Talking to the Stones
July 15, 2004
After living here on Heron Drive for eleven years, this summer
I finally decided that it was time to take the back yard in
hand, in a manner of speaking. It had always been a bit of an
eyesore and besides, I was beginning to realize that I needed
a fenced area where I could turn Gibson, my happy little
beagle-cross wanderer, loose without having to search all of
Arkell and half of Copper Ridge trying to find him again. The
yard is a big area, even with the nice new garage taking up a
fair amount of room, and is divided into two distinct
The front part, behind the house and all around the garage is
unlovely with gravel and biggish rocks as well as piles of
surplus building material and wood and lumber awaiting an ax
or a saw or yet another trip to the dump. It is uneven and
lumpy and pocked with sump-y depressions where rainwater
collects to provide incubation for the next mosquito hatch.
The back part, about one quarter of the whole yard, is
carpeted with moss and low-bush cranberry and old pine needles
and slopes away to merge with the green belt directly behind
us. Beyond the green belt is a service road and several old
logging trails perfect for dog-walking or meditative
While studying the lay of the land, so to speak, and planning
removals as well as additions, I took notice of a semi-circle
of largish bits of granite that had been removed to the side
of the lot during garage construction. “Nice,” I said, looking
at them fondly, “you look nice there, almost as if you'd had
grown right amid the moss and cranberry. And golly, wouldn't a
little fountain look good tucked right into the middle of you,
some pretty little statue holding an overflowing vessel of
some sort. And it wouldn't take much to run an electrical line
from the garage to run the pump...”
The stones jostled each other in delight and seemed to be on
the verge of electing a spokesman to discuss the situation
when my neighbour peered at me through the carragana hedge.
“Who're you talking to, Ellen?”
I laughed weakly. “Oh, just these stones, telling them how
perfect they are...” but she was already gone, shaking her
head and muttering.
It wasn't the first time I'd been caught personifying my
surroundings and probably won't be the last. It's this goofy
imagination I possess, keeps me entertained and gives everyone
else a chance to discuss me in tones varying from sympathy (as
in, “Poor old thing,”) to exasperation (“Jeez, you should have
heard the goofy old bat!”) Over the years I've
even chronicled my little idiosyncratic musings and when I
look back at them, I am tickled all over.
There was one that I particularly liked, one I documented
almost fifteen years ago and as I maundered on about the mess
out back and my perfect stones, I remembered the Roadside
People and thought you might enjoy them more than a
blow-by-blow of my back yard beautification program.
Lives of Quiet Desperation, Yukon News, 1990:
`I drive into Whitehorse every other week or so in the winter.
And every time I do, for the past four or five years, I drive
by a small group of people, quietly waiting by the side of the
road just a few miles past the old dam.
` I never stop. And they never wave. But I know the moment I
am out of sight they all put their heads together and laugh a
little as one of them mentions a bit of gossip she heard
concerning me and an old truck driver friend who stopped often
and stayed long.
`I think that they might stroll up and down the driveway a bit
as they discuss Yukon politics, the Sourdough Rendezvous
board's Safer Sex campaign, the price of tea in China. And I'm
absolutely certain that on a clear, starry night, if I parked
my truck just over the rise and walked silent into earshot, I
would hear sweet voices raised in harmony “Amazing grace,” I'd
hear. And “Just a closer walk with thee.”
`They're tall people, and thin. Sometimes there are many,
perhaps ten or twelve; other times, just a few. But many or
few, they continually delight me with their presence and
stimulate my imagination. I visualize the enjoyment of their
builders, school children I suppose, making the best use of
their time as they await the school bus.
`Last week I noted the name on a post by the driveway where
they all hang out and, after a consultation with my phone
book, I made a call. A pleasant young voice said hello. I
introduced myself and described my enjoyment of the figures in
her driveway. “They are wonderful,” I said. “Are they made by
children waiting for the bus?”
`Rosemarie Briggs laughed, a charming little giggle that
brought an answering smile to my own face. “Well, yes, my
little brother, Bernard, and I build some of them.” She paused
and laughed again. “But my mom and dad build the rest. Dad
uses his bobcat to clean out the driveway and then gets off
and piles up the chunks of snow and ice to make our people.
Then my mom goes out and makes some more.”
`I was quiet a moment trying to remember the last time I'd
built a snowperson, with or without my kids. It seemed a very
`“Has anyone ever said anything to you about your people?” I
asked Rosemarie. “No,” she said. “I don't think so. But one
day I went out and someone had stuck a red rose on one.”
`We chatted a few minutes longer and hung up but it was quite
a while before I could stop thinking about the Briggs family,
Ken and Liesel, Rosemarie and Bernard, out in their driveway,
turning the rubble of a storm into a crowd of whimsical
`It took longer to get the goofy smile off my face!
`And the next time I'm come home from town on a bright, clear
night, I going to stop just over the hill and walk back. And
I'll set them straight about my truck driver friend and put in
my two cents worth about the land claims and we'll sing of
“...a mansion, in that bright land where we'll never grow
`And just maybe, in the morning, I'll find that someone has
stuck a red rose on me, too.'
Over the years I have humanized a lot of inanimate objects -
lamplights, signposts, pie crust - and I've never felt
anything but pleasure with my little conceits. Others, like my
neighbour and certain members of my family, are of the opinion
that my elevator has ground to a halt somewhat shy of the top
and I'm about to embark on the next phase of my life's journey
in the good ship, Alzheimer.
Truth to tell, I sometimes worry a little, myself, from time
to time. Oh, not about the stones or the faces on the edge of
the pie pastry, but about getting older and the problems
attendant to advancing age.
After one especially stressful morning, I called my youngest
daughter for reassurance. Her phone rang and rang and I was
about to hang up when she answered, all out of breath.
“Sorry to take so long,” she puffed. “Nick finally finished
putting up the fence and I was out back, painting. Sure is a
I waited until she had run down and then launched my own
spiel. “Listen Lise, you gotta promise me that when I start
losing it entirely, forgetting everything and take off my
clothes and go running into the street, you'll look after me.
Lise never missed a beat. “Of course, I promise, Mom. Why do
you think we've built this fence?”
In all my life, no one has ever pinned a red rose on me or
sung me a love song. Good thing, too. You should just see how
misty I can get over a plain brown board fence.