My stone harvest

While working over in what I formally refer to as the sustainability garden and less formally as the sandbox last week, I reminded myself that besides my failures, I’ve already reaped the benefits of this and last year’s first and still my most reliable harvest: stones.

I pay close attention to the freshly turned soil a day or two just after a heavy rain. This is when the stones that are ripest and most ready to be picked present themselves.

Having noticed only one or two stones that are ripe and ready, I pick only these and maybe a few others, in the same area within the ambit of my reach while I’m bent over. By picking only the stones that ask to be picked, plus a few of their comrades, I am relieved of the oppressive thinking that tells me I need to pick all of the stones.

I pick just some of the stones: usually the ones that have been cleaned by the rain or sprinkler which tends to make them the ones I spy first.

Sometimes I kid myself into thinking they are calling to me from out of their eternal silence, somehow signalling to me their readiness to be picked. It’s makes for a good, solitary game.

I try my best to cooperate with the stones’ requests to be picked as they call out to me in their silent language. It doesn’t take long to pick a bucketful. I dump and add them to the area around the water tap which used to be a mudhole, then go back for more, or not: it doesn’t matter.

In its own way, picking a few stones very early in the morning can be just as satisfying as digging potatoes, cutting broccoli, or finding another huge squash hiding deep within the broad foliage of the mother-plant.

Now, for the first time in my life I have a patch of garden ground that is remarkably free of stones to the extent that they do not actually compete with the main part of the soil structure.

The soil here wants to be a sandy loam and will get there eventually with some help from me and huge amounts of organic material.

The stones are stones in the garden all right, but not too many of them. They’re distributed randomly, like raisins or chocolate chips in a homemade oatmeal cookie.

Already I see that my annual harvest of stones is getting smaller each year. Maybe within the next few years this part of my gardening quest will be finished. Or, maybe I’ll simply continue to pick less stones more, for longer periods of time, until the stones and I declare: “All right. Enough!”

I realize I’m actually pretty adept at picking stones, so much more so than I was when I first picked stones alongside my father, mother, and sister on their garden plot on Highland Street in Waterville, Quebec in the 1960s.

I was absolutely useless as an 8 year-old stone-picker in 1965. I didn’t have the ‘stick-to-it-iveness, that my mother often mentioned, and which I took to be a desirable trait and Dad tended to use stone-picking as a punishment, which didn’t help much.

Still, I would accompany my parents to the garden in those warm Spring and Summer evenings, and while I lacked focus and perseverance, I now find I can pick stones continuously for hours at a time!

Have you ever picked stones? Do you pick stones now? Have you ever thought about taking up stone-picking as a form of recreation, or as part of a comprehensive fitness and exercise plan?

I’d love to read your comments, either here in the ‘reply’ section, or sent me an email at

By Paul David Steer

Wu wei the live-long day.

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