I want heart rocks for my fiftieth birthday. Not the fancy polished kind that you can buy in a store but the ones chiseled by nature found on a deliberate search or by luck when you glance down at the ground.
My first decade spent as an only child afforded me a lot of time outside time by myself. That is when I began my relationship with rocks. It’s not as strange as it sounds. I was, and still am, drawn to each stone’s color, texture and sense of place. There’s a story, millions of years in the making, to be discovered if you slow down and pay attention.
I spent summers at my grandparents’ house on the coast of Maine. I filled my pockets with the round smoothness of the weathered stones from Timber Island. I knew them by their names: Basalt, Granite, Mica Schist, Sandstone, Feldspar, Quartz, Gneiss. Some were painted with sedimentary and metamorphic bands while others were speckled with geometric igneous patterns forged in volcanic furnaces.
This connection began a lifetime of collecting. Rocks are placed throughout our house; some stand alone while others sit together as evolving altars. When I travel to a new location or want to remember an event I find a stone from that particular spot as someone else might bring home a memento from a gift shop.
Our kids grew up surrounded by my rocks. They don’t share my affinity and yet they appreciate the earth’s artistry. They accommodate, even support, my geologic idiosyncrasies.
Leo gave me my first heart rock when he was three on a day hike at Pedernales Falls, one of our favorite state parks in the Texas Hill Country. I still have it. Throughout his childhood he would find heart rocks and present them to me with much fanfare. Other times he would simply press them into my palm and run off. When he was older he would leave them in obvious places for me to find later. I have kept them all.
The younger three continued the tradition and added round and egg shaped stones to their offerings. I gladly received them, and again have kept each and every stone they presented. My mind’s eye can still see their sweet faces looking up at me, so pleased, as they open their hand to reveal the treasure.
On the trail where I run there is an art installation that at first glance appears to be a simple grey wall topped with azure blue tiles in the design of a river. It’s lovely but the true gift of the piece is reserved for the more observant passerby who discovers that the plain stucco wall is really a mosaic of hundreds of natural shaped heart rocks of all sizes.
The section of the trail that takes me by the wall has been closed for renovations and re-opened just last week. When I ran by the wall last night I felt a tinge of sadness. I couldn’t remember the last time when one of my kids gave me a heart rock.
I know it’s not deliberate. The world is pulling their attention upward to the brightness of getting older. There is not as much time to linger and look down, kick at the dirt and search for rocks.
My birthday is on Valentine’s Day. I have always rebelled against the sentimental imagery of hearts, candy and flowers. I want more out of the fusion of love and a birthday. As you can imagine, my expectations were burdened with more weight than most partners could ever bear. It’s come as a relief to my poor husband that I have mellowed over the decades.
This upcoming birthday will also be my fiftieth Valentine’s Day. I’m blessed to be surrounded by love and have no need for more stuff. I am still not a candy, nor flowers nor jewelry kind of valentine. My birthday request is simple – a heart rock would mean the world to me.
End note: The photo is of a mosaic stepping stone I made with some of the rocks that the kids have given me over the years.