Unfolding the Map
Just beyond Prince Frederick, the Patuxent River yields up amber and orange colored agates called Patuxent River stones. They are the state gem of Maryland, and are pictured at right. The various types of stones in rivers leads me to recall my childhood along a river, and the stones that I found both fascinating, useful, and annoying. To see where Prince Frederick and the Patuxent River are located, throw a stone at the map and see where it ends up. Actually, since I control the map, you'll find it ends up here.
"I took Maryland 2 over the hills along the bay, turned west at Prince Frederick, crossed the wide Patuxent River..."
Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 1
Prince Frederick, Maryland
River stones were a big part of my life growing up. My father owned a piece of unimproved land along a small Northern California river. My first awareness of river stones was how they hurt when I walked over them in my tender bare feet on the way to our "beach" area at our swimming hole. All I remember is that if I forgot to wear the "clackers" (the term my mom used for beach footwear), my feet were in for a world of hurt and I would be laughed at for being a baby. I remember my older male cousins walking across those rocks as if they didn't hurt at all, and them telling me that when I grew up my feet would get tough, but they lied - walking over river rocks still hurts my feet.
Our property was also not just next to a river, but it also had a railroad that ran through it. The railroad was laid on a 12 foot high bed for the rails and ties, and that bed was made of river rock. The rocks were little pebbles and then larger stone sized rocks. Many of the rocks were of the ordinary, gray river rock variety. (You can tell that I'm not a geologist, because I can't really identify the type of rock). Some of them were very colorful...pinks, reds, yellows, even some that had a greenish tinge. When I wasn't throwing them at something, usually the glass insulators on the power lines next to the tracks, or hitting them with sticks like I was in batting practice, I would marvel over the various shapes and colors.
My father also made sure that I got close to river stones. He was always worried about erosion on the property because the river had a tendency, as rivers do, to eat into the banks. So one chore that we had was to take river rocks and throw them under the bank. My father thought that doing so would help stem the erosion. I don't know if it had any effect at all, but my father thought it did and so we spent a lot of time throwing rocks up against the bank.
It was also along that river that I learned what stones could do. It was there that someone taught me that flat stones could skip across the water, and I spent many hours learning how to sidearm the disc-like stones I found so that they would skip once, twice, three, four or five times across the water. With a friend I used buckets to construct whole cities out of sand on some boulders just off our swimming hole, and then we'd use river rocks to launch projectiles and see just how we could destroy our painstakingly constructed buildings.
I'm sure that if I had spent some time learning about stones and geology, I might have found some interesting stones. I might have found agates, quartzes, maybe even some of the gold which is present in California rivers. But I never spent any time studying geology so I never knew the story, the history, or any of the geology of those things that I was throwing around.
I guess that is the luxury of being a child. When the world is your playground, all of the things within it are objects of wonder one minute, and the next minute is a tool, or a projectile or forgotten in the wonder of something else. That was certainly my world then. Now, my world is something a little different. I'm the person who might look up the type of stone that I find on the ground, and think twice before I toss it at something.
I actually look forward now to researching some of the things I find. When I found out, for instance, that the state gem of Maryland is the Patuxent River stone, I was intrigued enough to look up what that was. The fact that LHM crossed the Patuxent River just after passing through Prince Frederick also fueled my interest, and because of that I discovered that it is an agate, which is a form of quartz. Agates are formed by volcanism, specifically by deposits left in lava. If you cut an agate in half, you'll find that they have layers of lines which indicates the process in which they have been formed...by a buildup of deposits in the cavity over time. They are often used for carving in arts and crafts.
As a child, though, you don't need academics and books to wonder at a stone. Its color, hardness, and shape can all be a source of intense interest. I used to wonder, for example, how most river stones in the riverbed got so smooth and round. I would have believed anything that anyone told me at the time. If they would have said that some woodland ogre made the stones smooth and round, I would have believed it. If they had said a pixie had picked the stones she liked and painted them with bright colors, I would have imagined it. Now I know that river stones have been subjected to constant polishing by water and being tumbled over eons against other stones. As an adult, I have a different sense of wonder at how that happens over time. As a child, I would have preferred the pixie and the ogre because that would have made more sense to me, as well as given me something to thrill about and to see out of the corner of my eye in the woods.
What do I think about now when I pick up a river stone, or maybe any stone? I think about the ageless forces that have moved that stone to where it now sits. It may have been thrown there yesterday by some kid, like my past self, throwing a rock. Or, it may have been moved by wind, water or geological upheavals to its current place, where it has sat for a hundred-thousand years. When I pick up a stone, I realize that if I toss it, or put it back, I am touching something older and more permanent than myself. I can put it where I want, but it will outlast me, and I am nothing other than one more force that has affected its slow progression over time. As a child, I wonder at the stone. As an adult, I wonder at how the stone makes me feel influential and meaningless all at once.
Here's a song by Carrie Newcomer called Stones in the River.
Special Musical Interlude
The past weekend before I wrote this post, the news was filled with images of frightened children being led out of their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty children, ages six to seven years old, and six elementary school personnel were shot to death by a young, apparently mentally disturbed man who killed his mother before going on his terror spree at the school. He then turned the gun on himself. Here are the names of those killed:
Charlotte Bacon - 6
Daniel Barden - 7
Rachel D'Avino - 29
Olivia Engel - 6
Josephine Gay - 7
Dylan Hockley - 6
Madeleine Hsu - 6
Catherine Hubbard - 6
Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung - 47
Chase Kowalski - 7
Jesse Lewis - 6
Anna Marquez-Greene - 6
James Mattioli - 6
Grace McDonnell - 7
Anne Marie Murphy - 52
Emily Parker - 6
Jack Pinto - 6
Noah Posner - 6
Caroline Previdi - 6
Jessica Rekos - 6
Avielle Richman - 6
Lauren Rousseau - 30
Mary Sherlach - 56
Victoria Soto - 27
Benjamin Wheeler - 6
Allison Wyatt - 6
I wrote above that about how children view the world, and simple wonders such as rocks, trees, rivers, and pretty much everything can be just fascinating to a child. These children will no more experience those wonders, and the adults who experienced wonder just by teaching and watching them will never help open the minds and hearts of children again. Please observe a moment for these children, their educators, the killer and his slain mother. Eric Clapton, on the death of his own child, wrote a beautiful eulogy in the form of a song called Tears in Heaven (below).
If you want to know more about Prince Frederick
Next up: Burnt Store and Allen's Fresh, Maryland