My research and writing about the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston, Maine over the last three months has covered a few topics about which I’d never given much thought. Following a story idea and a freak April Fool’s Day snowstorm, I hiked into a granite quarry in North Jay. The sun was so bright following the surprise weather, I was blinded by the snow and the stones. There was a magical quality to the place. I blogged obliquely about that visit to the granite quarry here.
Further research revealed that in addition to the granite, some of the Basilica’s exterior ornamentation was limestone. And what of limestone?
Limestone is not a Maine geological formation. Domestically, most of it was found in southern Indiana near towns with names like Needmore, Oolitic, and Eureka.
I met my story deadline about the Basilica’s limestone, but I ordered a used book called Stone Country by Scott R. Sanders and Jeffrey A. Wolin. It arrived a few days ago and it’s a cross between a long ode to limestone and a coffee table book. Sanders describes his journey to chronicle a piece of the Indiana stone belt as “hunting for what endures.” He talks about the ancient and slow-moving nature of stone:
“A time-lapse film of any landscape, with frames shot every thousand years or so, would reveal a swarm of changes. From one millennial blink to the next, God would see an altered world. The Psalmist knew what he was talking about when he said the hills skip like lambs.”
Similar to Kurt Swenson’s existential ruminations on granite, Sanders uses reverential language when he speaks of limestone:
“When the fog of human voices grows too thick for my lungs, and the ticking of my own inner clock rattles my soul, and I feel the winds of momentariness whistling through my ribs, I go out to climb a cliff or splash down a stony creek bed or dangle my legs over a quarry’s lip. Some future day, oceans will wash again over this spot where I sit in my rickety chair, and once again myriads of beasties, many of them indistinguishable from the sea creatures of three hundred million years ago, will spawn and die in the shallows of Indiana.”
If you thought it couldn’t get more dramatic, I’ve recently learned that the Basilica’s slate roof was likely quarried here in Maine. Monson, to be exact. I’ve got a few phone calls and e-mails out to the sultans of slate history. Historical societies in small towns like Monson close for the winter and like tulips and pea shoots, it’s touch and go as to when they’ll be open for business.
As a side note, spring, work, and writing duties are in overdrive and I’ll be dropping down to one post per week on Wednesdays.