An adder stone, or fairy stone as I like to call them, is a stone with a naturally formed hole, probably occurring from a water source – an eroding drip that never ends. I found my first when I moved to Tucson, Arizona. Our yard back behind the house was an expanse of gravel that stretched from the picture windows to the low brick fence out by the oleander bushes that lined the alley. In the mornings, I sat out there on the back stoop drinking coffee and throwing sticks for the dog. I found it one of those mornings as the coffee slowly sharpened my senses, just there, by the curled garden hose we used to sprinkle the cactus every month in the summer before the monsoons hit. I didn’t really know what I had, but I liked putting the cool grey stone up to my eye and looking through the hole. There’s something about pressing cold things to your face when you live in a place like Tucson, Arizona.
Then other adder stones appeared, on the Lake Michigan shoreline, in a dry wash out in the Catalina foothills, in a driveway in Colorado. They’re not as rare as you might think, at least, not if you know to keep your eyes peeled. Now I have a small collection that I keep on my dining room table.
Traditional lore says that the little hole is a portal to fairy land. I look through that little window in the stone and look around my house. Suddenly the wool pillow on the couch, the one I knitted years ago that the cat hooked his claws in and the dog peed on, is now a landscape of texture against the linen weave upholstery. The apple on the counter next to the pile of dirty dishes, seen through the stone, is a still life in Cezanne blues and oranges. It’s a trick of context, really. Everything looks better when it’s encircled. Placing artificial constraints on what you see, or a story you tell, makes a better work of art.
I learned this trick in art class: make a square with your index fingers and thumbs and look through it. Now you are creating a composition. You’re actively seeing the way an artist sees. Paint what you see between your hands, ignore the rest. It’s a good metaphor too, for wandering through life. Cut out the extraneous. Focus. Something you’ve seen a thousand times before and overlooked can be beautiful when given the chance, when given the importance a frame imparts. In a very real sense, looking through the adder stone has the same effect of making common things uncommon. Fairyland is manifested.
There’s something about peering through an opening that appeals to the writer in me. What story, what secret will be revealed? I’m drawn to keyholes, to golden lit windows at night, to bathroom doors left slightly ajar. I want to know! I want to see! I’ll place my adder stone on the window sill and trap your magic. I’ll hang the stone from a string in the frame of my front door. The world becomes magical when standing on the inside looking out, and the house becomes protected when standing outside and looking in. Just remember to duck when you pass through the door.