Hidden away in a dresser drawer, I have a beautiful hand-made bowl that was given to me as a gift about two decades ago, from an old friend of mine, a fine woodworker. It is really a bowl that should not be in a dresser drawer. It should be where people can see it, and I have determined that it now will be.
I had invited my friend to Washington to climb Mount Shuksan, a glorious peak that rivals, to my mind, the Grand Teton in both its rugged profile and extraordinary dignity. It was such a pleasure to climb it with my friend. Although it was not explicitly stated, I felt that the bowl he gave me was kind of an exchange; I shared with him something that I loved, and he shared with me an expression of his love of wood.
Inside the bowl, also hidden from view, are a couple hundred stones. To be more specific, they are semi-precious stones that I had gathered, shaped, and polished over a few years. I intended to fashion them into jewelry, particularly earrings to adorn the lovely ears of my wife and daughters. Intended is the key word in that last sentence.
Leopardskin jasper, intricately-branched moss agates, citron with rutile inclusions, tiger’s eye and hawk’s eye, rare and lovely Biggs jasper, jade, serpentine, hematite banded with iron, rhodonite and delicate pink rhodochrosite, pearly-blue chalcedony, deep blue sodalite laced with veins of milky quartz, softly-glowing green amazonite…
I dabbled for a while in lapidary work, but never acquired the skills and more expensive equipment necessary to become serious about it. To my recollection, all I ever made was earrings. When we moved to a house that didn’t have a good garage space for a grinding wheel, I put the unfinished stones in the wooden bowl, and that was the end of that. I’ve not worked with them since.
I rarely think about these stones. When I do open the drawer and see them—always incidentally, while I’m looking for something like toenail clippers—they feel symbolic of the unfinished bits of my life. The intention I once had of turning them into jewelry has slipped, like an unreturned phone call, into oblivion.
This tendency to begin something and not to finish it is part of my nature. It manifests in so many ways: Doing the dishes, reading Tolstoy, finishing up a degree in Restoration Horticulture. Learning to build a cob house and a green roof. Grafting fruit trees, cultivating mushrooms, making stone jewelry, playing the trombone. Half-done. Half-learned.
Enough learned to know what is possible. When I look at the bowl of stones, a little zing goes through me, a little moment of enthusiasm. What if I set up my grinder again, turned these stones into something finished? But I suspect I won’t do it. Yes, yes, I could, if only I set my mind to it. But there are so many books to (not) read first.
Despite the fact that they never became jewelry, I don’t regret any of the time spent on those stones. Both effort and joy went into the process. I loved finding rough-cut slabs at some funky little rock shop. Rummaging through crates at estate sales. Spending the day at some obscure creek looking for water-polished nephrite boulders, or chipping away at outcrops for agates.
And then the pleasure of finding just the perfect little square inch of beauty in the stone that I could chisel out, then grind into the shape I wanted, then tumble until it shimmered. It was an activity I could get lost in, an activity that kept me in the moment and quieted the mind. In this way, it was like making music, or shaping a poem, or climbing a cliff.
Maybe at some point I will actually make a few more pairs of earrings. The rest of the stones I may just give away, unfinished. They serve no practical purpose. I guess you could put one in your pocket and rub it. See what it does for you. Throughout history, people in many cultures invested stones with symbolic meaning.
According to Wikipedia, worry stones are “smooth, polished gemstones, usually in the shape of an oval with a thumb-sized indentation, used for relaxation or anxiety relief. The smoothness of the stone is most often created naturally by running water. The size of a worry stone is often about half the size of a silver dollar coin…”
This use of the stone is related to many ancient beliefs about stones conferring certain powers or protections upon those who are adorned with them. I don’t know about that. But I do know that working with these stones did my spirit some good, in much the same way that growing a garden and keeping bees does my spirit good.
Making money from the sale of jewelry was never the goal. In fact, making the jewelry was never even the goal. What was the goal? I suppose I don’t really know, but it’s sort of like this: I remember the way my dog Rosie, who has moved on now, would gnaw at a bone for hours, lost to everything but the visceral pleasure of crunching on a pig’s knuckle. The slabs of stone drew me in a similar way.
A dog who worries at a bone has not a care in the world. When I was hunched over a work bench or on the concrete floor of the garage, chipping away at a hunk of stone, there was no room in my mind for anxiety about the future, or disappointment with myself, or gripes aimed at the Creator.
A dog “worries at a bone,” we say. Funny that this word applies to both a mental state of anxiety and the verb that can also describe what we do (or at least what I do) to banish anxiety. Maybe the stones in this gorgeous little bowl are worry stones. Yep, maybe that’s what they are. A way to calm the spirit. A kind of pig’s knuckle to gnaw on. The mineral manifestation of prayer.
A way to feel connected to the earth. A way to pay attention. A way to show gratitude.