The Works of Becca Deysach
Becca Deysach is a bread-baking, cross-country-skiing, coffee-drinking collector of bones and stones. She writes from Portland, Oregon where she facilitates writing workshops both online and in-person through Ibex Studios: Adventures in Creative Writing (www.ibexstudios.com). She is endlessly grateful to Glendon Brunk and Phil Condon for giving her a chance to write.
All Nonfiction © Becca Deysach
Walking down the driveway to get my mail this afternoon, I kept my eyes glued to the slippery slope. The ice on the gravel was melting, making a few branching streams out of my driveway. Plucking up a striated thumbnail-sized stone, I realized that the whole world is in my driveway, embodied in the small rocks that comprise it and in the still smaller stones that make up the cement mixture my landlord poured over it last fall. And the world is embodied in the melting snow that consists of water that has been recycled for the past four billion years. Four billion years.
My dad used to say that a billion was, what? Something like, "Think of it this way, Bex. One thousand seconds are less than an hour. One million seconds are eleven-and-a-half days. But one billion. If you were to count to a billion, one number per second, it would take you thirty-two years." Eleven days from now, I don't expect to be much changed; in thirty-two years, I hope to be eccentric and grey.
I didn't remember the specifics of that analogy until just now when I took the time to scribble down some calculations on my kitchen chalkboard:
60 seconds/minute x 60 minutes/hour =
3600 seconds/hour x 24 hours/day =
Those equations glare at me from across the room and, until a more pressing topic arises, I am going to leave them up. I need to. For I ache to hold in my head, no, in my gut, an understanding of just how big a billion is. Four-point-seven of which make up the history of this Earth in years, twelve to twenty of which the history of the universe is made. Because maybe then I will be able to grasp both the resounding insignificance and profound exquisiteness of my relatively brief life.
I am a collector. I don't mean to be. I don't mean to pocket artifacts from the land and display them on my wall, my bedside table, and in my notebook, but I do. Settling into my new apartment this fall, I was embarrassed by all the treasures I have gleaned from ventures into unknown territory. The bones, alone, filled two plastic tubs for the move to Missoula. Now hanging on my cobalt kitchen wall are the skulls of a moose, a deer, and a bird; a starfish skeleton; a cow pelvis; two tibia and three femurs of ungulates I can't identify; three large vertebrae; one elk sacrum; two elk mandibles; and two deer antlers.
Each time I put one in my hands or in my backpack, a part of me cringes. Maybe I should leave them be, let them return as calcium, phosphate, and carbon to the soil. But I pick them up anyway; they are simply striking. True beauty, bones reveal the smooth curves of structural integrity. They remind me of the contours of my insides, and of the land from which they came.
I collect other things, too. On the low table next to my bed is a violet in a tiny vase, a piece of pumice as light as a foam ball, the three perfect slices of a twice-cleaved stone, and a quarter-thin triangle of smooth sediment eight layers thick. Shells and stones from the Pacific, Great Lakes, high and low desert, and mountaintops line up on my windowsills and tumble together in a crooked coil pot on my kitchen table.
I picked up each of these items because I was struck by its glaring beauty or rarity. I held each one in my fingers and rubbed it clockwise with my thumb as I studied its cross-sections in search of striations, and then turned it over from front to back hoping to find fossilized life. If it had an optimal combination of decorative beauty and stunning reminders of time, I pocketed it.
My collection reveals that I am particularly struck by long-weathered pink shells and the dinner-mint-sized charcoal, rose, and jade stones from Lake Superior with the forms of extinct creatures impressed on them. But the stones that slay me the most are those tiny layered ones that reveal tens of thousands of years in a space no thicker than my thumb.
I examine these treasures for their stories the way I walk the canyons near my home to learn theirs. I long to be a part of the slow collision of tectonic plates and relentless scouring of rock walls. I go to the mylonite's jagged shiny surface for the active past it reveals just as I run my fingertips along my deep scars to remember the forces that have shaped me. I go to sun-bleached bones, rocks, shells, canyons, and my own skin for a gut understanding of all that has come before me in hopes of grasping how I got to this place in time. I gather these things as reminders of the topography I have known, as reminders of both the land and the knowing of it. And I gather them to remind me of a past I will never know. They are incomprehensible vastness held in my fingers, on my windowsill.