Place Where You Live:

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Imagine a summer day on a crescent beach covered with stones, rounded and smooth to the touch. The trick is to walk along this beach scanning every one of the rocks, admiring the color, texture, design, and shape of each one, without breaking an ankle.

Ellen at age thirteen can do this without thinking. She leaps over the rocks like the fawn we saw yesterday leaping through lupine. Bonnie and Mary, more sedate, carry our picnic lunch along a sandy road east of the shoreline. I, age sixty-three, lose myself among the popple stones that lead me out to the edge of the ocean. Why do I love these rocks as one might be expected to love people? I muse on this. It must be a holdover from childhood. The ripe smell of kelp, the sound of waves, the feel of watery sun on my face – these sensations combine to woo me. The beach looks edible.

One rock, larger than the others, glints in the light and catches my eye. Mottled green, studded with phenocrysts, its face is fantastically ancient. Its milky crystals are gouged and etched. In certain spots, chatter marks the size of hairs have been carved in concentric patterns. The splotched stone is as elegant and ovoid as a fifteen pound egg. “Here you’re looking at metamorphosis,” says my geologist friend Jim when I consult him later, photo in hand. On this beach of reddish rhyolites and gray ash-flow tuff, I have come upon a rock with an ashy matrix whose minerals have weathered into chlorite and epidote, green as a gem.

In the noon sun, I study this rock with the ferocity of an English major reinventing herself as a geologist. I know my Maine granites, and this is not one. Its primary texture is a matter of guesswork.

Four hundred million years since it was formed in the caldera of a volcano, sixty-four years since I myself was conceived in a granite house a short ferry ride away, I embrace my friend Walt Whitman. I and this mystery, here we stand. Together we contemplate creation.