Nida’s Excellent Rock ‘n’ Roll Adventure

The Stone of Scone is a rock that the Brits stole from the Scots and used as a dais for the coronation throne of every queen and king for the last thousand years. That rock has mythological story lines, some of which are true. What we do know is that it was important enough for King Edward 1st to steal it. It rested in London until it was rolled back to Scotland in 1996. As ELO presciently sang – though not specifically referencing the Stone of Scone – Rock n’ roll is King.

It was at dinner with friends eating Christmas turkey leftovers that New Year’s plans came up for discussion. Nida said she had a special mission that she had ‘chosen to accept’ – à la Mission Impossible. She had to rent a truck and deliver a large rock to New Orleans. She said this with a straight face.

My ears perking, “come again?”

“I have to take a rock to New Orleans.” She said deadpan.

“And so, you’re going to pick this rock up with… how many Arnold Schwarzenegger’s? And put it in the back of a truck, and drive it to New Orleans for New Years?”

Why does she want to do that? I sense a story in the making. I want to know what happens when U.S. Customs sees this large rock. How many split seconds is it gonna take them to say, “Ma’am, kindly pull over there.”.

But none of that happened.

Is a rock not a token “sculpture” of the special artistry of Mother Nature, a very rare creation forged through aeons in the cosmos’ furnace? 

Nida’s rock arrived with The Stray Cats’ Rock This Town blaring on WWOZ Rock 90.7 FM New Orleans on the pickup truck radio. Fitting, as the history of “rocking and rolling” owes some of its musical history to the port city.

Matthew Lumley (left) with Lok Home and the rock that they managed to roll off the pick up truck using a tire jack.

The rock made it to New Orleans intact without – as I imagined – border security making Nida roll it out onto the pavement and exploding it to see what kind of “rock” it really was. Small miracles. Border guard just smirked and sent her on her journey as if it’s an everyday thing, Canadians carrying large rocks to New Orleans.

The quick backstory, not entirely factual, is that Nida grew up on a “farm” near Newmarket, Ontario, and one of her many siblings, a mining engineer in New Orleans wanted this rock from the so-called childhood farm as a memento, an object that featured in his childhood. Et voila, she would deliver it to him as a cornerstone, er, touchstone, in the centre of a rock sculpture garden Nida would design for his backyard.

Connor McDavid, and Jim Carey, different kinds of rock stars, also emerged from Newmarket. But I digress.

* * *

The thing about a rock is that it sits in a continuum of composite materials and physical properties – and meanings – just as much of what we call art works in the art world do. Artists mix pigments to create a thing larger than the sum of its part. Or take several instruments, a good recording studio and board and recording engineer and producer to do the same thing in music.

Smaller than a rock are stones, pebbles, sand, on to silica and silicon and then… pull out your electron microscope to look closer. Larger than a rock: boulders, crags, mountain faces, volcanoes, mountain ranges and, magma – all originating in stardust from generations of star formations, supernovas to create silicon and magnesium and iron atoms from the primal hydrogen atom, the stuff of rocks, which in turn flew out of a Big Bang singularity.

Sit on a rock and think about that.

Which brings to mind: where the universe mostly presents hydrogen (98%+) with a smattering of helium atoms to the human gaze into space and time, is a rock not a token “sculpture” of the special artistry of Mother Nature, a very rare creation forged through aeons in the cosmos’ furnace?

Nida’s rock, and rolling of rock adventure takes a bit of that cosmos by-product (aside: define cosmos? It’s… the sum total of everything that exists) and rolls it, “on down the river”, the Mississippi. As we know from Mark Twain and/or Tina Turner, a lot of things come rolling down the river, down the largest drainage basin of central North America towards New Orleans. So why not a chunk of the Canadian Shield to add to that mix, what mining engineer bro of Nida, Lok Home, estimates as

30% quartz
30% feldspar
10% mica + some hornblende/granite gneiss

and float that on down to the microcosm, confluence of centuries of flow in an ecosystem— with human material byproducts, notions, commerce, musical styles or just… rocks from Newmarket?

A rolling stone gathers no moss, the mantra of the eponymous famous rolling stoners goes.

* * *

I have a favourite rock too. A pet rock, if you will, but not like one of those that were cleverly marketed in a box with a bit of straw and sold for $3.99 when I was a kid, although now I wish I had bought one of those as a memento of crazy fads that come and go like Pokemons. Or latest rock ‘n roll tune, when that was a musical genre you couldn’t avoid.

My rock sits in my front yard by the street, and has a personal backstory, meaning to me. It’s the perfect rock inviting one to sit and contemplate existence, just as August Rodin’s The Thinker does: his thinker found a rock instead of a bench or a gilded chair. Sometimes my rock serves other human needs, like just taking a rest and watching the dog walkers in the neighbourhood. H.D. Thoreau wrote in Walden Pond that he’d “rather sit on a pumpkin than a red velvet chair.”

I don’t grow pumpkins, but I get it. Nature triumphs human decorative arts most of the time as Henry David argues.

I used to sit on it as a kid, along with my siblings, and when I decided to take out the small lawn and plant perennial flowers, it was time to roll that rock to where it once stood in my childhood. As April Wine once sang when I was a kid… “I like to rock!” Here it is, surviving another ice age as it has for, well who knows, perhaps one billion years. Or more.

* * *

Samuel Johnson, who published the first English dictionary in 1755 once attended a lecture by George Berkeley, who was arguing that the material world doesn’t really exist. Everything was simply subjective to your own experience; whatever you make of rocks and trees and sky and such, none of that stuff really exists. Only your personal experience. Johnson was with his sidekick Boswell who wrote everything down. Johnson came out of the lecture and kicked a large rock. “I refute him thus!”

It’s not surprising that Johnson purposefully stubbed his toe on a rock to prove that there is “matter” and not illusion. Equally not surprising that Arthur C. Clark used a rock as the emblem, a totem, a polished granite monolith in Space Odyssey:2001 embodying the wisdom and information and higher intelligence now brought to this “third rock from the sun” – by aliens of higher intelligence? Those aliens knew the potential of rock.

* * *

Nida took directives on her mission. Last summer at their childhood farm, which was also a gravel pit providing stone material to build the GTA – Nida left that part of the story out for some reason – brother Lok and her inspected large rocks excavated in the quarry as potentials for the installation.

“Let’s go with this one,” Lok said. “It is a bit chipped up, it’s certainly not perfect and yet, that rock could be laughing at life after rolling for millions of years in the cold. Hundreds of miles this way and that way, and most of the time colder than hell. Destined for another few hundred-mile trip to rest where it can stay warm for few thousand years at least.”

2086 kilometers, or 1296 miles, to be accurate.

The “for a few thousand years” sounds a bit negative, but he’s likely taking into consideration global warming, or…?

* * *

This is what Nida’s rock n roll adventure is all about:

“The intention of this installation is not to take away from the peaceful, welcoming space that has already been created, reflected by the movement, vibrancy, and abundance of the well-tended garden, but intended to enhance and deepen what is already there by creating more of a meditation space, evoking a sense of self-reflection and a turn to inner calmness, as well as bring to awareness of our essential interconnectedness. Here, one can quiet the mind and move away from the distractions of the outside world. It’s meant to encourage an awareness of an essential vibration that exists between all objects and our interrelatedness that is there but unseen.

Graphic Credit: Reena Cawthorpe

There are two sections to the project, the three granite pillars set in the one corner of the yard under and in front of the banana tree and an organic rock form in the corner diagonally across.

The three pillars are to be dark granite placed in a particular formation resting in a five-foot circle of beach stone. The arrangement of the three stones is intentionally suggestive of a family unit, our human interconnectedness at a basic level. There is a moon circle in white on the outer sides of the two outside pillars with a diagonal line running across each of the outer pillars, suggesting perhaps that of a landscape. The moon or circle shape suggests unity. The three pillars are turned slightly outwards, open to the dark organic rock shape, positioned in such a way to suggest a sense of a mysterious connectedness between the organic rock and the pillars.”

* * *

The Mississippi River drains middle America and brings plenty of material its way, when the Gulf of Mexico isn’t bringing floods in the other direction. So it’s a bit cute that Nida brings a rock from Newmarket, a different kind of coal to Newcastle as it were. In the river, chub fish carry stones in their mouth and pile up cairns to protect their eggs. That fish care about rocks, be it pragmatic, speaks to nature respecting rock’s permanence.

And rocks have been memes for humans for millennia, from early sculpture in The Venus de Milo, to Ayers Rock for the Australian indigenous peoples, the Easter Islands’ moai monolith rock faces, the pyramids, the Mayan’s Chichen Itza. Avebury in Somerset. Plymouth rock. Stone burial markers are chosen not just for permanence but for rock’s quality of inviting meditation and silent reflection. Famous sculptors of rock like Henry Moore studied Stonehenge – a place where space and time resonate – as a young student, and he would later create his own version, The Arch.

* * *

In my childhood, my pet rock served multiple purposes, daily, a multi-tasking rock. Dad was giving mom a driving lesson and this rock stopped the car when she failed to find the brakes. My younger sis and bro would sit on it waiting for mom to spiffy herself to go to Sunday mass. It served as a backstop for a putting green my older brothers used, until a wild chip shot bounced off this chunk of the earth’s core and hit one of them squarely in the eye.

Bad rock, or bad golfer?

The rock, in its rock of ages’ wisdom, did not comment. Which is just part of their appeal: something to emulate, as Paul Simon sang

I am a rock, I am an island
And a rock feels no pain…

* * *

The name of Nida’s rock landscape installation is A Calling into Silence.

That rocks do not speak, except for that crazy scene in Everything, Everywhere, All at Once is a part of their mystical appeal. Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein advised “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Or as the one-hit-wonder Queensryche once sang, beside a rock

I am smiling next to you
In silent lucidity


A calling into silence. Silent lucidity.

And let’s not forget that Jesus admonished to not build your house upon the sand, but rather, “the wise man builds his house upon the rock.” Or… A Calling into Silence?

* * *

There is another pet rock that sits in my front yard, even larger than my favourite. When my son was three years old I’d ask him, “do we eat dinner at the table, or outside sitting on the big rock?” Invariably, it was on the big rock, where we could watch the world roll by.

How did that rock get rolled into the front yard? The most likely suspect, neighbour George Musto reminded me that he used to have a front-end loader he used for constructing houses and used it to transport large rocks unearthed on construction sites. George must have got some funny looks from commuters, driving slowly across town in a front-end loader with a large rock in the bucket. Like, does this guy have rocks in his head?

“I had set aside a beautiful quartz rock dug up on the job site,” Musto muses, “and when I came back the next day to bring it home, somebody had stolen it.”

Grand River Stone in London, that sells such decorative rocks for up to $3000 bucks apiece plus, might explain why George got screwed. I ask him if he has a favourite rock?

“Doesn’t everybody?”

Everybody? George likes his Dylan and might just now be humming Everybody Must Get Stoned.

Photo: Eric Geelen

“I had a collection of favourite rocks and stones from the beaches of Lake Huron which travelled around with me, but I left them behind in the garden of my house on Vancouver Island.”

Ah. Haven’t we all? My smaller rock and stone and pebble collection was also sourced from beaches around the world, from Georgian Bay to Sicily’s east coast and when they one day wind up in my back yard, I wonder what a future archeologist might make of them if they were to be excavated.

George’s right-hand man on the construction sites, Super Mario (he didn’t have any brothers, alas) had related a story from his Latvian grandparents. When the Soviets rolled into Latvia in the 1940s they started blowing up large rocks in fields to make a tad more farmland for the Republic. But if a farmer had a special rock he wanted saved from destruction, perhaps one with some special spiritual meaning, they would place a bottle of vodka on top of it to save it.

It might be just such a special rock from Poland that made its way to Canada, a gift, to honour this country taking in Polish émigré’s over the years. It sits outside Pier 21 in Halifax where my Polish mother disembarked from the ship Marine Jumper back in the day.

London artist Addington Thedford is familiar with all of the above rocks mentioned. Does he have a favourite?

“It’s hard not to think of the moon. It’s there, it gets eclipsed, so it’s tangible. One could say that the moon is something everyone experiences, it’s there along with the sun when you are born, and there when you die. You could say that it is eternal.”

Now that’s a good rock.

* * *

Since it’s all the rage, I ask AI Chat GPT4 to weigh in on this weighty subject of rocks. It spits out:

In the quaint town of London, Ontario, there lies a large, regal rock, known to the locals simply as “The Thinking Rock.” Positioned in front of a picturesque two-story house built by immigrants, this rock has become a sanctuary for those seeking solace and inspiration. Over the years, The Thinking Rock has witnessed the quiet contemplation of many souls, each leaving with a sense of clarity and peace.

One such visitor was Ella, a writer battling writer’s block. She sought the rock’s solace, hoping for a spark of creativity. As she sat there, the gentle hum of nature and the soft caress of the wind eased her mind. In this tranquil state, Ella found her muse dancing among the leaves, and ideas began to flow like a river. The Thinking Rock had rekindled her passion for writing, allowing her to complete her novel, which eventually became a bestseller.

Then there was Alex, a young entrepreneur facing a crucial decision about his start-up. The weight of the choice had been a heavy burden, clouding his judgment. Seeking clarity, Alex spent hours on the rock, lost in thought. It was there, amidst the quietude, that he found the courage to trust his instincts. The decision he made that day led to the unprecedented growth of his business, attributing his success to the wisdom gained from his time spent on The Thinking Rock.

Sarah, a college student overwhelmed by the future, also found solace on the rock. The pressure of choosing the right path had left her paralyzed with fear. Sitting on the rock, Sarah let her worries drift away, and for the first time in months, she felt at peace. This moment of clarity allowed her to realize that it was okay not to have all the answers. Embracing the unknown, Sarah pursued her passion for environmental science, eventually contributing to groundbreaking research in renewable energy. The Thinking Rock became a place of legend, a beacon of hope for those at a crossroads.

It wasn’t just the serene setting or the comfortable seat it offered; it was the collective energy of countless individuals who had sat there before, each leaving a piece of their hopes and dreams. The rock, with its silent wisdom, reminded everyone that sometimes, all it takes to find the answer is a moment of quiet reflection. As years passed, stories of The Thinking Rock spread far and wide, drawing people from all walks of life. Each person who left the rock carried with them a piece of its tranquility, a reminder that in the midst of life’s chaos, peace can always be found within. The Thinking Rock stood not just as a physical landmark, but as a symbol of the power of introspection and the profound insights that come from simply taking a moment to think.

* * *

Fascinating. AI has quite the imagination.

And AI had no idea what I was writing about, and yet it said everything I’ve said there is to say about rocks. But with, wait, just look at that airbrushed image. Completely wonderful. Partially because it could be AI-derived from a Jehovah Witness’ Watch Tower pamphlet cover?

Otherwise AI nailed it. Rocks are important. Don’t forget that.

Don’t be this guy who abandoned some rocks in a windowsill. My friend Denis had just rented an apartment with said rocks. At a housewarming party, Peter (name etymology= rock) asked, “what’s with the rocks?”

Denis: They just left ‘em behind.

Peter: “I guess the dude just took it for granite.”

Right.

Don’t be that guy. Do what Nida did.

As Neil Young sang, “Rock and roll will never die.”

Vincent Cherniak is a writer in London, ON 

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6 Comments

  1. says: Clark Home

    Brilliant article! An informative and entertaining take on rocks and their precious nature and transformative contemplative power, which is exactly what Nida has attempted to create for her brother Lok with this impressive “rock landscape instillation” idea/endeavour.

  2. says: Terry Graff

    Fun, entertaining and luminous prose by Vincent Cherniak about that primordial spiritual teacher and symbol of eternity, the rock, as he tells the story of Nida Home Doherty trucking a special rock from Ontario to New Orleans for her brother. An act of Art. I enjoyed the read and also learned something about rocks. Thank you for sharing.

  3. says: Kim

    Lovely! Enjoyed this read.
    Btw my Dad brought a rock from Nova Scotia one summer after a vacation. He grew up there and needed it. It was positioned in my Mom and Dad’s dining room right beside the china cabinet. When I got married the first time around my picture was taken in front of the china cabinet with the round rock pulled out in prominence. My sister now has it in her house- I think it is in her dining room.
    Thank you. 🙏

  4. Thanks for sharing this delightful Big Rock story. Nida, you may already know I have a passion for rocks, rocks of all sizes: I have my memories of some very huge ones from my childhood, my rather large photo collection of standing stones from our travels through the islands of the Outer Hebrides, my basket collection of smaller rocks, my zen garden and a few painted rocks. They all have value to me beyond words. So appreciating the love and importance of a rock in your and your brother’s life is a wonderful thing for me, and what a wonderful story to share with others. To me there is a sacred side to your Rock Adventure; a pilgrimage not to a rock, but to deliver a rather large rock to someone you love and care about.

  5. says: Deanna

    I enjoyed reading about your journey to find the right rock. My parent’s, Linda and Bart Musgrave, had quite the journey to find their rock (or what they call the right BFR). My favourite line quote from your article is “And let’s not forget that Jesus admonished to not build your house upon the sand, but rather, “the wise man builds his house upon the rock.” Or… A Calling into Silence?” I would agree that this is a more aligned reading of this biblical metaphor. I also agree that the Moon is a good rock.

  6. says: Nida Home Doherty

    Hi Nida,

    I thoroughly enjoyed Vincent’s article on the voyage of the Rock. His story added a lot to my on-going story of the Rock. I particularly liked a couple of aspects about the article.

    Nearly everyone who grew up in Southern Ontario where the last remnants of recent geological history “Glaciation” occurred; rocks strewn everywhere, has a good memory of a rock(s) and how this memory played out in life.

    In my generation, as I assume in Vincent’s, “Rock n Roll” was a big influencer in life and the tie between the two together was a lot of fun to read.

    I must admit his yard rock was more practical and even better looking in classic “Rock n Roll” terms than by my new arrival. His rock appears to be Granodiorite (well weathered, but hard to confirm from the photo). Means it probably would last another round of Glaciation where my plain Granite baby might not get through such another push south. If such a geological event occurs in “geological terms”in near future my Granite Baby will be smiling in the southern sun and thanking a F150.

    This brings me to a point in the Vincent saga.; the golf ball story and chip flying.. rocks are Rock solid and golf balls are effectively mush, so a little incredible about a rock chip flying but it reminds me of several boyhood stories that survive in our family. If an outsider was to call us on the exact truth; none of them would stand well to good cross examination. The total story delighted me from the first paragraph to the last. When and if we every complete this statue garden we need to invite Vincent to the inauguration.

    Look forward to your next visit.

    – Lok

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