Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Rocklins Chapter One

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Chapter 1 of The Rocklins, by Harvey Fite and Tad Richards

The Reflections of Time

 Tad lived in an abandoned section of a quarry. Thousands of tons of stone had been carried away from it to build fine houses for people who liked to live in them. Tad’s quarry was a much more beautiful place to live in than all the fine houses. His walls were gigantic cliffs of gray-blue stone which reached upward to yellow and brown earth. And in the earth grew large green trees that climbed upward to the sky, and the sky was blue, and sometimes blue with white fleecy clouds. Or it could be gray, or rosy pink in the evening, and blue-black at night with dancing sparkling stars and a moon that passed overhead and then sank out of sight again.
 The floor of Tad’s dwelling was a series of irregular mounds of stone rubble which formed passageways both broad and narrow. At the end of some of those passageways were pools and lagoons of clear spring water that reflected the cliffs, and the trees, and the sky.
 Tad’s father was the quarrymaster, but he was away in Europe, fighting in a great war. His mother worked in the town, in a factory that made shoes and boots for the soldiers fighting in the war. But Tad was never lonely in his quarry. There were fox dens in the old heaps of rubble. Some birds built their nests under the stone ledges, and flew back and forth finding worms and grubs to feed to their babies. Squirrels and chipmunks fed from the acorns which dropped from the oak trees above. Rabbits nibbled at the tender grass, ferns, wildflowers and mosses that grew in between the cracks and in corners where leaf mold had turned into a rich mulch. And in the cool spring water lived small fish, polliwogs, frogs, turtles, and beautifully colored salamanders.
 “I like living here,” Tad told his animal friends one day as he worked on a stone with hammer and chisel. “I am going to be a quarryman like my father, and my grandfather, and my great-grandfather, and my great-great-grandfather, and my great-great-great-grandfather.”
 And then Tad heard a voice say, “Not enough greats.”

   He looked about, but seeing no one, asked the frog if he had spoken. The frog made no answer, but hopped into the pool and swam off, his hind legs making him move deep into the water in just a few strokes. Then he asked a rabbit if he had been the one, but the rabbit ignored him and hopped off to find a new patch of grass. A chipmunk chattered a little, but its cheeks were so full of acorns that Tad could not tell whether it was trying to talk or not.
 Tad knew it was no use trying to ask a fox, because they are always asleep in their dens during most of the day, so that they can hunt by night. He was sure the fish couldn’t have said anything, because they were all under water. That left the squirrel, but he was nowhere to be seen, and he had never talked to Tad, anyway.
 Tad looked back at the piece of stone he had been pounding on with his hammer and chisel. He was discovering that if you chipped away at the stone, you could make shapes from it.
 He had found this out altogether by accident. One day he was chipping away at a piece of stone, to make it fit into a space in a stone wall that his father had built, when he realized that the stone was starting to look like a bird.
 He wondered if he kept chipping, and he thought about what he was doing, if he could make it look even more like a bird. So he tried. He discovered that if he set it up on a bench, he could walk around it, and look at it from one side, and then the front, and then around to the other side, and finally to the back. And each time he looked at it from a  different angle, he had to chip a little here, and little there, and then move around it again, look at it some more, and then make some more chips.
 It was starting to look more and more like a bird, until he made one chip too many, and the bird’s beak flew off.
 Tad was disappointed. But not very. He was too excited by what he was discovering. He wandered around his quarry, looking at stones in his piles of rubble, until he saw one that somehow reminded him of a squirrel. 
 He put it up on his bench, and started chipping away with his hammer and chisel, just the way he had done before. And gradually, one end of it started to look more and more like the head of a squirrel, with rounded cheeks and a pointy nose and ears.
 Then he did not know what to do next. He could not figure out how the squirrel’s body should start. How did a squirrel’s shoulders fit onto its neck? But squirrels didn’t really have shoulders, did they?
 The more he looked at it, the more he liked it the way it was. The squirrel’s head looked as though it was peering out of cave, or out of a crack in the wall, just the way a real squirrel would. The cave or wall was the rest of the stone, the part he had not chipped away.

   Was that all right? Could you just leave something like that? Tad didn’t know. He had not known until just a few days ago that you could do this at all, so he certainly didn’t know if there were any rules.
 Now he had found a new piece of stone, and he was chipping at it. He looked at it closely, as if it might have been the voice. Certainly it could not have said anything. But it was starting to look like something…like a little boy.

 He went back to work on it, and by evening, when his mother came home, it was starting to look more and more like a little boy.
 “That’s beautiful, Tad,” his mother said. “You’re getting to be so good at making things out of stone. Do you know there’s a name for what you’re doing? They call it sculpture.”
 “You mean other people have made things like this?” Tad asked. “I would so much like to see some of it.”
 “I’m sure you will,” his mother said. “When the war is over and your father comes home, we’ll do lots of things together.”
 “Will that be soon?” Tad asked.
 “Yes,” said his mother. “Yes, I think now that it will be soon.”

 Tad decided not to tell his mother about the voice. It would just make her worried, and she had enough to worry about. She might start to be afraid to let him stay all day in the quarry by himself. Besides, he was no longer really sure he had heard anything at all. It must have been his imagination. “Not enough greats”? It didn’t make any sense.
 The next morning, he was back to his piece of stone again. As he worked on it, he began to notice that it wasn’t looking just like any little boy. It was starting to look more and more like himself.
 He looked at his reflection in the spring water, and sure enough, he could see the shape of the stone in his own reflection, and he could see something of himself when he looked back at the stone. He started to look back and forth as he worked, first at the stone, then at his reflection in the water, then back at the stone again.
 He began to work even harder now, and he was too absorbed in what he was doing to think about anything else—certainly not about the voice he might or might not have heard the night before.
 Until he heard it again.
 It might have been the same voice. He could not be sure. Again, he could not tell where it was coming from. But this time he heard it say. “Very good, Tad. Very good indeed.”
 He looked all around again. At the animals, though he knew they had not spoken. At the piece of stone, though he knew it could not have spoken.
 He looked down into the pool.

   The surface of the water was shimmering, as though a breeze was blowing across it, or a pebble had been tossed into it. But the air was still, and there had been no splash in the pool. In the rippling water, he saw his reflection—but not just his. Now there seemed to be many faces reflected in the water.
    He could not see any of them clearly through the ripples, but he could tell that they were all different. Different shapes, different sizes, different colors, wearing different expressions.
 Tad was surprised. But he liked them all, even though all but his own were strange to him. “I wonder if I could make all of them in stone,” he said last. “I think I could. I could make – what did my Mama call it – sculptures of all of them. But I need to keep working on my own first, and get it right.”
 “Bravo, Tad!” said the voice again. “There is hope for the world.”
 Tad looked again into the water. This time it was calmer, though there were still some ripples, and this time he saw only two reflections, his own and one other. “Run along, Prax,” said the voice. “You are too persistent. We are not ready for you yet.”
 The surface of the water smoothed, and now Tad saw only his own reflection.
 “And now, Tad,” the voice said. “Can you see me now?”
 “Where?” asked Tad.
 “I am behind you.”
 Tad turned around. A strange little man was standing there. He had a wise, wonderful face, almond colored, with a round hooked nose. He was wearing a feathered headband, and a cape of brightly colored feathers.
 “Who are you?” asked Tad.
 “I am Tec,” the little man said.
 “Yes, that is what they call me. It is short for Mayatec.”
 “Then your real name is Mayatec.”
 “Not exactly. Rocklins don’t really have names. The words associated with us are the symbols for the cultures we represent.”
 “Your words are too big,” Tad said.
 “Oh, you’ll get used to them,” Tec said. “All Rocklins use big words, because we have big ideas to talk about.”
 “But you speak English?” Tad said.
 “We don’t speak any one human language,” Tec said. “We come from all over the world. So all Rocklins speak Stonish, which is a language that never changes in time or space.”
 “I’m all mixed up,” said Tad. “What is a Rocklin? What is Stonish? I don’t know how to speak it. So how can I be talking to you? And I understand what you’re saying, too. Sort of.”

   “You are starting to learn,” Tec said. “Learning how to see Rocklins is the hardest part. Once you can see Rocklins, you very quickly learn how to talk to us.”
    “How have I learned to see you? How long have you been living in my quarry? Why did my father never see you, or my grandfather, or my great-grandfather? Was it you who said I didn’t have enough greats?”
 “No, that was Prax.”
 “Who is Prax?”
 “Prax is the Rocklin of Greek sculpture.”
 “Sculpture,” said Tad. “My Mama just taught me that word. I like it. Is that what I’m making when I chip away at rocks?”
 “We call it carving,” said Tec. And yes, that is what you were doing with your hammer and chisel. You were carving stone, and making sculpture.”
 “Carving,” said Tad. “I like that word too. Why did Prax say I didn’t have enough great-grandfathers?”
 “Because they didn’t reach all the way back to ancient Greece. Your genealogy is too short for him.”
 “Is that bad?”
 “Prax thinks it is. He thinks the only art that matters was made by the ancient Greeks.”
 “You’re confusing me again,” said Tad. “What is genealogy? What is art? What is sculpture? I still don’t know if I understand it. And what were those reflections I saw in the pool? Were they Rocklins, or genealogy, or art, or sculpture? Where did they go? And why didn’t I see your reflection in the pool?”
 “Just a minute, just a minute,” said Tec. He was laughing, a merry laugh that seemed to rumble out of the earth and float on the air. “One question at a time. Let me start at the beginning. In the first place, there is no need to tell you what art is, because no one has ever been able to answer that question in a way that would satisfy anyone else. Sculpture is a kind of art, and your little stone carvings are one kind of sculpture.”
 “What is genealogy?”
 “That just means how many great-great-grandparents you have, and what you know about them.”
“Is that important?”

      “More to some than to others. It’s good to know what your heritage is. But you don’t have to have come from one place or the other to make art.”
 “And all the Rocklins come from different places?”
 “That’s right.”
 “And a Rocklin is… you said symbols for the cultures we represent. But I don’t know what means.”
 “Very well,” said Tec. “Put your thinking cap on. A Rocklin is the spirit of stone. More than that, he is the spirit of stone carving, of finding the spirit within each stone.”
 “I thought I felt the spirit of a squirrel in that one stone,” said Tad.
 “And so you did,” said Tec. “All those reflections you saw in the water – yes, they were all Rocklins. Each represented the spirit of stone and stone carving from a different time and place.”
 “But I didn’t see you there.”
 “Quite true, Tad, but I wasn’t the only Rocklin you didn’t see. T’ang, for example. You did not see him.”
 “Who is T’ang?”
 “He is the Chinese Rocklin, a real philosopher and a gentleman, and one of those who is waiting to meet you. But you didn’t see him because he is an Asian, and his heritage and aesthetic are different from yours.” His eyes twinkled. “And before you ask, aesthetic for a sculptor simply means the kinds of spirits you see in stone, and draw out of the stone with your carving. And you did not see me because I am a pre-Columbian American.”
 “But I’m an American.”
 “You are now, my boy, but your heritage is European. You said that your great-great-great-grandfather was a quarryman. He was, but he didn’t work here. One of your later great-grandfathers came over to America on a boat, with his hands and his tools and his brain, and began the American part of your family. By that time, I and my people had already been American, and carving out the spirit of American stone, for thousands of years.”
 At this point, Tec broke into a little dance, and a chant that went something like this.

 Maya, Toltec, Aztec,
 Cultures that stand alone,
 Known to fame
 Before Europe came,
 Tec is their spirit of stone.

 Tad felt enchanted. Something he had never felt before was stirring inside him. He still did not understand all of Tec’s big words, but he was beginning to get the feeling of them.
 “Why am I seeing you now?” he asked. “Why you, if you are not my heritage? Why here in this quarry?”
 Tec smiled. “Maybe you are beginning to take root in America,” he said.
 “Can I meet other Rocklins?”
 “You can,” said Tec. “But maybe you’ve heard enough already. Rocklins can be boring talkers, especially when they get on the subject of how great their culture is. And we all use big words.”
 “But I’m starting to like it,” said Tad. “Please, can I hear more? Can I meet more Rocklins?”
 “All right,” said Tec. “But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
 “I promise.”
 Tec waved his arms.

 Then walk on your own
 Through the world of stone.

 Tec disappeared. He seemed to have melted right into the rock. Tad tried to follow him, but he just bumped his nose. It hurt. He wanted to cry, and not from the hurt. Tec reappeared.
 “I can’t do that,” Tad said. “No one can walk through stone. And where would I go? I can’t walk on my own. The world is too big.”
 Tec smiled. “I’ll go with you,” he said. “And once you pass through the barrier, the World of Stone is at your feet. You can go anywhere in an instant, and time ceases to matter. You can be in China talking to T’ang, or in Egypt with Tut, or in France with Louis. Or if you don’t find them at home, just go in any direction you hear an argument. Where you find two Rocklins, you’ll find an argument. It might be Prax telling Nino what’s wrong with his work, or someone catching Elgie trying to steal something or Jonesy trying to copy someone else’s work. Or else they’ll be all together, having a general free-for-all argument about aesthetics, which no one knows anything about. So…are you ready to enter the World of Stone?”
 “I think so,” said Tad. “But…”
  “Just repeat these words after me,” said Tec. “And then follow me.”

 Rocks of Ages
 Left for me,
 Let me find myself in thee.

 Tad said the words.
 Tec began to walk downstairs, except that there were no stairs. His body was disappearing into the stone. Tad held his breath, and followed him. This time it was no different that walking down the steps of a pool.

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