When the Beatle’s The Fool on the Hill hit the airwaves in 1967 I was twelve years old, the perfect age to be captivated by a song that denounced conventional motivation. I always thought I would love to be the guy whose ‘eyes in his head see the world spinning round’. That is, if I wasn’t so busy.
Paul McCartney credits the song’s inspiration to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but today, 44 years after the song’s debut, I discovered a true Fool on the Hill, a man who embodies the complimentary mystery, serenity, and inanity of the song.
A man sits outside the gate of the BLB orphanage, on a small bluff with his back to the sea. A shred of blue tarp tied to a sapling and a few branches stuck in the ground provides shade. He sits on a pile of rocks. To his left the rocks are small boulders. On his lap is a flat white stone. In his right hand he holds a small mallet. He picks up a boulder, taps it with his hammer into dozens of smaller pieces and slides the pieces down the pile on the right. He sits and hammers all day. I never see him move from his position. He must, because he is not there in the dark. But all day long he sits and taps and breaks rocks. I understand there is a market for his effort, that people buy his crushed rock to put in concrete. No one will tell me the value of his work, but it cannot amount to much.
The man is deaf and dumb, which adds to his allure. When someone lacks ordinary powers we ascribe to him an unknowable depth of other faculties. He is serene in his posture; he appears at peace with his work, comfortable with his place in this world. When I approach he waves, when I lift my camera he smiles as if to say, “People like to photograph me just being who I am.”
Of course this is all projection; the man has no opportunity to voice his thoughts. Perhaps he is frustrated, a Stevens Hawkins genius trapped in an eternity of rock tapping due to circumstances of birth and life beyond his control. But somehow I doubt that. To all the world he appears to be a man who knows his purpose and is neither haughty nor humbled by his station. He is the man who taps rocks all day under a tarp, the fool on the hill. The rest of us marvel at his tenacity, we thank god that we are not chained to his lot, yet we wonder if perhaps he doesn’t know more about life through his quiet work than we can ever know in our scurrying.
The Rock Tapper