Iteration III

My Crystals

November 7, 2009

The woman down the street from us was a widow. She lived alone in a small house surrounded by a very well-kept garden. It is not easy to keep a garden in good order in Hawaii simply because everything feels it has a right to grow everywhere, and the environment is entirely supportive of this conviction. If all the world were like Hawaii we would have never abandoned spontaneous generation as the dominant theory of abiogenesis. No one would argue over the probabilities of amino acid combinations because it would be plainly obvious that life is the natural successor to not-life in every situation, even when the landscape is burned away by molten rock.

But this woman, whose name I do not recall, had a very well-kept garden. One of the things she used to keep it was a low wall of dark black lava rock between the beds, and nestled into the wall every few feet were geodes. I think her son brought them to her. He had also built the walls. I asked him once, while he was working, how he knew where to put the stones. He replied that he picked up each stone and asked it where it would like to be, and then placed it there. That way the wall would never fall, because each stone was satisfied where it was. It was a frustrating answer, because I could see the logic in it but he refused to explain how you understood the stone’s response. It was the type of answer I had come to expect from adults by that age, though I had not yet determined that it always translated into something between “I don’t know, but don’t want to admit that to a six year old” and “I don’t want to explain because I like the feeling of power that having more information than you gives me.”

I do not know where her son got the geodes, but there were a lot of them. In addition to those set in the wall, there was a great heap of them in a small walled area under one of the hapu’u ferns. Naturally, I decided to steal some and open them up. After all, who needed so many geodes all for themselves, and not even opened?

They were particularly irresistible to me because I had always been a collector of interesting stones. When my family drove across the US on our way from Massachusetts to Hawaii I amassed a large and varied collection, which was necessarily abandoned when it came time to get on the airplane. I think my dad still feels guilty about not being able to bring them along. I don’t remember missing them so much.

I took the geodes one or two at a time, climbing into our neighbor’s yard through the trees at the far edge where I felt I was less likely to be noticed. Because she spent so much time in the garden it could be difficult, but it also meant I knew she was not inside the house watching, invisible, from a window.

I would take each of my prizes home, and then break them open with a hammer to see the formations inside. (I briefly tried sawing them open, to get the smooth edge, but that proved impossible with a hand saw intended for wood.) There is a technique to hitting them just hard enough to crack them, without shattering them into pieces. I called them my crystals, and I kept them in an old red Rubbermaid cooler and very proudly showed them off to my parents and friends.

Of course my parents asked where I had found them, and I made up stories about wandering in the lava fields behind the house. It was a pretty weak story, but my parents did not know our neighbor and her geodes, and they had no better explanation. I also think that they often simply found it easier to believe me, even when the story was ridiculous. I once removed almost all the shingles from the roof over the living room, telling my dad the whole time that I was just taking the loose ones which had already been knocked out of place. We burned them in a campfire together, with marshmallows and hotdogs, and no one ever questioned the sheer quantity of shingles I had removed until the drywall started to bow under the weight of the water sitting in the attic.

In the end my scheme was discovered. The woman saw me leaving her yard, and her son came over to talk to my dad. I tried to claim that only some of the geodes had come from her garden, and that I had found the rest myself just as I had always claimed, but that sounded transparent even to my parents, and I was made to return them. I carried them back in the little red Rubbermaid cooler and put them back into the big pile from which they had come. I listened to my dad tell me how it was wrong to take things that were not mine. I listened to the woman tell me that if I had only asked she might have given me one. I listened to her son tell me that I had better not be caught on their property again. I didn’t really pay much attention to any of them. I didn’t care about going back on her property, and I didn’t feel guilty for doing what my dad said was wrong. I just stood and listened, and tried to work out how long I would have to keep my remaining crystals hidden.