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"rocks, shells, and other items: home as an active ritual" by Rachel Lu (they/them)

Updated: Jan 9

modified from a letter I wrote to the friends and students and teachers and loved ones I have not met yet

Today [as of April 19, 2021], I counted 75 total found objects scattered in my room—75 little rocks, acorns, shells, pinecones, flowers, and leaves accumulated throughout the past year from the nooks and crannies of what is now known as Rhode Island. Some make up my ancestral altar, others line my window sills, and the rest are simply there to be admired and held. At the beginning of the pandemic, it became clear that seeing friends meant seeing them outside. Meanwhile, I was also working to redefine my relationship to land, a relation I felt was central to my work hosting circle (a practice with roots in many Indigenous cultures, particularly those of Turtle Island). I was deeply struggling; having moved nine times and being a child of diaspora, I had never really felt any connection with place, much less a profound connection to land as an entity. I did know that I felt profound connections in my friendships and found myself wanting something tangible, physical to commemorate every meaningful conversation or excursion.

I picked up a rock. A shell. An acorn. Pinecone. Dried flower. A piece of broken pottery. The biggest leaf I’d ever seen.

I placed them in different spots throughout my room, and remember the experiences each one represents when I look at them. I use these objects as talking pieces when I am in circle, their origin stories experiencing afterlives as I hold onto them to share my reflections and epiphanies in my communities. Every time I have moved back and forth between dorm rooms and where my family now lives, I bring this ever growing collection with me. It is a collection that invites my loved ones into my space and into conversation; they hold onto each object,* turning them over and often even adding to my collection. *they also make great fidgets

The more these objects have populated my room, the more my loved ones are excited to spend time in it. As my space has filled with my friends—in found objects or in person—it is becoming a home, in a way I have never felt home before. I cannot help but beam every time someone asks me the story behind a piece or simply finds it beautiful (e.g. I love talking about the pumpkin stem I still have from the first Sunday afternoon of many that my friend Bennett and I reserved for one another).

Recently, one of my favorite people echoed back to me that she views each of my little objects—as I clutched a rock in my hand—as extensions of my existence, and that she now sees me everywhere. By the river banks and their pebbles, in gargantuan acorns, and each time she goes to the beach.

I cried, sobbed even.

I suppose this is one of the most beautiful things about this simple practice of mine: as soon as I assign meaning and story to my otherwise-pointless little found object, it simply gathers more significance, nestled in a spiral of stories which have been told and those yet to happen. These objects are outstretched arms of all of the people and lives I am so grateful to know; they lie in webs of tangents I could never finish telling.

And it is such a joy for my relationship to these objects to be reciprocal. I do not just take away objects from my relationships. I get to pull and relive experiences—feel the presence of my dear friends—every time I see a shell just ungrown enough for my friend Ella to love, or an acorn with a cap that functions how my trans friends and I think boobs should. I get to laugh to myself, pause, remember, feel and create a home no matter where I might physically be. It is getting quite heavy, though, bringing bags of rocks everywhere I go. So let me place one in your hand, and tell you a story that just might have no end.