and play with the stones. Some years I’m just looking for small boulders to place along the edge of trails defining the boundary between garden, forest and path. Every year, I look forward to Algonquin in May. After the rains have subsided I start getting dirty placing stones on the land in a way that helps guests connect to nature . . . to gather, reflect, and enjoy time in nature.