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Hard Labor

A small group of pilgrims came upon unknown terrain, rolling foothills sheltered under the watchful protection of great rocky cones. The slopes were strewn with stones, rocks and boulders, spewed forth in early times, now at rest upon the land. Fleeing from a homeland hopelessly overcrowded, the travelers had reckoned on locating a fabled place of promised abundance. They had heard that the soils were rich and fertile, a legacy of ancient rumblings that left the ground ripe for planting. The sun was said to be neither too hot nor too scarce. The rains were plentiful when need be and modest when required. And the waters carried by the great river and its tributaries were sparkling and clean.

Desperate for relief from the restrictive conditions of over-population, the company had journeyed many days and nights in search of a region that would sustain them in the way of life they had become accustomed to. And indeed everything seemed to confirm that this was the paradise referred to in legend and rumor, save for the rocks of all sizes which littered the ground, not more than a pace, if that, between each one.

It could not be argued that the land was unyielding, for in what spaces remained, vigorous plants thrived in the lush soil. Vines and low shrubs bore an abundant array of small fruits and nuts, some already ripe for picking. However, in order to grow crops, of which the pilgrims had many seeds, the land would have to be cleared of the rock and some of the plants and order created to facilitate a successful harvest when the time came.

The dilemma was clear, move on in search of a destination unknown, when many had traveled long enough and were weary and foot sore - or remain and try to make productive the area that had originally promised so much, but that required clearing. For most, the solution was obvious. They would stay and do what they could to survive.

The journey had been difficult and at times treacherous and for some this 'false paradise' was little reward. But the thought of yet more struggle was certainly enough to deter them from pursuing something that may not even exist. It was generally agreed then, that the rocks could be cleared and in the mean time, there would be sufficient abundance to support the group. And they set about erecting a camp amongst the rocks that would serve as a home in the months ahead.

Morning broke, a new day had begun and the group was enthusiastic, full of the best intentions and fresh with the keen interest that begins every new project. And like a flurry of tiny ants, the people scurried here and there, choosing plots, making plans and flinging stones and rocks in every direction.

Everyone hurried expect for one. A man of uncertain age who did not feel the urge to rush as the others did, sat upon a giant rock and watched. He watched attentively and he watched in silence. And as he watched, he became aware of the beauty of this land, raw and powerful, and full of promise.

The sun was warm upon his face and the brilliant blue sky was dotted with tiny clouds as through a perfect mirror of the rocks below. The symmetry appealed to the man and he smiled as he sat and watched. He watched on and the more he watched the more he was filled with a love of this land. False paradise or no, a spirit pervaded this territory, a spirit that he had not experienced before.

Suddenly he leapt to his feet, purposefully making his way some distance from the others to a place that had been overlooked. This was to be his land. He stood for a moment and looked around, nodding his head as if to confirm his choice. And with both hands, he swept the hair from his brow, rolled up his sleeves and began moving rocks.

At first he moved rocks that were small and light, much as the others were doing. The rocks, boulders and stones however, were not grouped according to size and although he had moved many, the space that had been created was not yet substantial, there still remained the problem of the rocks he could not shift - and these were plentiful indeed! So the man decided that he would shift every rock that he could shift and dedicated himself to this task in the days ahead.

Before long, already beaten, the others had come to a halt. They too had moved many rocks, however, very quickly they had tired of moving and lifting and having sown what seeds they could, in small spaces between the rocks, resorted to harvesting the various fruits that were ripe upon the bushes.

Not only had the others given up clearing the land and remained content with picking the ripened fruits, waiting for the crop to mature, but they jeered at the man for his foolishness. For it seemed that his efforts would be wasted once the small boulders had been cleared and the large ones remained. However, where the others had searched out and selected plots for themselves that seemed least obstructed by large rocks, he had chosen a site close to streams and drenched in all day sun. This had seemed to the others to be rather ill-judged, for it was also a site that was home to the largest congregation of rocks and boulders and although the river and streams were nearby, they would be of little use unless the rocks could be cleared and that would be impossible, for they were too large and too many.

The man was unconcerned by their taunts, for he did not slave under the hot sun, he reveled in its magic heat and as he sweated, his skin was cleansed and in the evening when he bathed in the cool waters of the stream, he felt refreshed. Nor did he strain in moving the rocks, for he found in time that the more rocks he moved, the more he was able to move and he delighted in his growing strength.

At first however, it had been a very different tale. The work had been arduous and the task immense. Night after night, failing light having ended his work, he would collapse and break down, his body fatigued by his efforts. But gradually, the weakness had diminished and now he was able to roll very large rocks away from the site and into the stream, where he created a dam in which he could bathe and wash and collect water for his crops. And as he did so, he exposed large and open spaces where he could plant seeds and where the resulting harvesting would be easy.

As harvest time approached, his neighbors had noticed that their crops had not grown well, for so large were some of the rocks and boulders that the sun was kept from the plantings and much of the crop remained immature. To add to the problem, the spaces between the rocks were not large and the pickers were cramped as they attempted to harvest what crops there were.

As time went on, the poor yields and the exhaustion of available produce began to take a heavy toll on many of the pilgrims. Some had chosen to return to the multitudes in the homeland, where friends and comforts beckoned. Others stayed on, having invested too much to leave, but certain and discouraged by the knowledge that although they were able to survive, they could not hope to prosper.

By contrast, the man had learned to build with the rocks and to use them to create enclosures where he could keep goats and wild sheep coaxed from the hills and herded into pens. He learned to milk the animals and to make cheese and he was able to weave the hair and wool into clothing. He learned to create levers and mechanisms that made moving the rocks easier and the placing of them more accurate. He dug into the earth and recessed the stones, placing them together to make paths and roads. He piled them high upon one another to create walls. He began to understand about the structure of the stone and how to exploit the natural properties of each boulder he selected. How could determine the stresses each boulder could bear by assessing its size, shape and texture at a glance. He employed different boulders for different purposes and he became a proficient designer, carefully selecting color, pattern and appeal, placing the boulders together to achieve appropriate and desirable combinations.

People would come to the man and ask for his help and advice. And he would tell them; "Make of the stone your friend and you too will prosper like me". But the people did not wish to be friends with stones, nor did they respect his advice. For although he was prosperous he was strong and he had knowledge and what did he know of struggle? And they would go back to their dwellings and sit amongst the immovable boulders.

One day a woman who had gone in search of the man's help returned to bring news of his disappearance to the rest of the community. She had looked everywhere for him but he could not be found. The others had thought nothing of this, for he was most likely out somewhere collecting rocks or perhaps he'd gone for a walk. But the woman went back the following day and the day after that until finally it became apparent that the man had indeed gone. Very soon small groups began to venture over to the man's dwelling and began settling in, for all had been left as though he continued to live there. They worked his machines, they tended his crops, they milked his animals and they slept in his rooms and the man never returned.

A long way from rocky territory, a man of uncertain age sat upon a fallen tree and watched. He watched attentively and he watched in silence. And as he watched he became aware of the beauty of this new land, raw and powerful and full of promise. This was to be his land. And with both hands he swept the hair from his brow, rolled up his sleeves and began.

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