(Continued from Part 1…)
And, finally, the command: Pull.
My grip on the rope tightens. Leaning back and pulling with my arms, then my hips, thighs, the small of my back; the tension of the rope becomes my tension, my grip more determined, and I am digging in to the damp turf with my boots, seeking traction and an angle of body that will allow me to pull harder.
When the stone slides forward—on the first pull, no less—the sound is like a blade on ice, grass under wooden runner. I cannot explain the deep pleasure of it, the thrill, as we drag the stone out of the field onto the gravel road.
We are able to move it because we act as one.
On the road, we make slower progress. The sound of the sled has changed—it is gravel under wood now—the noise of skinning the road, popping stones, earth moving on earth.
It is hard work, especially up the first hill. The pulling, stopping, realigning the direction we will pull, waiting for the next command. On the incline as we pull for a long moment, I am flexing and swearing and laughing and making horrendous faces—pulling, pulling, boot behind boot, my fists starting to ache, but I will not let go, unless I’m wrangling for a new place on the line, a better place to grasp the rope so that I can keep pulling.
On a rope line, our labor is distributed; I can only tell how hard I am working when I have stopped working. It is difficult to know how much I am contributing, what weight I am carrying that others are not—and I want to be a part of this human-powered team, pulling along with, as much as, everyone else.
I pull until the heat flares up my thighs an
d hips. Heat in the flex of my back, my core, my shoulders. And when we stop, the release of the rope and its weight, leaves me momentarily winded and centerless for a few blissful seconds. I know five minutes into my first pull that I will do it again next year and the year after that. I will come here to pull again and again.
I will be one of the people of the stones.
Runners know this sort of high. Through-hikers know that the
deepest meditations come when the trail simply stretches out and out and out before the boot. As an animist, it is in these moments of deep exertion—me and the trail, the forest, my body, the elements—that I find a stillness that opens into the deepest forms of the sacred.
Add to this list now the high that comes of pulling a stone up a hill, down a hill, and up another hill. By the time we reach the field where the stone will rest overnight, I am buzzing, flaming like the stone itself
From the Four Quarters Website:
Sunday afternoon, we raise it.
One night’s fitful rest in a tent. It rained once more and I am aching everywhere from the work of the day before and the damp cold. I can barely open and close my fists through the morning. My arms are weak—holding my coffee cup is an act of determination.
Despite this, I am deeply blissed.
Today, we set the stone on its concrete footer in the circle. I ignore my stiffness and take my place in line to pull again. We move the stone a few more feet. The exertion melts away all of the aches—and I’m moving again, warm again.
Mike leads the stone crew in building the scaffolding. The stone crew uses levers to lift the stone slab a few inches. For an hour, maybe more, the stone inches up and up, pried upward with levers and held at an angle—10 degrees, 30 degrees, 45—on a scaffolding of railroad ties. The stone bows slightly under its own weight. Orren, architect, maestro, directs the final raising, tells us that he has installed a block and tackle to slow. us. down. He says he cannot trust us—we will pull to fast and too hard. We are no longer used to laboring in cooperation with others. Once upon a time way back and when, people labored communally to raise, to build, to work; they knew how to be slow, how to sit with the work and each other.
I cannot stop looking at it, watching it, watching the work of the crew with the stone. I am breathless with the sweetness of this stone and the mission.
We line up on the ropes once more and when we are told, we pull again, just a few of us on the ropes now, to lift the stone the last few feet. I do not often think of stones as graceful or elegant, but there’s no other word for this stone, our stone. As it lifts, slips into place, it becomes a leaping flame.
A curious energetic release—white, warm, weightless, effusive—in this moment of completion.
The circle is cast.
Sunday evening, we feast, then we gather for the consecration.
As darkness fell, we gathered once more in the stone circle to consecrate the newest stone. The ceremony is solemn. We lead the long line of people into the stone circle and stand, again, shoulder to shoulder—stones crew, the rope people, the ritual leaders, those who watched and organized in the background, the children of this tribe—ringed around the central altar. I keep turning from the altar, the ritual, the others, to look up at it—
The stone—the flame stone. I am simply in awe of it.
The consecration of the stone is also the consecration of the tribe. The final ritual is cathartic in the best sense—all of that mana, built so slowly, deeply, from the work, the raising, the feast, the gathering, the promise of belonging—it’s just under the surface of each of us, ripe and rich as we stand together, a circle in that circle.
I’m still looking at the stone when I hear the voices of the main ritualists begin to raise in a song. I cannot really hear the words. I catch snippets—something about the land. Something about belonging to the land and to each other. I let the singing, the voices wash over me—through me—around me. I cannot take my eyes from the stone as the current raises and turns raw.
And, like that, I am opened. I surrender to it.
I let this circle, the stones and their people have all of me.
* * *
The story of the stones is also the story of our deeply human need for ritual, meaning, purpose. Our need to be loved. To belong. To feel a relationship with what we deem sacred.
Some of the most active members of Four Quarters will say, “It’s not the stone circle we’re building.” But many groups give lip service to community-building. Many honor service, hype belonging, and offer their people a spiritual and physical home.
Stones Rising offers a different take on these standards—a reminder that our relationship to the earth is literally the ground upon which our communities are built.
It is a game changing notion, for when a people are bound together by this call to know and serve the earth, then what we call sacred is also fed by the ways we hold each other.
That last night I returned to the circle, alone. I could feel them, hear them. The deep froggy boom of those 53 stones, humming and ruminating and dreaming. They had come alive to me over the course of the weekend—I saw them all anew that last night, their colors and shapes and energies. Some call them “dancing giants.” In the darkness, you can see why—the dark shifts and stirs around them. A trick of the eye. Some hint of spirit.
I do not want to name this sense of belonging. To name would be to diminish it.
I do not care to understand it more than this:
I will return and feel it,
feed it with my hands and feet and heart,
the realness and the possibilities
of a stone raising.
Moine Michelle is a contemplative Druid (AODA, OBOD), Scottish Gaelic learner, and writer living in the DC-area. For her day-job, she teaches writers to love every aspect of the writing process. In her free-time, she hangs out with an ancient, black lab and a feisty fat Chihuahua.
Her poetry book, Colors of this Hungry Sky, is available via Amazon.com: