I am a rock thief. I left Iceland with pebbles in my pocket, black lava stones that had been smoothed by the ocean, pieces of wild nature that fit into my palm. No terrible luck has befallen me as a result of this practice—yet.
Collected in the book Bad Luck, Hot Rocks: Conscience Letters and Photographs from the Petrified Forest are dozens of confessions that were sent to Arizona’s National Park. There are over a thousand such letters, and they date back to the 1930s. In these letters, people apologize for stealing rocks, often returning the pilfered items alongside handwritten tales of woe. Broken down cars, sudden illnesses, divorce—all supposedly stem from the curse. Bad luck befalls anyone who steals from the petrified forest.
I think maybe I should return my Icelandic stones. Now I feel guilty for taking them off the beach. It’s just so hard for me to resist the desire to pocket rocks. They’re simple, potent symbols for an experience of sublime awe and beauty. But… perhaps they belong where they belong. As the old Leave No Trace credo goes, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” I need to get better at that one—and some others. (At least I’m aways improving, right?)
P.S. I bought the book. You can, too. It’s a perfect gift for naturalist magpies or whimsical outdoorsmen.