My wife and I were driving a babysitter home not long after we'd moved up to this town from the other town to the south, and as we passed the country club where I'd married a beautiful, intelligent, progressive and funny woman one time, I saw a white-spotted pink boulder nestled in a stone wall.
"Rebecca," I said to the babysitter. "Do you know what kind of rock that is?"
Rebecca did not. Not because she wasn't smart, but because there was really no reason for a 16-year-old girl to know anything about Schunnemunk conglomerate, not unless she wore thick braids and coke-bottle glasses and played English horn and collected bugs, and these things Rebecca did not do.
Nevertheless, for a couple of minutes — as long as I harangued her about the distinctive rock, which is found nowhere else in the region and appears only in smaller patches in northern New Jersey — she was edified on the subject. Schunnemunk conglomerate. Doubtless she forced the mineral out of her mind as quickly as possible upon arriving home (home, which was back in the town we'd lived in earlier; this was before we'd integrated into our new digs, when the people of our new town still called us city folk and threw kittens into our well) by listening to that M&M and that Molly Cyprus woman or watching Dancing with the Chef.
This is what it looks like, and this is where it comes from.
Schunnemunk is a long narrow ridge, recently named a state park, that is ribboned with trails and rattlesnakes. That scene in Michael Clayton, when Clooney runs away from the burning car? He runs up the northern terminus of the Jessup Trail, which continues for about ten miles along the ridge. Also up there are the Dark Hollow, the Sweet Clover, the Long Path, and the trail up High Knob. At the high points where the soil doesn't cling, this peculiar pink stone larded with quartz shows itself between the pine scrub. It's a tacky-colored puddingstone, mauve, from the late Devonian, when such things were in fashion.
Here's where a better or worse writer might go for the metaphor. Certainly the territory is rich: remember, we're driving past the site of our wedding, the stones of this mountain are made up of these tiny quartz moments embedded in sandstone, and the whole ridge — a 3,000-foot thick cap of conglomerate atop earlier Devonian deposits — is highly durable and resistant to the elements. People have used the stone for centuries around these parts, and it has made its way from town to town. There's a millstone made from it beside a pond in Monroe; chunks of the rock are mixed in with the local gneiss in the stone planters outside the Town Hall in Highland Mills; Central Valley's got it in spades. Like the bits of quartz in their sandy matrix, pieces of Schunnemunk are embedded in the lives of the people who live in this region.
A better or worse writer might say that it is like my wife and me, this slightly tacky but useful stone, comprising sand and fire, part of the earth of these valleys; sometimes slightly invisible to the residents, but slowly incorporating into the local fabric.
But what a better or worse writer might not realize is that there's no excuse for boring a high school junior with her whole life ahead of her so badly that her eyes wander to the distant horizon, over the ridge she doesn't even see anymore, to dream of a place — far, far away from this town and the aging nerd in the front seat, babbling about rocks — from which she will never want to return.