Picking Stones


kateri akiwenzie-damm

You ride bikes past the lumber mill to a sheltered beach. Leaving your bikes you walk, finding a large piece of driftwood to shelter you from the wind. The wind is steady. As you rode she pointed out spots of interest, spinning small webs of understanding for you. You watched intently. Sometimes you just watched her, concentrating so seriously on her that you lost track of what she was saying. She is one of those people whose movements speak very strongly, very clearly even when you aren't yet capable of fully understanding. So without forethought your mind locks on what she is doing, the way the muscles in her legs propel the bicycle forward, the way her hands grip the handlebars, the way her lips form each word, the way she exerts a steady, silent presence in the pauses. Her words slip past you sometimes, taken whizzing past your ears by the wind. And somehow it's okay. It's okay even though what you do hear fascinates you, knocks you on the skull.

As you rode your leg muscles began to twitch and your breath began coming in ragged spurts. Then you noticed with some embarrassment that she continued to talk evenly, peddling with an easy rhythm despite the many more years she has weathered. You secretly blamed the wind, the borrowed bicycle, your fear of testing the gears, but you continued watching, listening and propelling the bicycle with your legs. You continued to concentrate on her and began to suspect that there is some other form of communication occurring between you. Some form of communication that you are only vaguely aware of and that you have never experienced before.

Now in front of the driftwood you sit and talk. You pick at rocks and shells. Examining them, replacing most, pocketing a couple. One that is typical of the rest, that will remind you of the place, the people, the talk. One that is special, that will remind you of the beauty you found hidden in certain people, places, words. Then you stretch out on your side, listening, soaking in the place, her presence, still looking at bits of the shore as she tells you some small fragments of what she knows. And the stones are like stories piling on the shore of memory.

The lumber mill has ripped the face off the hill.

The people allow it in exchange for money and, in the past, a few jobs, she tells you. But the jobs, like eroding pieces of the hill, are gone now. Still, the money allows them to keep the land, that's what they say. The land that is slowly falling into the sea.

Easy for you, you have good paying jobs, they say. And there is no easy response. So the hill is sacrificed bit by bit for now in the hopes the people will have a future. Easy for the lumber mill. Difficult for everyone else.

You rise together and walk. The shore, as far as you can see, is covered in stones. You imagine each one is a story she has told to other listeners on other bike rides, other walks. Then stopping, stooping, you scoop up a handful of stones, pebbles, shells. As you let them sift through your fingers, you notice one, a little different from the rest. You notice its texture, imagining the layers of silt that have combined with incredible forces of energy to form this solid piece of earth. You notice how the movement of the waves has worn the rough edges smooth, how the stone is solid in your hand and soft against your skin. Clutching it in your palm, you feel its energy pulsing into your flesh and it becomes part of your memory, your mind memory, skin memory, muscle memory.

You skip along the stones, knowing without looking that she is just ahead of you and to the left, waiting. She jumps onto a rock to scan below the surface while you catch up. Just as you reach her, you stop and dip your hand into a little pool along the shore. Is it cold? You wiggle your fingers then look up. Yeah. But not enough to make your bones ache. You add that last bit with a just a hint of bravado. Wouldn't want to go for a swim though. You both smile.

You jump up on the rock and the two of you stand together. The sea isn't yielding what she wanted to show so she continues walking and you follow. She picks up a plastic shampoo container washed up on the rocks. Japanese, she says. They're supposed to stay 200 kilometres offshore. You glance at the container, noticing the foreign script. Later you come across a rusting oil drum. You both stop and look at it saying little. She sets the shampoo container down eventually as you walk.

At a small pile of oval whitish rocks you stop. You pick one up. It's lighter than expected. She turns and watches.


You nod, rubbing your finger against it.

You can use it to rub away dried skin, callouses. Again you nod. Do you have it where you're from, she asks.

Nah, we have to buy it.

It's lava rock. Take some, she says simply.

Okay, you agree, bending over and selecting a smaller size stone that you stuff into a pocket with the other stones you have collected.

And so, you walk along, talking, stopping to look at stones, birds, a beached buoy, shells. You walk along, chatting easily, sometimes saying nothing. And the silence is light and easy between you.

© 1997 kateri akiwenzie-damm

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