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It’s been a long, long time since I came home with a handful of stones, some quartz, others I had painted with crushed juniper berries, milkweed, all the while thinking, “what will I do after this? What are these for?” Collected from the path at the top of the meadow, collected from the ridge, from the treeline, from a road horses used to ride down, from the path from the abandoned mine. Eventually I would take them with me, ready for the next step, when I thought of it, which would make them useful– which would make the act of collecting and painting meaningful. You pick them. You make the paint.
Waiting for the dinner bell on the deck, already uncomfortably cold in my shorts, I’d stack, sort, line them– looking for the answer to the riddle. Across the hill the field the valley, atop the next mountain ridge: the silhouette of two bodies lying foot to foot, blackened against the also blackening sky and my hands were sticky. If you add dirt to the sap, it all peels off together. When you go inside you can say your hands are clean. They’re not dusty. Why is the mountain ridge shaped like those bodies?
The answer to the riddle does not appear. When the dinner bell. They are stacked along my goosebumped leg to keep me warm. They are shuddering in the crook of my knee. It is neither the first or last time that I will discover something small that inadequately warms me and issue a plea to it. All of these stones painted and unpainted so that when I stand they drop off. And I kick those that remain off the edge of the deck and into the grassy dirt, frustrated that nothing came of this.
In a city I haven’t visited in years, I take a tour of relevant platforms, meaningful stretches. You’re showing me where you come from. The highways have changed. The place where you used to walk alone has more students than you remember. I used to say this city felt like the inside of movie set of a factory. Now we walk your path instead. They’re all wearing hoodies and eating foil-wrapped burritos. You would step over the edge.
From this place, you can look into the water. A log floats by so quickly that I want to watch it go and go and go. It’s moving almost as fast as we are walking and maybe it’s alive. From here we can look past it and the boulders, motionless through the water. Through the little waves. But you are not alone and you’re walking forward, with your brother. From your bedroom I can see the deck. Alone for once in five days, I sit somewhere that I can’t tell if you ever sat. And I don’t imagine what it was like to be you then, whether or not you sat here– but what it would have felt like to be me. When we were both teenagers and you were skulking around, smoking alone, and feeling things deeply. Your mother has conscientiously removed all the photos of you because this is the first time I’ve come here.
It was Easter. It will continue to be Easter for another month. Period of stones. Era of the risen dead. Why are those bodies shaped like the mountain ridge? The photos that were there before have been politely removed and presumably replaced with nearly innocuous images of your brother. I didn’t know what a cairn was. I scattered the rocks. Maybe I’d find them though, painted. In some places they stick, warmed by my body heat and then warming me right back. A hug from a rock. A hug from a pointless rock. Most importantly, they roll off. And what they leave behind is nothing. No thing.
It’s Easter. When we are two rocks together. Warmed and so capable of warming. Shed and listing. The season where things that were alive before get to be alive again. Where it turns out that the way that stones. Where it turns out that the way that being alone. Where it turns out that the stories mean something new and it turns out that they always, always meant that same thing and you just now know it. When the dinner bell, it’s Easter. Nothing is left– but a meaningful nothing. And those stones kept you company and that was enough.