Friday, June 3, 2011

Grandfather Stone

    I am in Grand Junction, Colorado this weekend, telling stories at the main and branch libraries as their kick-off for the summer reading program. This year the theme for library reading programs is: One World, Many Stories.
   Grand Junction is indeed Grand. The wide, flat desert valley is bordered on one side by the Book Cliffs, some 200 miles of beautifully eroded flat-topped rock cliffs. The cliffs are named for the semi-regular vertical lines that give them the appearance of a row of books neatly lining a shelf. The  cliffs are  composed primarily of sedimentary rock and are said to be an excellent place to study what geologists call "sequence stratigraphy." A great word for a dynamic concept ("dynamic" because the concept is hotly debated) for understanding the sequences of rock strata formed over time.
   I am reminded of a favorite story from the Seneca (first nations people of the American Northeast) that tells of the origin of stories. The gist is that the people did not have or tell stories until a young hunter received them from Grandfather Stone. That stories were first told to people from a stone often strikes my young listeners as fantasy at best, and absurd at worst. But if we consider that most of what we know about the history of our planet we have learned from studying stones, the story gains credence.
    For me, the story is a reminder that our ancestors received story and narrative awareness from close observation of the environments in which they lived.
   Whether or not sequence stratigraphy endures as a branch of geological study, the presence of stories in stone has been well established and is easily understood out here where the stones stand watch over us and reveal the world's mysteries in the form of intriguing strata and fossilized saurian bones.
   The stones are only silent to us if we do not know how to read them, in the same way any shelf of books is silent if we are not literate. The first literacy, was earth literacy. If you want to hear a story, listen to the world around you.
   Consider these words from Shakespeare's As You Like It, spoken by the banished Duke Senior as he muses on life in the wild:

     "And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
      Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
      Sermons in stones, and good in everything."