Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.
Obsession is something that can take many forms. Many obsessions are subtle, some bordering on addiction. When something doesn't negatively affect your life, you often have a hard time recognizing the affliction. I am convinced that some mild forms of obsession are really more of a compulsion. Some hoard, some eat, some count, some wash, some collect. One of my compulsions only really occurred to me recently. Not surprisingly, that compulsion is stone.
It makes sense really. Rocks form a big part of our lives. Some people are drawn towards the clouds and others are drawn out to sea. Unless you are a miner or a bat, chances are that you can often see the sky above your head. The next time you look up at the sky, look down. What is around your feet? It could be water which covers 70% of the earth’s surface. If not it could be grass, mud, pavement or rock. Sedimentary rock only makes up 5% of the earth’s crust but about 75% of the land surface is covered in it. Sometimes it is under all that grass and pavement. So it would make sense that land, sea and air have been a big part of humanity’s thinking over the centuries. They are inescapable, shaping our minds and lives through both myth and necessity.
Highlights of our lives are often common ones, the relationships that we build, the people that we nurture and the lives that we build around them. Others are more personal, often based on work or play. Fragments of past trips always stick out in my mind and often they involve some unyielding, immovable chunk of stone. I think that it may have started with my trip to the Rockies almost 25 years ago. Standing in the Icefield Parkway, surrounded by the biggest mountains that I had ever seen. I felt so insignificant yet strangely comforted by being in midst of something so huge, and compared to the span of person’s life, timeless. The Cape Breton Highlands are stunning in their own right, but for some reason the Rockies stirred something in me that was only the beginning.
The feeling would stir again and again, seeing Queenstown from Bob’s Peak, the summit of Ben Lomond, Watching Mount Rauapehu - better known as Mount Doom if you are a Lord of the Rings fan - belch smoke from its crater at the end of an active volcanic period. Along the shores of New Zealand you can also find Mitre Peak, the most notable feature of Milford Sound, which is really a fiord. I also found myself at the Punakaiki Rocks, Waitomo Caves, and the Moeraki Boulders. A photo of those same boulders hangs beside my head as I write this. Countless times in folk songs and folklore have both the sea and the mountains been romanticized. These experiences help me understand why so many are drawn to the slopes of mountains and some up onto their peaks. Many have seen more than I ever will but if anything it strengthens my desire to see more and more of those breathtaking piles of rock.
Other places aren’t known so much for their height and enormity as they are for their uniqueness. The Tablelands in western Newfoundland are one place where the earth’s mantle pushed up through its crust. High in iron and low in nutrients the area is largely devoid of vegetation and more reminiscent of a red, Martian landscape than the northern end of the Appalachians. I have to return someday to visit Western Brook Pond, an inland fiord nearby. I have yet to see Perce Rock in Quebec or the Balancing Rock in Digby. The list could go on and on I am sure. Of all of these places, none came to me in me in my dreams, none beckoned me across the miles like one chunk of stone, perhaps the biggest single chunk of stone. And that stone is Uluru, better known as Ayer's Rock.
Check out Part 2, which will discuss my short time at Uluru.