BASALT AND ME

Rocks do indicate change. Perhaps this is why when we marry, custom has it that we trade rocks to prove our imperfect human love for one another in hopes that it will last as long as basalt or obsidian or granite. Diamonds are a 10 on a geologist scale; basalt is an 8 or a 9.

My basalt rock that I hold in my hand I picked from my beach – or the beach I chose to call mine, although I own no portion of it in any legal sense. I own it in memory only from my childhood escapades on its shoreline, and my sojourns here as an adult. But I am comforted to know that for as long as I exist in a limited form of democracy such as currently exists within the national boundaries where I have found myself a citizen – that is, the nation Canada — I may visit the shore freely, legally – at least, to any public beach. 

When Samuel de Champlain first viewed this Lake in 1615 – the first of the Great Lakes to be seen by a white man, he undoubtedly was thrilled, as he would likely have known how important such a discovery would prove to be. If he had only known there was another “twin” lake – arguably its other half and linked by the Saginaw Strait, but a half that would be treated as a separate lake, named Lake Michigan, and an even larger lake than each of those to their north, the mighty Lake Superior, and the added bonus of two smaller, yet substantive lakes, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, to their south and east, it would have been to him almost as exciting as an astronaut discovering Plutonians on Pluto. The five Great Lakes form the largest source of fresh water in the world, and in a world where water is growingly a shrinking vital resource, its existence on our continent is a crucial ecological, economical, and political factor that the two nations which border and share this vast ecosystem should better protect and safeguard.

The lake was, yes, enormous, and yet taken for granted then by all of us as children. My mother, a never-idle teacher and young widow, had definitely learned about the big stuff in life, and did not sweat much else. She ensured we got to the Port, our beach, regularly over the summer. One thing I realize now, too, is that having a bookworm for a mother, we were allowed tremendous freedom while at the beach, and she didn’t care if we stayed all afternoon until sundown.  With no father to insist otherwise, she let us stay for the sunset every time, unless Mother Nature closed down our show with her own. 

Facing westward, the Lake Huron shoreline boasts gorgeous sunsets, and thunderstorms.  Crimson tangerines, luminous pinks, blue-purple ballads, greys raked with blacks, whites, irridescent streaks of light. An opera of colour. Tempestuous cumulous empires of cloud, or blue sky that stretches forever. The twitter of grasshoppers, sand blowing up suddenly from nowhere, the endless crash of the surf – on the beach with my eyes closed, butt deliciously pushing into a hollow of sand, the sun burning down on my wet skin – this was bliss. 

The Port had a river feeding into it, and the undertow there was notorious. The warning signs we studiously ignored, yet there were drownings every season. Mom brought mini-sandwiches, homemade cookies, and drinks from a styrofoam cooler, and gave us money to walk the half-mile to the local store to buy ice cream or a soda. By the end of the afternoon, after swimming and sun, I remember the feeling in my lungs after so much time in the water. Not unpleasant – that I-am-happy-to-be-alive kind of feeling, every breath a joy, a vital exertion, every inward gasp an event. My skin, an organ after all, although I was not then aware of this fact, felt exuberant, blissfully alive, cold, every hair follicle on my arms rising to claim its pleasure. 

In the pockets of my shirt, or in the folds of my towel, I would have my prized rocks, the ones I would have collected along the shore, chosen for their particular shape or colour, or some distinguishing characteristic that drew my eye. And always among them would be at least one basalt rock. Blue-black, with a haze of delicate green like the one in my hand, a soft patina over the surface from the centuries of scouring from sand, rain, rock, salt, and fresh water seas. As a child, they felt in my hand like skin, as this one does, as smooth and almost as soft as human skin. To me, in those days, they were like treasure. 

To me now, the one in my hand represents the mystery of the place, in history, in my own history, in the history of the continent, and in the history of the nations and the peoples that have existed on this shore. For basalt is the most common and most important of all rocks. When I was eight, they were simply beautiful, and they are still, as evidenced by this basalt rock that I hold.  When held a certain way, it looks like a human pelvis, or turned another, like a woman’s breast, or, turned again, like a liver with a hump. Turning it in my hand, I can close my fist around it easily, and it feels as though it is holding me steady as it does the earth. Volcanic cinder, of the Earth, it is molten mother, cooled, hardened, brushed with a soft patina that invites touch.