The story is part reminiscence, part truth with a little bit of fiction – I’m not saying which is which. It actually doesn’t matter. The story was the result of a meditation using a pile of beach pebbles as the focus. Part of the meditation involved drawing them and assigning personalities to the stones. the witch stones are in my possession still, as is the beautiful piece of silver mounted, sea-green, heart-shaped seas glass, illustrated below.
A Witchy Heart Stone
As I approach the gallery I remember the day I found it, the stone in my pocket. It literally changed my life, forever. Which was a surprise as I didn’t realise it needed changing, though it did. All I was looking for was something to do, something worthwhile that didn’t make me feel like a time-waster, a solitary time waster at that.
Since I was a child I had loved walking along a beach. It wasn’t a frequent event despite living only thirty miles from the sea. But city girls do as city life dictates, and the seaside may as well have been another country, another planet, on most days. Except that my dad was an ex sailor, and loved the sea almost as much as he loved his family, though the nearest he got to it in those days was working on the estuary docks unloading ships, or very occasional day trips to the nearest, non-commercial beach. We hadn’t much money so Dad preferred to avoid the places where my sister and I might decide that candy floss, carousel rides and penny arcade machines were vital to our continued existence. Instead he taught us that rock pools held the world in miniature if we were patient enough to watch and wait, and that we could build our fantasies out of sand with an old plastic spade, a handle-less bucket and the endless, fascinating flotsam and jetsom that the inbetween realm of the beach, the intertidal zone, provided in abundance.
Though few and far between, throughout our childhood many long sunny summer days were spent in those costless pursuits, as my sister and I ran barefoot as elves and burnt brown as berries (no one worried about ultra-violet induced skin cancer in those days). In particular I enjoyed collecting shells, seaweed, driftwood, and pebbles to decorate our sand fairy castles, mermaid tails and pirate ships. But it was the beach pebbles that fascinated me the most, for their multiple shapes, sizes, markings and colours. I had an interesting and beautiful collection of sea glass in colours from clear, green, blue, and topaz to, most rare of all, a few reds and purples. I still have a pendant made from a piece of green sea glass that I rarely remember to wear yet love wearing when I do. Somehow it seems to reach out to my moods, echoing the many moods of the ocean, and connecting me with something primal. Best of all was a game we often played last of all, in the last hour or two of sunlight, before donning clothes and shoes, and returning to Dad’s beat up old banger to go home for tea. This was hunting for treasure – our treasure, what we called heart and witchy stones.
Heart stones are what they sound like; stones that have been tumbled by the motion of the sea until, through serendipitous design, they are perfect heart shapes. They were not easy to find, though lesser, only roughly heart-shaped stones were common enough. But that wasn’t good enough for us perfectionists. We wanted to find pure heart stones – evenly shaped and symmetrical like a valentine offering. To our young, and innocently romantic, minds they were symbols of true love. We only ever found a handful, though every single one was unearthed and greeted with excitement and celebration.
Witchy stones are pebbles with a weakness in their structure so that the sea grinds a hole within the pebble. In sea mythology, they are considered to be extremely lucky and a protection from evil charms and nightmares. If you look through the hole, they are supposed to reveal any elves and fairies, or other magical beings, lurking nearby. To my eternal regret, and despite trying many, many times, I never saw any. Just like perfect heart stones, I only ever found a couple of witchy stones, and these have all been lost or thrown out in the time-flown years somewhere between childhood freedom and adult responsibility.
The importance and joy of seaside treasure remained deep in my subconscious, albeit well hidden. It must have been safely locked up, sleeping in my memory and temporarily overlooked, but somehow never completely forgotten, because when I needed to think about how my life was fast disappearing without much to show for it, I wasn’t really surprised to find myself pulled magnetically towards the seaside.
The activity of walking on a golden sun-drenched sandy beach, though still immensely enjoyable, and something I could easily participate in, despite being on my own, was somehow, on trying it now, not quite as enticing as I remembered. For one the weather was grey and damp (a bit like my life then) and I never realised how itchy and gritty sand was between your toes, nor how hard it was to walk with your feet continually sinking in soft dry sand, or wet sinking sand, for that matter. But then my joints and muscles didn’t ache so much in those days, either. And yet … the sweeping pebbly strands that mark the sea’s high tide-line, still drew me like magic, just as it did five decades ago back in the fairy-dusted, sun-spangled mists of childhood.
Nothing shrieks enchantment and meditation to me as much as wandering along the tide line looking for pebbles, and suddenly I found myself right back there, deep within those blissful moments of childhood when magic and chaos still hold sway, and where my sister and I spent hours searching for those elusive heart and witchy stones. You cannot imagine how magnificent an amount of time you can waste in peaceful tranquillity roaming up and down a beach searching for tiny sea-ground lumps of the bones of the Earth. The sound of the sea, sussing between the pebbles, and magically painting them in bright lucidity, somehow persuades the heart to slow down to match its own unregulated pace, and quells the constant media-afflicted mind, leaving it free to pursue its own mystic wanderings along strange and surprising pathways, until clarity and enlightenment are allowed to peek their mysterious faces into a mundane reality.
What was I going to do for the next few decades? Goddess willing there is a few, anyway. No more work, no more responsibility! Suddenly I was free to do … anything. But it’s not easy to decide to do something when faced with endless amounts of time and opportunity but no clear ideas. Easier by far is the option of doing nothing. But that’s not my way. Along with a love of the sea, Dad also instilled in his two daughters a strong work ethic. Yet wasn’t this exactly the time to do … nothing? Hadn’t I earned the right … to do nothing? I’d worked hard bringing up my own children, and imbuing them in turn, with a good healthy dollop of respect for nature just like Dad did for us; and I’d built a successful career for myself after they had grown old enough to no longer need constant care and guidance. I was free now, free to put myself first, free to follow my own dreams and go with the flow, as people kept telling me. The only problem was – I didn’t know what my dreams were – I didn’t really have any dreams – did I? So on that fate-filled day I drifted up and down an empty, pebbly beach, the sun a barely sensed, hazy ghost behind a typical North Sea fret, my eyes unfocussed but conversely peeled, and my mind floating about in some ocean-soaked melting pot, going precisely nowhere either metaphorically or terrestrially.
And that was when I found it … somehow my free-flowing mind connected with my out of focus eyes and caught an indistinct flash or sparkle or something. I creakily bent down and could hardly believe my eyes. To find a heart stone is rare, to find a witchy stone equally rare but I’d found something very, very special. It was a creamy white, opaque, almost perfectly heart-shaped pebble just under two-inches long, in old-money, with an almond-shaped hole precisely sea-ground into one of the two upper heart curves like a watchful eye. It was a witchy heart-stone – double the luck, double the beauty: smooth, precise, its surface clear of blemishes other than its lovely almond-sculpted cavity, and I’d found it on my first pebble hunt after years of not trying, of forgetting even that it was actually a worthwhile thing to do … sometimes.
Picking it up, I sat down on the damp sand oblivious to the moisture soaking into the seat of my jeans, and simply stared at it, turning it over and over, viewing it from all is perfect angles, and marvelling at both its simplicity and its complexity. With its single almond eye giving the illusion that it had indeed been winking especially at me, it had been patiently waiting for me to find it; waiting only for me.
As I examined it I thought back to those childhood days and remembered how I liked to draw my collection of pebbles and shells, when I got home, and suddenly, I itched to do so there and then. Where was a sketchbook when you needed one? And there it was; that clarity I was looking for. Something to fill my time that I both enjoyed, and didn’t feel was ‘just wasting my time’ like reading my E-book, or daydreaming. I would take up drawing again … and painting … maybe acrylics or perhaps learn to use those tricky watercolours. And if it goes okay, perhaps I could invest in some printmaking equipment. Printmaking was ‘my thing’ during A levels, and got me a top A grade, though I never did anything with it career-wise. Maybe it was time to make use of my artistic skills – if I still had them, of course. Long I mused that day, alone on a beach in a damp sea fret, staring at a pebble. Yes, that’s what I would do, I had decided; and suddenly I couldn’t wait to get home. The following day I would visit the art suppliers and invest in a small fortune’s worth of materials, and would later transform my conservatory into a studio. It was the obvious thing to do with its washable Italian tiled floor, and the excellent light due to no overlooking buildings, just 270 degrees of sky, a few telephone wires and the odd noisy rook or crying city-immigrant seagull.
In those first throws of artistic excitement I had popped the newly found witchy heart stone in my bag, hauled myself, inelegantly to my feet, and hurried home. Now I’m fingering that same piece of creamy milk-white rock which has stayed beside me either out of sight, quietly dozing, in my jeans pocket, or sitting next to my easel offering me sage-worthy advice, for over twelve months. And here it is accompanying me now to my first exhibition and sale of the colourful, semi-abstract natural-form paintings I have been inspired to paint since that fateful walk on the beach. Admittedly it’s only our small, local art gallery but this is MY exhibition, of MY paintings, mine and only mine. And all these people are here to see and, hopefully buy, MY paintings. As I enter the gallery, my fellow art-lover, and coincidentally, new, romantic lover, comes over to welcome me with a supportive hug. I notice one or two red dots on selected paintings. Oh Goddess, I have actually sold some of my paintings, already. My heart-beat intensifies. The fingers on my free hand (the other being held, tightly, by my new and exciting lover) close over the witchy heart stone, and I stroke it with my thumb. I offer it thanks for all the wonderful changes it has wrought in my life; changes that I could never have imagined happening without my rocky muse. I think I feel it warming at my words like a true witchy stone would. Then I walk forward, hand in hand with my two loves, into a new and brightly coloured future.