Esteemed Reader: Stone and Flesh | December 2020 | Esteemed Reader | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Esteemed Reader: Stone and Flesh | December 2020 

click to enlarge AMY DOOLEY
  • Amy Dooley

We began as a mineral. We emerged into plant life and into the animal state, and then into being human, and always we have forgotten our former states, except in early spring when we slightly recall being green again.

Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, Mathnawi, translated by Coleman Barks

Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:

I am hanging by my fingers from a cliff, climbing a corner system on a route called The Spring. The climb is on the Seasons Wall, part of the Shawangunk escarpment, along with three other rock climbs, predictably named. In fact, the route's title is to reflect the phenomenon of water gushing from the crack during wet periods. 

The last piece of protective gear is a few feet below my feet. If I were to fall, its placement would result in a longish fall onto the rope. With this eventuality in view, I am alert. Climbing out of the corner and onto an arête, I take in the view with heightened perception. Empty trees describe a skeletal design against a stormy sky. Still fresh bright leaves, just fallen from the most recalcitrant oaks and maples, make a golden brocade on the ground 50 feet below. 

The stone of the Shawangunk escarpment is a dense conglomerate embedded with quartz crystals. Climbing this rock, or even touching it, I sense that it amplifies and broadcasts a force of earth, a palpable, almost electric pulsing power. Is it the 7.83Hz vibration of the Schumann Resonance? I don't know, but I can feel it. 

Along the top of the ridge one finds anomalous megaliths in uncanny positions, some standing vertical or balanced on an edge. Many are aligned to cardinal directions and form a pattern with other cairns and megaliths. Researchers trained in geology believe these are "glacial deposits" while archaeoastronomers* note their alignments with constellations and celestial events suggesting they were placed intentionally by unknown peoples at some time prior to dogmatic white men making up prehistory. 

I was drawn to the Shawangunk stone as a teenager and climbed it intensely and then for 30 years I experienced the cliffs from a distance, walking beneath their colossal presence, occasionally touching the rock to feel its force. Only in my 50th year did I begin climbing the stone again. Today I begin my 51st, having lived most of a life under the shadow of the ridge. 

Stone gives a unique temporal perspective. The sphinx on the Giza Plateau has been geologically shown to be at least 12,000 years old. In her original form, a lion, she was likely carved to commemorate the dawning of the Age of Leo, when the sun rose in the sign of Leo on the vernal equinox in 11,500 BCE, directly in front of the sphinx. Since then she has watched that sun rise over four million times. 

How many times have the Shawangunk cliffs faced the rising sun over the Hudson Highlands? How many human lives have blipped on and off during this span? Like the vastness of space these cliffs put our brief lifetime and burning concerns into perspective. We see that all our sound and fury about "current events" signify nothing on the scale of geological time. 

Making the final moves of the rock climb I venture beyond the tether of protected climbing. It is easy terrain and I climb freely for a few moves, at home in the vertical dimension. The rock under my fingers is cool and smooth. Its shape choreographs the movements of my body. In this endeavor the eternal element of stone and the brief, firefly existence of my body conspire a dance in the present moment.

*See Spirits in Stone: The Secrets of Megalithic America by Glenn Kreisberg

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