Naming things is a common human activity. According to Genesis, naming things was the first human activity: before Adam got friendly with Eve, or made some poor choices, or had to deal with his sons’ sibling rivalry, his job was to name all the living things.
As it happens, naming things is also an important part of our family culture. Our family tends to name things, even inanimate objects that don’t really need names.
It seems to me that humans name things for two main reasons. The first is out of a feeling of affection, or gratitude, or ownership. We name our children, of course — there’s a whole industry built up around that. In our family, we’ve named our car “Greenie” and our wood stove “Woody” because we feel an affection for them born of gratitude and frequent usage.
The second reason we name things is more practical: for ease of navigation through our geography. It’s much more clear if I tell you, “Drive over the Green Mountains, follow Route 7 north to Burlington, park in the lot by Lake Champlain,” as opposed to “Drive over those rounded mountains, follow the big road north to the biggest city, and park by the biggest lake.”
It’s probably due to a combination of these two reasons — affection and geography — that our girls have named the rocks in our yard.
Our backyard looks peaceful enough right now. As I sit here typing, I can see beyond my computer screen to a thickly woven tapestry of tree trunks and branches springing up from the rock-strewn yard. Everything — the rocks, the trees, the mossy leafy ground — looks reassuringly strong and solid. But those rocks, some of which are deeply rooted in the earth and only extend a few inches above its surface, some of which tower over me at heights of 7 feet or more and might more appropriately be called “boulders,” are like clues left behind at a crime scene. These rocks are evidence that acts of great drama and violence once took place in our own backyard.
Our house sits on a geological border zone, a rocky ridge from which the Green Mountains slope up to the east, and the Champlain Valley spreads out to the west. This area of Vermont has been under glacial ice a mile thick, and then under water as Lake Vermont and the Champlain Sea formed when the glaciers melted about 12,000 years ago. The glaciers left behind the rocks and boulders that squat atop our yard. Any exposed bedrock we can see is part of a much older story, dating from the Precambrian and Cambrian periods (roughly 700-500 million years ago) when the proto-Atlantic ocean began opening, releasing sediments and volcanic material, and then reversed its motion in a collision of continental plates that formed the Green Mountains. The rocks in our area are a combination of Precambrian basement rocks, schists, and shelf sediments. (If you’re into this sort of thing, many detailed resources are available on the Vermont Geological Survey website).
Of course, I wasn’t thinking about geological drama the first time I saw this yard; I was thinking, “Our girls are going to have a blast climbing all over these rocks!” And they do. They’ve also given names to their favorite rocks, and it’s my pleasure to introduce you to those rocks now.
The most important front yard rock is Firecracker Rock.
Firecracker Rock is named after the original Firecracker Rock, which juts out over Merrymeeting Lake in New Hampshire on a camp property that’s been in Nana’s family for generations.
The original Firecracker Rock comes by its name honestly: it’s the site where firecrackers are set off over the lake on July 4th. There have been no firecrackers released from our Firecracker Rock — yet — but it’s the girls’ favorite rock to climb. The two oldest Gong girls can scale it by themselves in a matter of seconds; then they like to stand on top and survey their kingdom.
The other significant front yard rock is Chair Rock, so named because of its shape: it has a deep crease right across the middle, which makes it look like an overstuffed easy chair. On nice sunny days, the girls and I will take books out to Chair Rock and have our storytime snuggled into its warm lap.
Now, let’s move around to the backyard. The rock that dominates the backyard landscape is also the most fun to climb: Pride Rock. Pride Rock is named, of course, for the rock that towered above the African savannahs in The Lion King. Campbell is so enamored with lions, and so steeped in the story of The Lion King, that she spends most of each day pretending to be Simba the lion cub. She gets the whole family in on the action, and Pride Rock is the perfect place to stage these scenarios. Pride Rock has a gradual slope on one side, and a steep drop-off on the other, which makes it exciting to climb and slide down in all weather — when it’s covered in snow, it becomes a mini sledding hill.
Pride Rock has some nice satellite rocks. Right next to it is Castle Rock, which has a flat top with a small tree growing out of it. This creates the perfect setup for lion-princess interaction. Just assuming, of course, that you like to pretend to be a lion and your big sister always wants to be a princess.
Then, there’s Boat Rock, which stands on the other side of Pride Rock and is the rock you’d usually step on after descending Pride Rock. For this reason, it’s a handy rock to use as a boat if you need to make a speedy getaway from Pride Rock or Castle Rock. Speedy getaways by boat are crucial if you’re being chased by witches or mean lion uncles.
Across from Boat Rock is Refrigerator Rock. I am told, with a slightly disgusted expression which suggests it was silly to even ask, that Refrigerator Rock was named for its resemblance to a refrigerator. Obviously.
A stone’s throw from Pride Rock and its satellites is the rock that Campbell calls Pride Rock’s Cousin With The House On It. This is a mossy, flat-topped rock close to our house, so in the warm months we put a little bird house on top of it. The girls don’t usually play on this rock, but I suppose it makes a good landmark.
If you walk much further back in the woods behind our house — deep enough to require an immediate tick check afterwards — right at the edge of our property you’ll find Campbell’s Cave. Campbell discovered this little nook in the base of a large boulder during a family hike this past winter. Now that the weather is warmer, she and Fiona are fixing up the cave for fairies or bears to use. Apparently fairies and bears LOVE big piles of dead leaves and pine cones.
As I sit here writing, Pride Rock, Pride Rock’s Cousin With The House On It, Boat Rock, and Refrigerator Rock are all clearly visible, grey-green in the early morning light. I’m thinking how fortunate we are to have this yard full of rocks, and this house full of girls who love to climb them. I’m also thinking about the similarities between these girls and these rocks: that to create something beautiful, and strong, and fun usually requires some explosions, collisions, and erosion.