Journal of Writing & Environment

You probably wouldn’t have thought it unusual, not on first inspection anyway, not at a glance, to have come across a rock of this size in the backyard of an average person, along a fairly average street (it was a boulevard after all), but once you’d really taken it in, once you’d allowed it to take up some space in your imagination, once you’d pondered it, fully weighed its implications as you stood on the patio edge, the ice melting in your bourbon, then, certainly, you’d be curious. To call this a rock is not even to fairly represent it, you’d have to call it a very large boulder, large for its context at least, or if you were prone to poetry, as people can get when they are moved and slightly buzzed, a giant slab of bedrock or something like that. You might have remarked on it, said “Hey Charlie, nice rock,” and expected, implicitly, because this is the way social cues work and it’s definitely the kind of piece that comes with a tale attached, a reply from him volunteering to you the story (surely a funny story) of its provenance, just how in the hell it got here from wherever and who did the work (a slightly funnier one yet), how they lucked into or fell into or are cursed by this garden sculpture that could easily pass for a sacrificial altar. You might have even been straightforward enough to ask outright,  “Hey Charlie, how in the world did you get a rock that size back here?” But then you wouldn’t have thought much of the way he shrugged off or demurred or dodged the question, but rather assumed he didn’t quite hear you and was being polite, assumed it just came with the house, had been there for an eon, maybe in fact the house had been built around it, or maybe it was discovered digging out the neighbour’s pool and they’d rolled it over with the bucket-end of a backhoe. Could such a thing even be bought at a store? You might have spent another second or two admiring it, with fleeting admiration, the way you admire an aging actress you hadn’t seen in a film for a while, who appears briefly in a new trailer or the sequel to a film you’ve never heard of. But then you’d return to the party, a gathering of old friends and work colleagues of the host, and all else would once again become a vaguely pleasing and incoherent backdrop, the way you stop hearing the babbling of the fountain after a while even while you hear it, return to conversations about children and jobs and how you know Charlie and the dizzying, irrational attraction you have to the woman in the yellow dress and black heels you’ve not yet spoken to and won’t. All hum. But as you think about it, maybe once you are back home, lying in your bed, or looking out at your own sadly uniform backyard, uniform except perhaps for that grub-killed patch of grass you just can’t get to heal, or some run-of-the-mill commercial-grade landscaping along the side of the deck or garage, a box elder and flowering shrub of some kind, succulents for ground cover and a hosta or two, you would realize that a rock that big does not belong in the backyard of any person, average or no. It shouldn’t exist there, out of its element, out of its knowledge. You would start to calculate in your head, and try to remember it precisely, but fail, the thing appearing to you now much larger than it is, or maybe then much smaller as you try to compensate. Could that have weighed four tons? Five? Seven? You realize that nothing in your experience has equipped you to calculate the weight of stone based upon an eyeballing of its mass. You realize that you’ve done nothing in your life to match that rock, and don’t even have a way to think about it. The concept of, the idea of rock: of what would it consist? You reach into the darkness of your mind and find nothing but darkness. You are all perception and no insight. If you were a reader of Spanish existentialism, you would know that Ortega y Gasset says: “The world is too wide and too rich for thought to assume the responsibility for all that occurs in the world.” But you are not, and so you do not, and thus you retire for the night with only your impressions, which leave you sad and hollow.