This story is about hearts

This story is about hearts. Not the card game, the rock band, or the hardest working muscle of the body. I’m talking about the kind of hearts formed by stone, coral, clouds, and other forces of nature.

My heart journey began in September of 2019 when my husband John and I were preparing for our first visit to the “Pine Tree State” of Maine. I’m always curious to learn as much about a place before we get there and seek out attractions “not to be missed.”

So naturally, I Googled: “BEST things to do in Rockport, Maine.” Besides eating lobster and visiting the Oreo cookie cows of Aldermere Farms, the Ralston Gallery appeared on the list. Intrigued, my search took me to Peter Ralston’s web page where I learned that he is an unpretentious storyteller with a camera. I perused his work, and as I did so, my eye was drawn to a photograph he titled, The Source. It consists of a montage of eight stone hearts, varied in size and grouped precariously as a pyramid with an anchor poised to the right.

 He happened upon this scene, he explained, while out for a morning walk with his dog along the small harbor of Criehaven. His title, The Source, comes from his belief that, “Love and faith are the primary sources of goodness in the world.” Who can argue with that?!

A collage of hearts found on my journeys.

I was hooked! Peter Ralston’s image set my heart to wonder if I, too, might find such treasures. What I discovered in the next few years was that most times I didn’t find these stone hearts, they found me – with a nudge or a whisper for me to notice their existence.  My enthusiasm was not always met with equal zest.  My  husband John thought I was kind of nuts for a while and our son Josh was ready to have me analyzed with the Rorschach test. 

One of my first heart-shaped rock encounters was Oct. 14, 2019. Our travels took us to Colorado Springs where I spotted a heart along our hike on Red Rock Canyon. My sister Karen and her husband Ray were our guides. Because this heart was wedged snuggly in a rich red clay soil, I opted to settle for a picture instead of digging it up. The next time I saw my sister, she presented this heart to me. She knew … and became a convert too.

Just before the Covid epidemic hit the U.S. mainland in March of 2020, John and I were in Maui. We had a grand time as we explored the entire island, and as we did so, spotted a plethora of hearts. There was one heart rock in particular, gleaned from our walk on the Kapalua Coast Trail that I wanted to bring home for a souvenir. That thought was short-lived when I found out it’s not only bad karma to remove so much as a grain of sand from the land, but it’s also against the law.  I honored the legend and the law. Photographs, I decided, make memories too.

It wasn’t until we settled into an anniversary trip to Paradise, Mich. (Sept. 18, 2020), that my husband started to crack. There, we learned about Yooperlites (mysterious glowing rocks). These rocks are found on Whitefish Point Beach along the shore of Lake Superior, home to a magnificent lighthouse and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

 After sunset, using an ultraviolet flashlight, visitors and natives alike go in search for Yooperlites, which are actually syenite rocks with fluorescent sodalite. As we searched for these treasures on the beach in the chill of the night, we also found some fabulous heart rocks. It was then my husband said, “Now you even have me looking for these things!” Truth be told, he has found some of the best heart rocks of all, including a miniature Yooperlite heart; a tiny treasure!

Later that spring, John had work in Port Angeles, Washington. I was only too happy to tag along and explore a new-to-us destination. Port Angeles is a coastal town of about 20,000 that boasts beauty from just about any vantage point. We hiked the mossy Marymere Trails to the top of a towering 90-foot waterfall and inched our way up the road that cut through a tunnel of snow to the top of Mount Olympus.

But hands down, my favorite scene was Lake Crescent (the second deepest lake in Washington). It was a misty morning when we arrived, with fog draped over the pines and mountains like a royal sash. Lake Crescent is an icy glacier-carved lake, its clarity greater than any other I’ve seen. The cloudy gray morning only served to magnify the water’s brilliant turquoise color. It absolutely glowed.

Just beyond Lake Crescent Lodge is a pebbly beach — a perfect place, I thought, to hunt heart rocks. I donned my waterproof Hunter boots and waded into the water.  I took only a few steps when I discovered a one-inch heart rock sitting on top of all the others as if to say, “Pick me! Pick me!” I lifted it from the water and turned it over in the palm of my hand. Nubby in texture with hints of burgundy and streaks of white, it looked like a miniature abstract painting. It was a keeper!

Then there was one glorious sunny day in Manasota Key, Fla., where we just got lost in the spray of waves, strolling the beach for hours, completely losing track of time. We gathered coral hearts (20 in all) of various color and distinction. In that moment, the Stephen King quote, “The late afternoon sunlight, warm as oil, sweet as childhood,” described my feelings precisely.

After a lovely dinner, John and I left our balcony to catch the evening’s sunset at the water’s edge. A passerby kindly snapped our picture and then I told John quite matter-of-factly, “Now watch the sun dip down into the shape of a heart.” I’m not exactly sure why those words fell out of my mouth like gospel truth, but we both watched, rather mystified, as the sun settled into a heart before sinking below the horizon. Some things just can’t be explained.

Whether you believe in signs or not, sometimes timing is pretty convincing that there is something greater at work than we can put to words.

 At the age of 89, after a brief illness, my mom passed away in May of 2021. She had been my hero, so it was a tough goodbye.  Her final resting place was in Steubenville, Ohio, next to her parents’ gravesite. Our hearts were heavy, which seemed to be reflected in the thunderstorms that raged around us as we made the six-hour drive back to Indiana. Just as we neared Fremont, Ohio on the toll road, there was a shift in the sky and suddenly, within our view out the front windshield, was an oversized slate blue heart cloud; the sun illuminated it from behind as if to say, “P.S. I love you.”

Since the inception of my ubiquitous heart journey my husband and I have experienced a multitude of sightings that have left us a bit mystified. I have added to my collection of heart rocks and captured photographs that document our findings both near and far. Walks around the lakes at Notre Dame yielded my “Notre Dame Hearts” collection, which I gifted to visiting great-nephews one summer. They were thrilled to start a collection of their own.

On another occasion, a robust, ruby red cardinal perched upon a branch outside of our front window appeared to be adorned with a crimson heart on its chest; three tiny red berries created the illusion. What are the chances?! A most recent discovery was as close as a few steps beyond our back door when a snowfall left puffy piles of white on our red brick walkway — and a perfectly sculpted snow heart.

For Christmas this year, instead of a Rorschach test, our son Josh put pen to paper and wrote the following poem for me. If you think it tugged at my heartstrings, you’d be right.

Seeing Love

By Josh Korzan © 2022

Open up your eyes and see, that love is all around

Adventurously interwoven, waiting to be found

God’s graceful composition, painted Mother Nature’s art

A beautiful, impressionistic, captivating heart

A seashell washed up on the shore, birds soaring in the sky

Imprinted rough and weathered trails, dark storm clouds passing by

The perfect, polished pebble stone, fall golden-amber tree

The bold, enchanting crescent moon, sunrise beyond the sea

Heavenly made miracles, a gift to earth each day

Life’s innate serenity, bestowed along the way

Gazing through the lens of love, a world of wondrous art

And if you stop to smell a rose, you might just see a heart

Merry Christmas Mom!

Love Josh

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Many eyes go through the meadow, but few see the flowers in it.” I think the same can be said for hearts. Whether we look for them or not, the hearts are there. But to pause and take notice, is to express gratitude for the gift.