The boy who spoke the language of stones

The boy who spoke the language of stones

Who today understands what the stones are saying? Oh, there are stones a-plenty at Le Cap – granite ones, rocks on the cliffs of the north face of Le Cap, pebbles on its southern beaches, not forgetting all the little stones, buried in the ground. (People here even claim that there are stone-seeds; otherwise, how could it be that you dig up your land, then carry away all the stones and, the following year, you return to till the land, and you find yet more stones? Because, in the meantime, those seeds have sprouted.) This is the land of megaliths, dolmens, and of large standing stones – menhirs, the stone-lined gallery graves; and the Saint Conogan ship: an immense megalith fashioned out of a single block of stone like a ship, sitting atop a hill, facing out to sea, as if waiting to be launched…

Once upon a time, there was one man who could understand the language of the stones. His name was simply Yann, but people nicknamed him “Yann the Stone-Speaker” – the one who knew the secrets of the stones. How did this come to pass? Listen!

At the age of 12, just like all the other farm-boys of his time, Yann would take the cows out to graze on the coastal moorland. He had to keep an eye on them, for there were no fences or barbed wire. On one particular day, Yann had taken two cows out onto the moor, at La Pointe de Lervily. Normally he would hole himself up in one of those ditches – from a distance, they look like open graves – used by the local peasants for burning washed-up seaweed to use as fertiliser. Lined with flat stones, they made a comfortable enough spot, where he would pass the time whittling a small piece of wood into a toy, or maybe a whistle. But, that day, things were different: the wind was whistling, and one of the cows was in a strange mood. He’d better keep an eye on her, or else she might well wander away over the horizon. So he leaned back against one of those dry-stone walls. At some point, Yann closed his eyes. And how the wind blew, whistling across the crevices in the wall. And Yann entered that great space known as the space of dreams.

It seemed that the wind, blowing across all those crevices, hissing and whistling in every conceivable note was playing some giant pipe. Little pebbles, held loosely in the wall, began rattling out a brisk beat. Other stones, larger and heavier, made muffled groaning noises as they moved around. And the large, flat stones lying at the very top of the wall began rubbing against each other, and then slid off into the grass. A shell, encased within the wall sang out, in a pure, childlike voice. Later, the entire wall began to resound with noise, as if each stone were joining in a tumultuous discussion.

Suddenly, Yann jumped to his feet. Each stone in the wall was speaking to him. Yes, he could hear each stone, just as clearly as you can hear me now. Each with a voice distinctly its own! Astonished, Yann glued his ear to the stones. He realised that the stones were complaining, that the wall had not been well built, that before the first storm of the winter, the wall would collapse. “Help us, Yann. Do something for us!”. So Yann began to remove the stones, place them on the ground, and rebuild the wall, listening intently to what the stones were saying. And, when he had finished, the wall thanked him. The wall was solid; it was as though the wall was singing in the wind. Just as an orchestra plays a symphony, each stone was in its proper place.

On the beach, the tide had started rising.

Thus Yann began his apprenticeship. From that day forward, oft the boy would run the length of the shoreline, over the paths, stopping bolt upright in the wind, listening to it with his whole being. On other occasions, he would glue his ear against the rocks, the cliffs and the stones, and then he would take stones out of existing walls and rebuild them.

And when he reached the age of choosing his profession, he had no need to: his profession had already chosen him. “Yann, I need to build a wall to surround a field; could you come round on Tuesday?” “No, not Tuesday; the wind won’t be blowing on Tuesday, and I can’t build walls without some wind. I will come on Thursday; we’ll have wind from Thursday til Sunday.” “But Yann, how do know that the wind will not be blowing on Tuesday?” To questions like this, Yann the Stone-Speaker would never reply.

But when Tuesday came around, it was indeed windless. And by the time Thursday came around, the wind was blowing once again. And Yann was already there, in the field, having collected the stones and pebbles; patiently, he would begin building the wall. And when he had finished a wall, the farmers would smile happily, knowing that the wall would withstand the winter storms. In this way, throughout the Baie d’Audierne, the man who talked with stones would build his dry-stone walls.

The tide had reached its peak.

The years went by. Piece by piece, the long wall running alongside the path above the rocky shore was taken down by Yann and then rebuilt. No stone from the top of the wall would any longer slip down into the grass; none of them would move, since each was lying in its proper place. When the wind came in from the sea, the wall played harmonies, and never a false note was heard

While he worked Yann would not say much. But, sometimes, when there was no wind, and the fisherman could not put out to sea, or when the peasant farmers were not working the land, they would come to find Yann, and sit close by him. And then Yann would find a torrent of words springing forth from a source within him – a source named “silence”. And he then would talk telling strange stories of what the wind had murmured to him, of what the storms had told him. His words were like the wind, coming out of nowhere and heading into nothingness. But they warmed the ears and hearts of those who were listening. The women too, would come to hear him, at first in order to fetch their husbands to tell them that dinner had been waiting on the table for a good half-hour. But so captivated were they by the words of Yann the Stone-Speaker that they too would sit down and listen to him. Yann’s words touched something in the depths of each of his listeners, like words of certitude, words of truth – but not one of those truths which tore you up “Oh, that’s what I should be doing with my life” – no, they were words like the very stones themselves, words which opened the heart, healed one’s sorrows. Afterwards, when those who had not been present would ask “What did he speak of?” the farmers, the fishermen, the women could never say exactly what Yann had talked about. The only thing they could find to say was that they had felt good, and that that was enough for them.

High tide; but at the very moment that it reaches its highest point, it turns back – the descent towards the ocean.

And, for the man who talked with stones, it was no different. Old age: his body, like a flower that has bloomed but is now wilting, would begin to decay. And his gift started to abandon him: he was becoming deaf; however, his eyes continued to shine.

Jaquez Perroz came to find him. “Yann, I need a wall to surround a field, could you come?” Yann hesitated; he knew that where Jaquez wanted to build his wall was not a propitious place. And then he was also a little afraid that he would no longer be to able to hear the language of the stones so well. But so strongly did Jaquez insist, that in the end Yann accepted. He built for himself at his workplace on the field a small hut. Now his hands would tremble; he had difficulty, and needed help in placing the largest of the stones. Day after day, he built the wall. And when, finally, the last flat stones were placed upon its summit, he returned to his small house by the sea.

That night, a storm sprang up: one of those winds which blow, which shout, whose gusts strike at the cliffs and the rocky shores. But, over the noise of the wind, Yann could make out one small voice: that of a pebble in the wall . And, in the black night, the old man got up, and went to the wall…

The next morning, with the storm abated, Jaquez Perroz came to take a look at his wall. And there, for the first time, a wall built by Yann the Stone-Speaker had collapsed. Yann himself lay stretched out on the ground, and – this is the strange thing – all the falling stones had avoided touching the old man. In his arms, Yann held the pebble – the one which had not been in its proper place. Yann’s life had come full circle. With tears in his eyes, he held the pebble – just as a mother would hold her newborn baby, her little treasure, her love.

A long time has passed since Yann rejoined the land of silence, went over to the other side of the mirror. But you’re welcome to come and see for yourself: while the fields now are mostly untended, the walls built by the man who spoke the language of stones still withstand the winter storms. And the legend – it too, withstands time’s ravages.