I’ve noticed that rock walls have shown up as a motif in my writing, so I’m going to develop some descriptive details to beef it up as a symbol in my Ireland vignettes. Rock walls have always been familiar and comforting to me, and I often think of them when facing difficult things. I have been thinking of them again since I read about KHP’s family’s recent loss, so I wanted to try to get some of these thoughts down.
Rock walls line the roads like margins on a page, like lines drawn in charcoal along the deckle edge of fine paper and smudged by the tips of an artist’s fingers. Rock walls are heavy and hard when they’re being built, stone by stone by stone. Some walls are precise and near perfect, each flat long piece layered on another, nestled close in its granite bed to another, settling in for centuries of stilled sitting, holding, guarding. Others are lopsided and threaten to topple, its rocks pulled from fields and gardens, perhaps, and piled away from the spaces that have been cleared. In Ireland, walls circle and snare the fields, marking boundaries or capturing cows. They enclose and seal, often making full squares around a space, the farmers breaking them down and building them up as needed, saving the cost or trouble of a fence.
Saying rock walls are beautiful is like saying water is wet. When I was small, roaming the fields, they were everywhere, all different and yet all tied together, seemingly, in a string of stones that circled the whole country, traipsing through towns and farmland, laying down tracks around churches and marking the important sites in cities. Rock walls can hold you up or pin you in, depending on where you are and what you want to do. You can dance along them and balance on them and jump from them; you can climb them and sit on them and watch the sky from them. You can look at them, studying the weeds and moss and flowers that grow through and around them. You can run your hand along one, imagining how it was built, and when, and by whom. You can wonder how old it is, and how far its stones traveled to make it, some miles and miles of forever, and some from just a few feet away or below.
Saying rock walls are strong is like saying it looks like it might rain. In Ireland, it always looks like it might rain, but some walls are stronger than others. The ones that aren’t perfect looking are stronger because there are holes in them, some big enough to put your hands through. The holes are where the wind comes through, whining and whistling and wooing and wild. The wind and the rain, when they come, could drown you, if you let them. They can make you cold and make you cringe; in a minute, they can take away any little bit of heat you might have stored up inside from a warmer day. The walls don’t move, though; they don’t fight the wind just like they don’t fight the sun.
The rain washes the stones, and the wind whips through them, and the walls stand on. They remain, unrooted but resilient, and they line the roads for us, like margins on a page, holding and healing what remains after a storm.