(Above photo of me taken by Iren Schio)
The two climbed steep hills
and rubble to reach the meadow.
The flat – topped mountain peered down
at the women
gathering stones (from her body)
as if they were diamonds.
Amber, moss, pearl white,
rose red and orange,
gray and ebony – a luminescence
emanated from each,
almost as if the moon had
infused each flake and boulder
with her translucent light.
The mountain absorbed
their child-like wonder
and gifted the one
who climbed to her summit
with a stone
that told a story
of a sea of shells and plants
that once lived here.
Stones speak to
those who love them.
(Above photo of plant and shell fossils in the chert was taken by Iren Schio)
In Abiquiu, New Mexico the flat – topped mountain we call the Pedernal can be seen from most directions and has been painted and photographed from every angle. Indigenous peoples considered this mountain to be sacred. The mythical (Navajo) Changing Woman was born on this mountain, and it is said that she lives there still. Each year she is born in the spring, emerges as a young woman during the summer, becomes a mother in the fall, and turns into an old woman during the winter season, only to be born again. The multicolored stone called chert and its darker twin, flint, are structural (quartz) parts of this mountain. These stones were once collected to craft the finest arrowheads for hunting.
I have a passion for all stones but especially chert because of its colors. Chert and flint are microcrystalline varieties of quartz. Their crystals are so tiny that chert and flint fracture more like glass than quartz crystals. Skilled Native peoples chipped chert and flint pieces into arrowheads, spear points, scrapers, and other tools. The only difference between chert and flint is color: flint is black or nearly black, while chert tends to be white, gray, pink, or red and can be plain, banded, or preserve fossil traces.
When my friend Iren told me that chert/flint could be found around the base of the Pedernal I was very excited. She also told me that someday we could make a trip there to collect some stones. It is only after most of the snow is gone that the serpentine dirt roads become passable, so I have been waiting for that day to arrive for a long time. Yesterday, it came.
We made a very skilled (Iren is the best driver I know) windy, bumpy, truck ride up the back side of the Pedernal to a steep meadow. Shaded by evergreens and small stands of oak, we left the truck and stood below the peak in a place where hunks of chert lay on the ground everywhere. We “lost time” in the process, climbing around, exclaiming over colors, shapes and examining “chert caves” –places where the stone had been extracted by hand first by Indigenous peoples, and then perhaps by others. We picked up our favorite stones, filling our bucket, Iren’s backpack, and our pockets with these natural wonders. Iren, of course, carried almost all the stones back to the truck.
Iren, who I call “Mountain Woman,” scales peaks effortlessly, including this one, whose back side is a shear cliff face. She has stones of every conceivable shape, size, and type placed artfully around her house inside and out. (Not surprisingly, she is one of the finest artists that I know). All of these stones Iren collected on her mountain climbing adventures, and she patiently tells me where she found this one or that one as I follow her around her property. Whenever I visit her house the stones call out to me for attention instantly! When I am alone at her house “stone watching” becomes a form of meditation…
Hunks of chert line her pathways that wander in many directions making it easy to avoid trampling down the natural vegetation. The desert is a fragile environment and Iren is an “earth mother” who cares deeply for her land.
Yesterday’s adventure was highlighted when Iren discovered fossils in one piece of chert. We were so excited by this rock and mulled over the possibilities of how the fossils came to be embedded in the stone and what they were. I was so happy for her that I felt like I could burst.
This was the second time I had been with Iren when she found a stone treasure. The last one was an exquisite flint arrowhead. I told her that Nature had gifted her with this present (and probably all the others) not just because she climbed mountains but because the mountains knew how much Iren loved stone, and how generously she shared what she had with others.
Nature thrives on reciprocity.
This morning when I looked at the multi-colored pile of chert in front of the house I decided I would simply leave them there for a few days before beginning to use them to line more pathways. I just want to look at them. As I pick the pieces up and turn them over in my hands, I wonder what stories they might still have to tell.
This poem emerged out of my gratitude to Iren and my love of stone.