design,  stones

Design as a consequence of stones

As we prepare to invite rocks into our playground, I think of the ease with which we make design decisions, following the same old patterns we’ve seen elsewhere: the semi-circle of armour stones making an outdoor classroom, a silent nod to the expert-teacher commanding obedient students.

Instead, we travel to a rock yard. We move among Bruce Peninsula rocks, we touch, feel, ask, breath, tie red ‘sold’ tape around sharp cold corners…

The Bruce Peninsula, where these rocks are from, trends northwesterly from Wiarton in the south to Tobermory in the north (Ontario), a distance of about 75 km. It’s underlain by up to 500 m of Paleozoic (541-252 million years ago) strata of which less than 170 m of the uppermost strata are exposed:

It is believed that the Bruce Peninsula was continuously ice covered during the Nissouri through Port Huron Stadials (Phases), about 25 000 to 12 500 years BP, and perhaps even longer. During this glacial episode the Laurentide Ice crossed the peninsula in a southwesterly direction as recorded by glacial striations (220 to 235º), drumlins in the Mar drumlin field (general orientation 235º) and sculpted bedrock forms created by subglacial meltwater (general flow direction 237º (Kor and Cowell 1998)). Till deposits, consisting primarily of locally derived carbonate debris, were laid down during this period. At some point during this glacial event massive sheetfloods of released subglacial meltwaters, which had accumulated beneath the ice upglacier, stripped most of the glacial drift from the peninsula, eroded great quantities of dolostone from the escarpment brow, and created a widespread suite of streamlined sculpted rock features (s-forms) and the sediment-cored drumlin field southeast of Mar, a truly catastrophic event. The timing of the subglacial meltwater sheetfloods is unknown but it is suggested that this may have occurred sometime between 14 000 and 13 000 years BP. It has been demonstrated that a massive pulse of glacial meltwater into the Atlantic Ocean occurred about 14 200 years BP (an event known as mwp-1a). It has also been suggested that a component of this meltwater may have come from the Laurentide ice sheet (Peltier 2005); if so, the age of the sheetfloods may be in the 14 000 years BP range. As well, though the location of the ice front at the time of these events is unclear, the timing proposed above suggests that the Huron Basin would have been ice covered, with outflows several kilometres inland into both Ontario and Michigan.

Cowan & Sharpe, 2007, p. 27

Yet we cannot simply marvel at the age of these rocks. They are entangled in the ways we have harvested them, blown crevices, developed quarries, dug them out of soil when they were in the way of farming or road construction.  

How do we compose ourselves with stones through history of human violence constantly infringed on nature’s sovereignty? How do we compose pedagogies that acknowledge humans as “a consequence of stones”, as Rautio (2013, p. 404) reminds us:

Large rocks render us small, pebbles that fit our pockets generate us gigantic. Cold stones in our hands accelerate blood supply to our fingers. Stones in medieval churches render us temporary beings. Were there no stones in our world, or should we never carry any around, we would not exist in relation to them: we would miss out on a reference point and thus have one less viewpoint to our selves, the kind of beings we are.


Cowan, W.R. and Sharpe, D.R. 2007. Surificial geology of the Bruce Peninsula, southern Ontario; Ontario Geological Survey, Open Report 6211, 34p.

Rautio, P. (2013). Children who carry stones in their pockets: On autotelic material practices in everyday life. Children’s Geographies, 11(4), 394-408.