A Little Rock Music
By Marvin Payne
Sorry to keep you waiting, I was out watering the rocks. We have these rocks. A few years ago, the city put in curbs and gutters and sidewalks and several Beijing-sized Olympic venues (just in case our dreams of hosting the Summer Olympics are ever realized). As a part of this work, the city put a “green strip” between the curb and sidewalk down one side of our yard (we live on a corner). They said we could do whatever we wanted with it. Many have planted grass. Many have planted ornamental trees. Many are experimenting with aggressive strains of dandelion. Some, exploiting the peculiar dimensions, have installed gymnastic balance beams (just in case). I asked if we could plant corn and the city suggested not.
So we filled it with rocks. Not just any rocks. Not rocks you buy. We found rocks along the foot of the mountains. We found rocks in Grandpa’s back yard. We found rocks in the creek bed. The whole family, or just I and my little son, or just I, would go down there with buckets and backpacks and pick our way to stretches of creek that were away from the trail (we didn’t want to make off with any rocks that people have come to depend on enjoying as they hike) and load ourselves up with treasure. We still treasure-hunt.
There are big, smooth, black rocks in the creek that have bands of white running through them. There are smaller light brown rocks, again smooth, with smaller bands–they look like they’d be good to eat. There are red rocks, green rocks, blue rocks, purple rocks–not like the Seven Dwarves would bring home, translucent and polished and already expertly cut, but sort of the pitted and powdered versions of these colors. The red rocks aren’t like the gritty delicious flame of southern Utah, but more like blood. There are a few the color of southern Utah, worn thin like bars of soap, but weighing less than soap. They’re bricks that fell into the creek years ago and slowly tumbled to where we found them. Most of the stones this summer are from a little canyon west of here where I’ve been daily searching for some vestige of my youth. I always come down with two or three or four, however many I can carry. Sometimes I wrap a bundle in my t-shirt, except my t-shirts get really big when I do that.
Sometimes I dig them right out of the road I’m walking on. I’ll see a little rectangle of cream worn smooth by jeep tires and carve around it with a stick, finally levering it out and finding that it’s five times the size it appeared to be. I’ll peek out a little hint of folded fire or ragged rainbow in the dry stream bed and dig out all the lesser rocks that imprison it. I’ve liberated some really grateful beauties that way.
So we have a forty-five-foot stretch, about three feet wide, of wonderful rocks, which if any little underage Chinese gymnast tried to use for a balance beam, it would really kill. Still, my kids like to walk along them, like giants on a mountain range. Or ants on a sundae.
I like to keep them clean. That’s what the watering is for (it’s ironic that our decision to put rocks in the green strip was largely driven by the desire to conserve water–avoiding “green” in order to be “green”). People holler funny things out their car windows when I’m watering, like “Hey, those rocks aren’t gonna grow! Ha-ha-ha-ha!” But the funniest was today when I was kneeling out there on the sidewalk (ours is the busiest intersection in town) evaluating the placement of a big black stone I brought down from the canyon today and the retired Idaho farmer dad of our next door neighbor (Monroe and Janine, respectively) entreated me out of his car window, “Pray for me, too!”
I’ve worried sometimes about public opinion while I’m out there with the hose. Watering rocks could be seen by some as “not green” behavior. After all, we live in a desert, and many would consider watering the microorganisms in your digestive tract environmentally irresponsible. “Green” is big. We now have “green industry,” “green politics,” “green eggs and ham.” It makes me wonder what the opposite of “green” is. I mean, it’s demeaning to have to think of oneself as a “non-green” person. Elder M. Russell Ballard has reminded us that it’s demeaning to be identified as a “non”-anything. It’s more respectful to be defined as a _______ (fill in the blank) person. But what? How do you fill in the blank?
Maybe it’s simplistic to imagine that people only come in primary colors. The “media” seem to be ahead of the curve, here. Where we once had “red” states and “blue” states, we now have “faint red” or “just to the right of azure” states, or whatever nuance they can come up with, “nuanced” being the new code-word for “pretty doggone unassailably smart,” whether or not what they’re saying is true and/or helpful. (“How dare you question my nuance?” ((JAC Redford, who is now a world-class composer (((orchestrated Wall.e ((((a “green” movie)))) ))), traveled briefly with me in the ’70s as a sideman (((I was the frontman–we couldn’t afford a backman, just front and sides))), playing bass, flute, guitar, sax, and keyboards, not simultaneously, and even singing. But in rehearsal sometimes he would play a note that so didn’t belong anywhere near the song we were playing that we would look askance at him, whereupon he would just shrug and say “Flatted thirteenth.” He was, you see, nuancing the song.)) )
I might fill in the blank above with “variegated stone” person. Considering the intergalactic influence of Meridian Magazine, it might give rise to “variegated stone industry,” “variegated stone politics,” and “variegated stone eggs and ham.” There could be prestigious awards for following “variegated stone” guidelines, policies, and recipes. I then would not countenance being looked down upon by drivers-by in their little “green” cars that run on grass clippings and the oil that’s left over from McDonalds’ french fry vats. (Hold on. I’ve stepped over a line, here–nuanced the truth just a little bit, myself. In Alpine, anyone passing my rock strip would be driving an Escalade. They are still “green” people, but in a different way. Sorry.) So I’ll keep watering the rocks. I mean, what was here first, plants or rocks?
The answer would be “rocks” of course. I have a testimony (renewed almost weekly) that the creation of the earth involved a goodly amount of lava, which is a rock, sort of. (This would please my children very much–in fact, all children. My kids, like yours, delight in asserting that all of a certain household surface is lava. “Dad! Don’t step there! It’s lava!” In my prosaic view of the living room, it had appeared to be carpet. But no, I have to ooch myself from the kitchen linoleum up onto the counter top, and then somehow bounce to the couch and slither across it to the downstairs portal. Interested in getting to the front door, instead? Forget it. There is the possibility, though, that this passion for lava could be preparing them for a godly eternity. More likely lava than Pokmon, for sure.
My stone work is guilty of passion, but entirely innocent of skill. Some folks take beautiful rocks and make them even better. John Rowe Moyle, a master of stone work, was an early resident of Alpine. He came west with the very first of the handcart companies in 1846. (This would be the company that was captained by an Elder Ellsworth, a returning missionary who led his flock with gusto. He’d rise up early in the morning and make sure he was striding ahead of the carts. Principles of Example and Leadership were his guiding stars. Also, there were these two young, attractive, single sisters who were early risers and striders, too, and they deserved a captainly escort. Oddly, they were both named Mary Ann. Less oddly, Ellsworth married both of them after they arrived in the valley. Most oddly, he was greeted upon his arrival by the wife he already had. Her name, you ask? Mary Ann. We have John Rowe Moyle as witness.)
Just a couple of years later, when the Salt Lake saints were evacuated southward before the threatened invasion of the United States Army, Brother Moyle came over the hill northwest of here, liked what he found, and stayed. This made for a long walk, however, to the site of the Salt Lake Temple, where he was engaged as a stonemason. Not to worry. Every Monday morning, he would rise before dawn, walk over the hill the 22 miles (as the crow flies, but crows don’t mason stone) to the temple site, work all week, and on Friday evening walk back. Saturday he was a farmer and Sunday he was a worshipper. Monday he was a walker and a stonemason again.
This worked as well as might be expected until, on one of those weekend furloughs, he was milking a cow that became offended and kicked him in the knee. It was busted up pretty badly, and the folks who came running thought it prudent to amputate. So, using a bucksaw that was handy from the pruning that was going on nearby, off came most of his leg. As it began to heal (slowly–when was the last time you had to deal with a bucksaw wound?) he carved himself a wooden leg and tried moving about the house, then the farm, then the Monday morning treks began again. A good while later, it was (we presume) with a markedly sore upper leg that John Rowe Moyle mounted the scaffolding to carve into the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple the words, “Holiness To The Lord, the House of the Lord.”
He built his own house of stone, as well. Said house was a fair distance off to the northeast of the fort that enclosed the entire town. People warned him about the Indians, but he didn’t flinch. In lieu of flinching, he built a cylindrical stone tower by his house with two stories and vertical slits to shoot rifles through. The completion of the tower coincided almost perfectly with the cessation of hostilities between the settlers and the Indians, which may have been something of a letdown, but there you are. (The tower has, in recent decades, been rebuilt, although the current threat of Indian attack is somewhere to the left of nil.)
I have always imagined John Rowe Moyle taking credit for bringing about the Pax Indiana, arguing that the absolute futility of overcoming the occupants of his tower is what so thoroughly depressed the Indians that they buried their weapons of war and took upon themselves the new name of Anti-Lehi-Alpine-&-even-Cedar Hills-ites. (But of course I could never impose this hypothesis on the readers of Meridian, whom now comprise not only our galaxy but whomever is certifiably honest-in-heart in the Great Nebula of Andromeda, as well ((this is according to an advance leak of what the editors will tell us next week at a “Please Don’t Feed the Authors Unless You Are an Editor” gathering for the Utah contingent of said writers–but I don’t think I’ll believe it, because even the very most honest-in-heart Andromedites won’t get even the first issue (((which entered cyberspace at least 84 months ago, ’cause that’s how long I’ve been writing here))) for another 200 years (((minus a little over 84 months))), and let’s not even talk about dial-up connections)) because said readers of Meridian also include maybe some Moyles who still live here ((in this galaxy. In fact, in Alpine)) and may think I’m making light of them. It gets me nervous to picture all those itchy fingers on the triggers of rifles that were never permitted to get fired through the slits designed specifically therefore in the said tower. They’ve been waiting for over 150 years and, given the weather we’ve been having, the powder is probably still dry.)
Writing about all these stones has been a blessing to me. Before I started, they were all just pretty. Or, barring that, useful. But other stones have come to mind. I’m thinking about the stone cut from the mountain without hands that will roll forth and flatten the kingdoms of the world and expand to fill the whole earth. I begin to imagine the colors that will spark as it sings along the Maine coast, splashes the Atlantic into the stratosphere, and glances off Gibraltar. What’s it made of? A geologist or lapidary could tell us what causes the color in earthly stones. But what color is justice, or charity, or truth, or compassion, or aspiration, or godliness? Or of whatever else comprises the substance of this massive rolling stone? How much brighter, deeper, richer, more dramatic than the stones along Second North? Now those little stones remind me of the Big One, and entice me into wonder.
And isn’t the chief cornerstone Christ, Himself? How many colors combine in the glory that streams from His presence? Build your house on that rock, but be sure you have a well-insulated floor, or, better, be sure you have feet strong and clean enough to withstand that beauty. So now my rocks by the road remind me of the Savior. If walking by my house also reminds you of the Savior, take a stone home and save the walk–there are plenty more. Surrounding and supporting my town are ancient, emerging, rock-solid reminders of His beauty, speaking from the dust, asking for our gaze–all for us to dream upon until He comes to Alpine, Himself, something that the Olympics (being far too important) have so far (with the exception of the 2002 Danish Women’s Curling team, who came for a very nice breakfast from the collective ovens of the sisters here) failed to do.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)