Our friend John Wright — poet and master stonemason — came visiting last week with his beautiful wife, Marcella, and their son, Jackson. Nearly two decades ago, John built a wonderful wall for me, which I’ve planted with hens-and-chicks and woodbine and which, in spring, is decked out with purple iris.
Shortly after the wall was completed, someone left a cup filled with flowers as an offering. The flowers have long since disappeared, but the mug has remained in place and intact ever since.
“Stones touch human beings because they suggest immortality,” Lucy R. Lippard writes in Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Pre-History, “because they have so patently survived … Earth and stone are two forms of the same material, symbolizing the same force. Virtually every culture we know has attributed to pebbles and stones, rocks and boulders, magical powers of intense energy, luck, fertility, and healing.”
Years ago, Lippard’s “Stones” chapter gave me my first glimmer of understanding about the continuum of stones/Earth/stars/cosmos and why stones are the bones of the ritual art — planting — I make in my garden, the spines of the tales told in my landscapes.
Lippard notes that “gardeners, quarriers, stonemasons, builders, and sculptors are among the rare few to remain in touch with stone, the most basic and most mythic of materials.”
The “meaning” of stone in cosmologies — where many a creation myth depends on stone to open the world to its beginning and/or discharge human life onto the Earth — and the meanings of stones in horticulture, agriculture, and to artists, occupy volumes. Beyond the metaphysical there are tomes about practical uses of stones for buildings, hearths, gateposts, thresholds, roads, and such mytho-practical uses as gravestones, tombs, ley lines, and the prehistoric stone formations that appear to be laid out in imitation of constellations.
Stones have entered my garden across years, without the aid of giants like those who purportedly transported the megaliths of Stonehenge across the Irish Sea. Phallic stones, like those in Greece, Mesoamerica, the Celtic world, Japan, and so on around the world were often placed at the edges of fields to ensure fertility.
My, that is, John’s, stone wall — which my children call “the castle” — graces my imagination with legends and fairy tales. On the other side, John fashioned the stones into a bench and he puzzled, right into the wall, glass tiles and bottles that catch the starlight flickering on the granite. Mother stones and lodestars. Stars and stones stretching toward each other. And back to Earth’s nativity.