Looking at the Ground

One of the benefits of learning to sketchbook is that you become alive to the details that were always around you, only you never noticed them before. So even if you are an 'at home' traveler, it's like seeing a place for the first time. You don't even need to sketch everything for it to effect the way you begin to see.

We have a type of rock in my neighborhood that's all our own, geologically found only in a corner of Boston. A messy mix of 'non-glacial subaqueous mass flow'  or, leftovers, it is not elegant. But I love it because it's ours. And I look for it and notice it constantly.

Everywhere I go here, I ask if people know about our Roxbury Puddingstone. Very often they don't. One mom exclaimed, "Oh! That's why a Massachusetts monument I saw in Washington looks like that! I thought they were being cheap!" Yes, our State Rock looks like poured concrete full of builder's detritus.

From 'Parks: Nine views of Franklin Park', Boston Public Library Print Department

Back in the day, Boston proper was a small peninsula jutting into the harbor. The large lump inland was Roxbury. And in this huge region, south of the peninsula, is where this conglomerate stone is found. It's also known as the Church Stone, since at least thirty-five 19th century Boston area churches were built from Roxbury Puddingstone.

The Museum of Science, Boston, boasts a marvelous Rock Walk: a geological Hall of Fame. There you'll find samples from such superstars as The Rock of Gibraltar and the Giant's Causeway; such highs and lows as the peak of Denali and the depths of Death Valley; even a petrified tree from Arizona. As the local favorite, dear old Puddingstone gets a look in too, humble and shy amid such greats.

Perhaps because it is so ugly, the museum prepared the specimen by cutting off a slice and polishing the cut surface to a beautiful, unnatural shine. It really brings out the unique qualities of the individual rocks in the mix. Actually it's lovely.

Polished surface of Roxbury Puddingstone, Museum of Science, Boston

Polished surface of Roxbury Puddingstone, Museum of Science, Boston

The reality on the outside of the Roxbury Puddingstone

"But look, kids!" I say to my children, who are used to such rock ravings and move along quickly, "Look at the ugly side. That's what it really looks like. Our puddingstone."

One geologist states, "The Roxbury is to geologists what the dropped 'R' is to linguists, a sign that you are in Boston, for the puddingstone only occurs in and around the Hub. And like this linguistic trait, no one knows exactly where these rocks originated."

Oliver Wendell Holmes in his 1830s poem, The Dorchester Giant, imagined a fanciful origin for the stone and used to wax lyrical about the joys of it. "It is interesting to see how the same subject presented itself to the poet in different moods," ponders an editor at Eldritch Press. "There is a passage in 'The Professer at the Breakfast-Table' which begins, 'I wonder whether the boys who live in Roxbury and Dorchester are ever moved to tears or filled with silent awe as they look upon the rocks and fragments of 'pudding-stone' abounding in those localities.' Then follows a half page of eloquent speculation on the pudding-stone."

Creative Edwardian house builders, rather than battle reality, perched mini-mansions on precipices of the stuff. Since driving kids about past these mansions occupies far more of my time than does sketchbooking or writing this blog combined, I look and notice with a sketchbooker's eye and enjoy the journey far more. I scan sideways for the great, thrusting outcrops of the gray, bulbous mess, and smile lovingly at the knowledge that Oliver Wendell Holmes was just as filled with wonder.

So look at the ground around you. Have you ever wondered what's to discover there?

What's your local rock?!

"Look for the unpolished side so you can recognize it ..."