The distinction between life and lifeless is a human construct. Every atom in this body existed before organic life emerged 4000 million years ago. Remember our childhood as minerals, as lava, as rocks? Rocks contain the potentiality to weave themselves into such stuff as this. We are the rocks dancing. Why do we look down on them with such a condescending air? It is they that are an immortal part of us.
JOHN SEED, Thinking Like a Mountain
Everything that has ever lived, plant or animal, dates its beginning from the same primordial twitch. At some point in an unimaginably distant past, some little bag of chemicals fidgeted to life. It absorbed some nutrients, gently pulsed, had a brief existence. This much may have happened many times before. But this ancestral packet did something additional and extraordinary. It cleaved itself and produced an heir. A tiny bundle of genetic material passed from one living entity to another, and has never stopped moving since. It was the moment of creation for us all.
BILL BRYSON, A Short History of Nearly Everything
The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.
CARL SAGAN, Cosmos
My grandparents (on the ‘Holt’ side of the family) had many strengths, but they were not by any stretch of the imagination ‘outdoor’ people.
They had their passions, they were pigeon-fanciers, bingo and betting shop frequenters, card players and makers of endless mugs of strong tea, but their lives were lived in the main indoors or in the pigeon loft at the top of the garden.
It was only a specific motivation that got them outdoors. When they walked, they walked for a purpose, ‘down to the shops’ or ‘into town’. They rarely walked anywhere for the existential pleasure of walking.
With one exception, they would walk to the Wishing Stone in Lumsdale. It was a comfortingly familiar walk during my childhood, a walk for talking, for connecting with family. The walk was slow and predicable and ended in us touching the Wishing Stone and making a private wish.
Why that particular walk had become important to my grandparents remained a mystery and throughout childhood I never questioned their motivation for visiting or re-visiting the site.
It was only much later that I came to understand that across cultures, and throughout history, natural features such as waterfalls or stone outcrops have formed an integral and important part of people’s ‘sacred’ or internal landscape and that natural features can mark the presence of an anima loci, the spirit or the essence of a place.
In animistic traditions all natural features were spirited parts of an animate earth, with natural features in the landscape regarded as embodiments of a creating earth mother or earth goddess. These beliefs predate formal religion, and still surfaced in the oral tradition of stones that walk or speak or grant wishes.
Rapid urbanisation, modernisation and industrialisation had, by the early twentieth century, left remnant traditions such the Wishing Stone under threat. But they’d not been entirely lost. And, in the township of the Matlocks, many retained a residual belief that the Stone was a meaningful place where a wish would be granted if you circled the Stone a number of times (between three and nine times depending on who you talked to or how long your grandparents wanted to keep you entertained!).
A prerequisite to releasing the in-dwelling powers or virtues of the Stone was physical contact – the act of literally connecting with the stone and the crucial importance of the direction of movement as you circled around it. Anticlockwise movement was considered unlucky, and popularly referred to as left-hand-wise or widdershins; whilst clockwise, sun-wise or deiseal movements were deemed appropriate for wishing.
Our beliefs are rooted deep in our earth, no matter what you have done to it and how much of it you have paved over. And if you leave all that concrete unwatched for a year or two, the plants, the native plants, will pierce that concrete and push up through it.
JOHN LAME DEER, Seeker of Visions