Happy Rocks

10 June 2015 – Years ago, an articulate, educated — & apparently sane — woman told me why she paid a clandestine second visit to a cottage property she was thinking of buying. It was on very rocky land, part of the rugged Canadian Shield country north of Toronto. “I snuck back at dawn, did yoga & listened to the rocks,” she told me. “I had to know if the rocks were happy, because otherwise, obviously, I wouldn’t buy the property.”

I roll my eyes.

But I also feel an uneasy, slightly alarming, affinity with this woman. I too love rocks, & want them around, & respond to them. They have never told me whether or not they are happy — but they make me happy.

This cluster of stones in my back yard, for example, brought home decades ago from a holiday on Haida Gwaii (formerly Queen Charlotte Islands), off the British Columbia coastline.

Haida Gwaii stones, by Inuit soapstone carving

They’ve been grouped in assorted places over the years; currently they sit with this little soapstone Inuit bird on a chunk of log, halfway down the garden.

I have time to think about rocks these days, for not-so-happy reasons. My back is being annoying at the moment, curtailing my usual walks & expanding time spent close to home.

Also giving me time to scroll through old photos, revisit rocks that have made me happy at different times in different places around the world.

Most of which I couldn’t possibly bring home with me! Case in point: Uluru in Australia’s Northern Territory. Admire it, preferably at dawn; respect it by keeping your feet off it; bring home the memory.

Uluru at dawn, Northern Territory, Australia

No issues about putting our feet on the rocks & trails of King’s Canyon in Watarrka National Park, also in the Northern Territory — so we did. Down in the gorge or up on the rim, all glorious.

King's Canyon, Watarkka National Park, Australia

More red rock, very different location — my first hike in Iceland after all those months of training. It’s a half-day trek up the Red Bowl crater (Rauðaskál) before carrying on to Hellisfjall, our first campsite.

 rim of crater

How happy we were! For the sheer beauty; for the excitement of finally being in Iceland, and starting our great adventure.

Six trekking days, some on high ridges, also one memorable slog through the black volcanic sands of the Mælifellssaudur inland desert. I confess I was getting tired of the sand. The inuksuk cheered me up.

 inukshuk in the sands

Final campsite at Langidalur, & a farewell morning hike in the area that brought us past the Steinboginn arch of rock. I did not climb it. I watched in awe, as others did. Watching made me quite sufficiently happy, thank you.

ISteinboginn rock arch at the height of the walk

Another craggy arch, but this one far from Iceland. I’m on a trail in Topes de Collantes Nature Park, within Cuba’s Escambray mountain range.

a trail in Topes de Collantes Nature Park, Cuba

We’re just 20-odd km from the World Heritage Site city of Trinidad; such contrast. And such joy, to experience both.

Same hemisphere, different country, and this time rock as reworked by human beings back in, oh, 500 B.C. give or take. I’m at Monte Albán, one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, located near the present-day city of Oaxaca in Mexico, and the centre of the Zapotec world for almost 1,000 years.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca, Mexico

Look what they accomplished. We wonder at it still.

More wonder during my trip to Guernsey, where sites speak to us of even earlier times. (Did you catch that? I just wrote that “sites speak to us.” Perhaps I have to stop rolling my eyes at that woman who listened to the rocks.)

Back to Guernsey. To Le Creux ès Faïes passage tomb on Lihou Headland just north of L’Erée Bay. It is neolithic or megalithic, reputable sources differ, but created somewhere around 3000-2500 B.C. In Guernsey folklore, this spot is considered the entrance to the fairy kingdom, hence the name.

Le Creux es Faies, Lihou Headland, interior

There are standing stones / menhir as well as caves and tombs, including the Castel Church Statue Menhir. It is thought to be late neolithic, dating from 2500-1800 B.C., and is considered one of the world’s finest examples of a statue-menhir from that era.

Castel statue-menhir, Castel Parish church

Pulled down & buried at some point when Christianity triumphed over the earlier gods and churches claimed the old sacred sites; rediscovered in the 19th c. when some repair work was being done to the Castel Parish Church, and erected once again — with astonishing tolerance, for the Victorian era — within the church yard. She keeps peaceful company with all those tombstones, and receives frequent tributes from visitors. (See her head-wreath? Real flowers, only slightly past prime.)

Now I’m circling you back to Canada, to rock that has moved me & made me happy, here at home.

This cliff edge overlooking Strathcona Sound, for example, at the north-west tip of Baffin Island.

cliff on Strathcona Sound, at Nanisivik

I was on assignment in Nanisivik, Canada’s last company mining town, established in 1975 and housing miners & their families until the mine finally closed in 2002. After each day of interviews & exploration, I’d climb a little trail on the edge of the community, and sit up there breathing the air and looking out over the Sound, revelling in the hard-edged beauty of the world above the tree line. It is summer and, yes, that is a tiny last bit of iceberg, still bobbing in the water below.

Right here in Ontario, I love the Bruce Peninsula, the rocky finger of land jutting up into Lake Huron that divides the main body of the lake from its Georgia Bay remnant on the eastern side. The land lies a-slant, rising to escarpment cliffs of dolomite sandstone on the east and falling away in great sandy stretches into Lake Huron proper on the west.

“The Bruce” is home to the northern portion of the Bruce Trail. Little Cove is on the trail, near its northern tip. It offers a moment back down at water’s edge, between long stretches up on the escarpment.

Bruce Peninsula , Little Cove on the Bruce Trail

These undulating formations, I read, are “karst pavement” — limestone surfaces with potholes & twists formed by natural acidic erosion. Spring wildlowers tuck into their crevices …

Little Cove

This is old rock, very old rock, emerging from an area that, some 400 million years ago, was covered by a shallow tropical sea.

But all these great formations are like that, aren’t they — Uluru formed some 550 million years ago; King’s Canyon slightly younger at 450 million years or so.

Then there’s the Canadian Shield, once called the Precambrian Shield, since it was formed in the mid to late Precambrian Age. It is considered among the oldest known rock in the world, emerging somewhere between 2.5 & 3.5 billion years ago.

I cannot comprehend numbers like that. (And I don’t guarantee them, either. I look for reputable sources, but I am no geologist.)

Ahhh, but, once you get to thousands & millions & billions of years, it is simply — for everyday me —  very, very old. Beyond-imagining old. Beginning-of-time old. I am just happy that these great formations are so very old, that they connect us with the beginnings of our planet, and that earlier human civilizations have worked with rock and left us such wondrous evidence of their beliefs and their achievements.

And I am happy to have a little piece of that Canadian Shield, that impossibly ancient rock, now sitting quietly in my own back garden.

a rock from Muskoka, from the Canadian Shield

It was brought here for me by my partner from property he once owned up on the Shield. So I am happy on many levels — for his patient generosity (this is not the only rock he lugged south), for our memories of that property, and finally for the astounding fact of that little rock itself.

Like any ancient rock, it is memory made solid, the story of our planet.



Leave a comment


  1. Sigh…. I am right there with her, and with you. The earth gathers pain to herself, holding it in her bones. And if Mamma isn’t happy, her vibrations aren’t conducive to relaxation and happiness you can give back to her.

    Your photos are amazing. I truly wish I could share a visit with you and touch your gorgeous rocks!

  2. What beautiful memories. Sorry you are in pain. I hope things improve soon.

    • Thanks! Beginning to improve, so I am hopeful my upcoming holiday week in Prince Edward County will be more active than I had feared would be possible.

  3. I know exactly how you feel about rocks. Sometimes I put a small rock in my mouth. It feels so calming and peaceful. It just takes me somewhere else.

    • I’d never thought of in the mouth, but I certainly stroke them, or tuck one into my palm & hold it for a while… What an intimate relationship we seem to be able to have, with an apparently inanimate object.

  4. Really enjoyed your post! Walking the Bruce Trail does give you an appreciation of the massive, pre-historic, rocky outcrops. Over the years though, like you, I’ve picked up little rocks in places that meant something to me.

  5. I’ve now written three long comments in here and erased them all. Suffice it to say I love rocks, they do (sort of) speak to me, and I greatly enjoyed this post!

  6. Hope you feel better soon. Lovely post. Thanks. 🙂

  7. ahhhhhh yes your rocks….wonderful captures Penny! ☺️

  8. Interesting terrain.


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    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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