Sunday, November 10, 2013

Reader's Diary #1081- Carolyn Pogue: Rock of Ages

I'm skeptical by nature. I'm not completely closed to the idea of a supernatural, but little has really resonated with me that I haven't wanted to debunk. As someone who feels a kinship with the arts, this troubles me. I have tended to link faith with the arts, not with science, and my inner scientist usually wins out.

Carolyn Pogue's Rock of Ages is about the oldest exposed rock on the planet, the Acasta River Gneiss, found right here in the Northwest Territories. I expected it to be about geology, and it is. But it's also about mythology, humanity, ecology, and faith in some greater significance. When I first realized this, I was worried that this book about an old rock might be too new agey. (In hindsight, I should have caught the clue in the title.)

Then I told myself to shut up and go with it.

I'm glad I did. Rock of Ages was quite an interesting tale. Looking not only at the Acasta River gneiss, but in the role rocks have played in religions, folklore, and cultural traditions around the world, I came to believe as well that there's something special about that old rock. The opposite of sending our minds and hearts into the cosmos, rocks have kept us grounded. Not a pun, after all. (And new-age is a funny term for ideas that have been around longer than some religions.)

At the end of each chapter, Pogue presents some activities and questions to try which felt out of place to me. I understand that she offers workshops, but I felt these questions would be more appropriate at that setting than in the book where they interrupted the flow somewhat. Granted, one question about rocks that have been important to me did send me back to a certain beach from my childhood where I still visit in my mind if I need a diversion. The beach we called Gallis Cove, but I believe it might have been a bastardized pronunciation of Gallow's Cove. There was a high cliff, with a long 2 foot wide dark red lava strip that used to run from the top down to the beach where it ran along briefly then into the ocean. It was always fascinating to think such a peaceful place ever had something so exotic and dangerous as lava. I just found out that the feature is also known as a Devil's Track. Devil's Track? Gallows? No wonder it was so relaxing, eh? But truly it was, and I appreciated that Rock of Ages took me back there.

It's funny; at first I resisted Pogue's attempts to tie the rock to a higher significance, but after I got into it, I ended up bored somewhat when she steered into more practical topics such as money (the chapter on one man's attempt to sell rocks from the Acasta River gneiss, while interesting at first, went on too long).

Still, for such a short book, Pogue packed a lot in and it brought me peace. A moment's peace, to be sure, but such is life. And as for science and faith? She makes a strong case that it's compatible after all. Art can come along, too.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

The new-agey scares me off, to be honest. But the geographical discussions could be well worth it.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: To be fair, she talks quite at length about the role of rocks in traditional and organized religions as well. It's not all "when Jupiter aligns with Mars."