In January of 2007 I went to a writing workshop at Dharma Yoga led by Jeff Davis from Woodstock, New York, not far from where I grew up. The focus of the class was on writing about place. Jeff led us in a series of yoga movements and guided meditations designed to elicit some specific images about places that were meaningful to us. I focused on the front yard my father created for my childhood home in the Hudson Valley.  Our front yard was outlined with stone walls and terraces which my Dad made from field stone. Here is what I came up with:

Gathered Stones

for Guy Spencer


I had not been born yet.

Still, I can see you at your labor -

alone, scouring the meadows

for the stones -

lifting their gray shoulders

from the moist earth

pulling them from the

green grasp of briars,

goldenrod, and

Queen Anne’s Lace.


The smell of the earth

must have filled you with

your own childhood memories -

of plowing fields

and cold mornings -

trudging across barn yards

mud thick on your boots -

promising yourself

that someday you would leave

and never return.


I can hear the pick axe -

the sharp strikes

against the stones,

and the dull thud

when the earth

swallowed the blade -

and the deep exhalations

when the stones tumbled into

the old wheelbarrow – new then -

that now leans rusting

against my garden shed.


Some of the stones were so large -

far too large for one man –

how did you move them?

I look at the old photographs

and you seem so young –

so much younger

than I am today - and so thin –

staring off-frame beyond the camera.

What were you looking for

in those fields?


I can see you sorting the stones,

stacking them -

building and unbuilding

and rebuilding the walls

and  terraces

until the walls were true

and the terraces level

and planted with dogwood,

birches, soft grass for bare feet,

and bordered with roses.


Did you know

that you were building my castle?

That the highest terrace

would be my tower and keep?

I remember calling out to my

knights, my legionnaires,

and tribesmen –

rallying them in defense

of the citadel –  ready for

the coming siege.


I also remember looking out

across that verdant kingdom

for the last time -

no longer a king or a boy –

and miles away, across the river

to the west, I imagined

the new home that awaited us.

I couldn’t know

how far away it would be

or what it meant to leave.


This morning,

as I looked out across

the garden that I have built,

I felt the weightlessness of time

and its gravity

settling me into place.

For a brief moment I had

the sensation that I was standing

on the shoulders of

gathered stones.

- Tom Spencer

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