When I was younger, people would ask my dad what we farmed in West Virginia. “Rocks, mostly,” he would say. And it was true. Every spring he would disc the garden and we would harvest a trailer load or two of rocks that would be broken up and added to the dirt road leading to the house.
I don’t know how it was that the garden produced rocks while the road consumed them, but it’s the way it was. Rocks–their presence where you didn’t want them and absence where you did–were just a way of life in the mountains. Which means we had creative uses for them.
I was reminded of this when we were hiking and my husband tossed a rock into the trees while Thistle was looking the other way. She immediately bounded after the noise, pinpointed the rock that likely had my husband’s scent on it, and reported back to us.
Good use #1–entertaining dogs. We once had a dog named Fred who would not only fetch rocks, he would fetch them from the bottom of the pond. And it was always the right rock, too. Dad frowned on this activity.
Good use #2–throwing. Throwing rocks is the height of good fun when you’re a kid in the country. There’s skipping stones across the pond, heaving rocks into any available water to make the biggest splash possible, seeing who can throw a rock the farthest, and, of course, throwing rocks at each other. No, it never turns out well, but it’s fun in the beginning.
Good use #3–cool summer fun. The only things better than catching crawdads in a creek are rock hopping (crossing the creek without getting wet) and dam building (piling rocks up to create a pool). Our clothes rarely fared well, but this was a guaranteed way to keep my brothers and I busy for long stretches on a hot summer afternoon at Grandma’s.
Good use #4–decoration. When you have an abundance of rocks, you can use them to outline your flower beds, build stone walls, and line pathways. Big rocks work as stepping stones. Pretty rocks work as focal points amongst the flowers.
Good use #5–climbing. Not only are there lots of little rocks, there are huge boulders perfect for scaling. When we were kids we climbed all over Sheep Rock at the far end of the pasture. There was even a sort of little cave that you can slip down to from the top. As an adult I’ve looked at it and can’t believe how fearless I was.
Good use #6–weights. Rocks hold down tarps, paper, cloths on picnic tables, napkins, and a whole world of other things that might otherwise flap away in a stiff breeze.
Good use #7–remembering. Okay, this may not be an “Appalachian” use, but it’s one I appreciate. I have a lump of coal on my desk at work. I have a rock I was given at a Bible study event that says, “Wait for God,” along with the date. My mom once toured New England and picked up a rock in each state and wrote the name of the state on it. They sat on the mantle for a long time. A very good use.