As we walked towards the lake on a sunny winter’s morning, one child gravitated towards the Arch of the Sun sculpture. He squeezed himself between the cold concrete pillars, crunching rocks underfoot. Several other children followed and then bent down to sort through the stones, describing them as frozen, crystal, glittery, shiny, sparkly.
One girl placed some stones in her pocket, noting that she would take them with her. This is my rock collector pocket… look at all these shiny rocks in my pocket. This small act seemed to be generated by both the material presence of the stones and the child’s desire to touch and feel the stones in her hands, even long after they had been placed in her pockets. I was reminded of Paulinii Rautio’s (2013) observation that we can see the seemingly everyday and trivial practice of child carrying stones as a way that children might refute or resist the construct of the nature/culture binary and shape their own politics of belonging with the more-than-human world.
In the meantime, another child had found some small ‘stones’ and was throwing them around. I asked to see one of the stones, noting the fragile, round shape of the items in his hand. I asked if he knew what the ‘stones’ were. He shook his head. That’s rabbit poo, I said. He held the ‘stone’ a little more tentatively as he pondered this thought. He eventually let it drop to the ground. He said to his friend, let’s follow the poo and see if it leads us to rabbits. They set off tracking the poo trails that were strewn across the ground. Their search took them over the grass, down a rocky bank and to a bark covered depression in the landscape. There, they found a dead rabbit and several dug-out holes.
There’s lots of rabbit poo. There must be rabbits around.
Let’s follow the rabbit poo trail and we will find the rabbits.
You go this way and I’ll go that way.
Here’s a dead rabbit but its cut. It’s in half. It’s a piece of rabbit.
Somebody ate it. Maybe those birds ate it. No, it just got old.
We left the rabbit with the elements, and headed to the lake. Some of the children noticed the receding fog on the water.
The cloud is on the ground. Its foggy isn’t it?
Another boy chimed in with an analogy reminiscent of London winters – sometimes it’s called pea soup – the phrase acting as a reminder of Australia’s colonial roots and the ongoing reverberations of a culture trying to make sense of a climate in a new place.
A few children started to toss pebbles into the lake. This caught on and a long line of children stood throwing the small smooth stones. One entreated others to stop so that the ducks would not be scared away – but others pointed out that the ducks were a long way off.
After a time, however, the children stopped throwing the stones, and sat together in the company of the duck, watching it disappear and reappear over and over as it bobbed under the water for its food.
On our return to the Centre, a couple of the children reached into their pockets to show me the items they had collected on the way – mostly stones, bones and small sticks.
I found that I too had unwittingly picked up a smooth stone and was running it through my fingers.
When we carry stones, for no particular reason, we engage with a practice that celebrates also being in the present rather than only knowing for the future. We have a vantage point into a mode of being that requires no words, no particular rationale and no rules (Rautio, 405: 2013).
Rautio, Pauliina (2013) Children who carry stones in their pockets: on autotelic material practices in everyday life, Children’s Geographies, 11:4, 394-408, DOI: 10.1080/14733285.2013.812278