Britta Gustafson: Life is just a box of rocks

Can we no longer see the irony in buying diamonds and throwing away rocks?

Britta Gustafson
Then Again
Britta Gustafson for the Snowmass Sun

This morning I was surprised to find a box of rocks that appeared to be a hefty collection discarded at our local dumpster. They sat, as rocks do, awaiting pickup off to find themselves integrated with the debris of human leftovers, ready to waste away in the Pitkin County Landfill after a journey across time to arrive in that box at a dumpster.

I’ve always found rocks beautiful and symbolic in their timeless endurance, a stark contrast to the otherwise fragile and brief impermanence that is the human experience on this rocky, terrestrial planet. They are like a soul-anchor to the Earth, meditation made solid, full of lifeless energy, uncomplicated yet so complex in their creation.

Categorically ordinary, rocks do seem rather simple. And yet their stability, the longevity of their movement on the surface of our planet, is awe inspiring. Whether smoothed by rivers, cleaved from the hill sides sharp and jagged, embedded deep in caves and cravens or emerging from volcanic eruptions, each pebble has had its journey, has been here far beyond our settlements, and will exist long after we are gone.

Offered up from their slumber below ground, there are certain rocks that make us stop and take notice, as if serendipitously transported into our pathways. Some have worked their way up over a millennia to grab our welcomed attention — and others not so welcomed when we find them hiding just beneath a snowy dusting on an early season ski run. Kids have particularly keen connections to the rocks that call to them. I’ve found myself stooping to pick up particular pebbles, eye caught and hand grasping, before I was aware of making a choice, as if it called to me.

I have no doubt that at some point those rocks meant something to the person who took the time to bring them together. The collection of varying colors, textures, and sizes, some sparkling with crystal deposits, others flat and impenetrably gray, were not simply unearthed together from a local garden bed.

And to notice a collection of interesting stones that had likely traveled great distances and possibly once made up a treasured collection discarded in this manner made me wonder: Have we reached the point of wastefulness where it seems logical to send them off to the dump to further aid in the overflow of excess we produce? Are we becoming so disconnected that a rock represents nothing more than clutter to be discarded on the one hand, but also (to some) worth thousands of dollars once polished, cut, and marketed as precious and extremely valuable?

Sure, this is the Rocky Mountains, and they are not in short supply. But I ponder this as we approach a season marked by ravenous consumerism: Are we losing our valued connections as we allow the capitalist machine to infiltrate even our most innate intuitions? Motivated only by wasteful purchasing and unsustainable materialism, can we no longer see the irony in buying diamonds and throwing away rocks?

According to evidence in Smithsonian Magazine, even the earliest Hominids liked to pick up cool rocks. Perhaps it’s in our DNA, or maybe there are simply forces in the Universe that bind us to nature and connect us unconsciously to this ancient rock underfoot upon which we dwell.

But that which we call a rock by any other name would still be a rock. So would a diamond, were it not called diamond, still retain that dear perfection?

I couldn’t leave a box of rocks to be carted off to the landfill, so I have liberated that unusual collection and to find a new home, perhaps permanent, on a hillside in Snowmass Village where its journey will continue as the oceans rise and our empire falls.

I don’t collect rocks to throw them at glass houses, and I do certainly buy into the season of gift giving. As I left my garbage while salvaging the rock collection, the irony was not lost on me. But still it left me pondering as we produce more than we can consume on this planet, and as we on the one hand recognize our contributions to climate change while on the other carry right on consuming. I suppose we all but guarantee our buy-now pay-later fate.

Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree, what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at