Field Stone: "The threshold is always stony"

This morning I read Luke's discussion of the threshold, and his use of a quotation from Heidegger (“The threshold is always stony...") put me in mind of something I had wanted to write this weekend.  On Sunday my wife and I worked to finish some gardens around our house.  Actually, we worked to finish some flowerbeds, as we've planted nothing yet.  As we neared the end of the task, my wife asked me to go and get some large rocks, some for features, others for beneath downspouts.  My father-in-law has a tractor with a large bucket on the front, so I borrowed that and set off in search of field stone.

We live in farm country, and there are numerous old fields on our property, some of which were farmed until very recently (we've reforested them all now).  If you haven't spent time walking farmers fields you may not know this, but stones in a field always migrate to the edges.  Sometimes they take the form of a low wall or pile, other times they lay on their own shaded by large trees.

I drove around to the back of one large field where Maple and Elm trees, perhaps 150 to 200 years old, mark the comings and goings between field and woods.  In the furthest corner I found a huge cache of field stone.  The size of some of the stones left me wondering how on earth farmers had managed to move them here--I had a large tractor with hydraulic bucket; what did they have 150 years ago?

Most of the rocks are now covered in lichens and mosses, and twisted trees grow between them.  They are some of the most beautiful rocks you could want as a gardener.  They represent a state impossible to cultivate or produce: they are the result of being left alone for a hundred or more years.  As I looked for ones small enough for me to carry by hand, I reflected on their presence there.

These stones had once been scattered through the field itself.  The field is defined by them: in terms of their absence in the field and the need for good soil to grow things; and also by their presence around the sides, creating an edge.  To the farmers who moved them, they served no purpose.  Their focus was on the middle, on the field.  What happened at the edge was simply that which wasn't in the middle.

To someone who has now taken over a piece of land that was once partially farmland, the edges form the most interesting aspect of the place.  It is a known fact that one of the best places to see wildlife is at edges: beside waterways, at the entrance to forests, along the edge of fields.  We walk the edges of these fields a lot, and my girls love to play there.  My father-in-law has even built a swing in the huge limbs of one of the Maples at the back of a field.

What strikes me whenever I go to the edge is that by leaving my focus there, by ignoring the middle, I recentre the space.  What I love about the edge is that it has been ignored, that it has aged, that massive stone and trees have remained untouched there.  I love it for having not been examined, for keeping secrets.  And I feel uneasy allowing the edge to become my centre, worried that I somehow endanger a magic I don't understand.

Show Comments