From “Future Home of the Living God” by Louise Erdrich

The Pebble

I live yet because of a common pebble.

Yesterday the bubble burst.  Once again, I saw into the depths of things; only it was worse because things are so much deeper now.  Not one aspect of the world could appeal to me or affect me.  Not the end of things and not the beginning.  There were no colors.  Everything was neutral.  From this I know that hell is not black or fiery.  It is an unvaried gray without promise.  And so the morning passed with its coffee and dry cereal.  By noon, I was at the Superpumper, deciding which method to use.

As I walked with a length of rope toward the woods out back of the shop, a pebble flipped into my shoe.  It hurt.  Each step was painful.  I stopped and removed it.  The stone was a bit of ferric oxide, earth banded hematite, strayed from the Mesabi Range, where one-third of the world’s iron ore was at once time located.  This piece of stone was  laid down as a sediment in the Animikean sea sometime during the middle Precambrian period in Minnesota, and was probably between 2.6 and 1.6 billion years old.  The pebble was a rich, deep, hot, clay red, striated and shaped like a tiny toaster.

I tossed it over my shoulder and continued down the path.  Another pebble.  Ouch.  This time it was pointed.  This, too, was no ordinary rock, but a sharp of graywacke or greenstone, a basaltic lava that was perhaps shoved to the surface of the earth 3.5 billion years ago during the Keewatin.  Howah! Lotta time.  I dropped the stone to the side of the path and kept walking toward a particular tree I’d picked out sometime before.  A good strong branch jutted from the trunk.  Perfect to swing a rope over.

Oops, another.  These low docksiders, whiteman’s shoes, seemed to scoop the rocks right in.  This pebble was a dime-sized circle of black basalt shaped by lake waves and probably poured out at one time from a deep volcanic fissure under the sea that covered us.  The lava cooled and was broken into bits that washed away, eventually to the shore, changing on the way to this lovely water-stroked smoothness.  This one I placed carefully upon a stump.  The youngest pebble, it was probably no more than several million years old.

I had nearly reached the tree when a final rock cut me — actually cut me as I stepped down upon it.  An agate, inexplicably shattered, it showed the grain of the fossilized wood and algae that it had once been.  What colors!  A light bronze, gray, black, and deep red.  There was a landscape within its features.  Chert surrounded by jasper.  A living thing.  It would make, I thought a beautiful necklace for Sweetie, were it only polished.

I don’t know why they want me here on earth, the little rocks.  I don’t know why they care about me as they do.  I only know that by the time I reached the tree I had no choice but to fling the rope away from myself.  I turned back, my fingers rubbing the little agate.    All the way back to the store not a single rock slipped underfoot.

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