My last home had a strip on the south side which contained about five cubic yards of river cobbles. They had lain underneath two birch trees for a couple decades and were well buried beneath alternating layers of spring catkins and autum leaves. I discovered the fist-sized stones while excavating the area for a vegetable garden; I dug them out and carried them, two five gallon buckets at a time, to several locations throughout the yard, making drainswales, dry waterfalls, and so on. Moving them took most of a summer. One day through my neighbor’s open window came the voice of their young daughter: “Cabben loves rocks.”
There was a rockery in the front, holding the suburban yard in its two levels; every other rock had to be purchased at the stone yard, hand carried and set, and I had about 70 half -, one-, and two -man boulders ornamenting my beds, plus flagstone paths and steps of cut ledgestone. Stone in the landscape holds the garden in ‘place.’ Jagged stones are mountainous, smooth stones refer to alluvial or glacial action; rock looks pretty in all weather and season, requires no fertilizer or water, and apart from geological action, does not wear out or die. In many ways, a rock is superior to a plant.
A few hundred yards down the road from me now there is a pair of boulders, glacial erratics, that are each roughly the size of two Econoline vans put together. While I used to kid our builder about bringing me some, these massive stones serve mostly to remind the incredible force that shaped this area: the Sammamish Plateau was flattened; Beaver and Pine Lakes and my wetland scooped out; the region was shaped and scoured and forged in large part by the advance and retreat of glaciers. When their work was done, they left behind these erratics, as well as thousands of smaller boulders and stones around my own
property; it is as though some great woodworker took gouge and chisel and plane to the land leaving behind a litter of chips and shavings of earth.
Granted, the logging operation of the last century and the construction of my home may have disturbed them further, but my patch of forest seems to literally produce rocks. I have heard apocrypha about dense soil that will squeeze out rocks when under heavy hydrostatic pressure, but it truly seems that after every three day downpour there are another thirty or so rocks dotting my landscape. These are the ‘gift with purchase’ of my forest. While I have been to the stoneyard for a dozen and a half craggy boulders for the ornamental front and the more sloped parts of the property, every other rock has been collected from the site and relocated: cobbles by the bucketfull, boulders as large as I can carry, several I have rolled into place; and one that is going to stay right where it is because while I am a big, strong SOB, I’m not stupid.