I hear confession is good for the soul, so here goes: I'm a stoner.
I don't mean I like to get stoned – when it comes to recreational drugging I'm straighter than Anne of Green Gables. To me, coke is a soft drink and heroin is a lady actor. I don't smoke BC bud – I don't even smoke Export A's, eh? I don't do THC, PCP, LSD, XTC or MDMA (I do sample CBC occasionally but I'm seeing a therapist about it).
What I do is...stones.
Pebbles. Rocks. Gravel with attitude. I collect 'em. I don't have much in the way of criteria, they just have to tickle my fancy and fit in my pocket. I collect round, flat, shiny and run-of-the-mill stones. They may be black, white or any colour in between.
As hobbies go, it's pretty harmless and definitely cheap. Unlike golf, cycling, jogging or birdwatching there's no expensive gear to buy, no lists to keep and no Joneses to keep up with. Rock collectors are loners and Momma Earth spits out plenty of rocks to go around.
Down sides? A couple of minor ones. Some spouses (no names) may be a tad intolerant of stone nuggets magically appearing on windowsills and bedside tables. Passing strangers may be nonplussed by the haemorrhoidal lumps disfiguring a collector's trouser pockets.
And rock collecting can be dangerously distracting. Once, while rock collecting near Zihuatenejo, Mexico I almost sat down on a low green log to rest. Luckily I lifted my eyes up from pebble searching in time to see a sign in front of the log. It said: ‘PELIGRO! COCODRILOS’.
‘Peligro’ is Spanish for 'danger'. 'Cocodrilos' is self-explanatory. The log blinked. I didn’t sit down.
Another thing about international rock collecting: going through Airport Customs can be trying.
“Mind if I open your satchel sir?”
“Not at all.”
(Zip. Rummage, rummage.)
“What are these, sir?”
“Fossils? Semi-precious stones? Ore samples?”
“No. Just rocks.”
The bag inspectors tap my rocks, rub them and run them through the X-ray scanner. Sometimes they even call in drug-detecting Alsatians to sniff them. They can never find anything illegal. It makes them crazy.
So aside from jiving with airport security types, what's the payoff for stone collectors? Beats me. I've never been able to articulate the attraction but I found a poem in a book about strange rock formations that comes pretty close. It goes:
How is it that
a broken stone
pries open the heart,
a fissured stone
intrigues with its mystery,
a smooth stone
warms the palm of our hand?
I dunno, but it works for me.