The French words are in the story (Some Assembly Required!)
L'Oisiveté: Thoughts on Work, Love, and Writing

Gaga for Galets! Rock collecting: caillou, roche, gravier, pierre and other stones in French

Gravel petanque
Gravel is handy for a lot of things--including pétanque (boules)! Read on to learn about another benefit of rocks. (Pictured: family members, including André, who is measuring, at a picnic in Fuveau).

Today's Word: ramasser

    : to pick up, gather

Audio file: Click to hear Jean-Marc read the following French sentence:
Rockhounding, ou géologie amateur, est l'étude récréative et la collecte de roches, de pierres précieuses, de minéraux ou de fossiles de leurs environnements naturels. Les Rockhounds sont ceux qui ne peuvent pas passer devant un joli rocher sans le ramasser pour le regarder de plus près.

Rockhounding, or amateur geology, is the recreational study and collection of rocks, gems, minerals, or fossils from their natural environments. Rockhounds are the people who cannot pass by a pretty rock without picking it up for a closer look. -Rockhound Times

A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE by Kristi Espinasse

Dropping another caillou into the palm of my hand, I think I can carry a few more stones if I balance things just so.... I reach to pick up another when our 11-year-old golden retriever lies down in the very spot where I'm collecting, rolls over, and wags his tail.

Really, Smokey? Are you a rock, too? Or maybe a rockhound?!

I give in to scratch his furry tummy. The pause gives me time to consider this new obsession with the stones, rocks, and minerals found in our front yard. There is even a word for it--rockhounding! Mom and I are currently gaga over galets! But it crosses my mind, as I deposit a palm-full of rocks to the bare landing near the kitchen door (a project Jules is working on), that I may be stealing Mom's joy?

Mais non! Mom's joy is contagious and she's always believed there is enough to go around, whether that is money or passion or rocks. She'll share it if she has it (just don't ask her to share her cookie. Everyone has their limits!)

Meantime, there are plenty of rocks in this yard for both of us, but, just in case, why not collect another color and work on another area of the yard? I notice a charcoal gray stone and begin to ramasser a neat little collection when, Aha! I think of my caper plant…This deep gray would really show it off! Feeling like a real nerd as I swap out beige rocks (leave those to Mom) and replace them with the gray ones, I remember back to when this folly began....

Moms rocks
Mom's rock stash from this morning...notice the birdfeed, too. Mom's always feeding the doves!

Two years ago after Mom moved to France we began working on this garden together. Jules suggested we upgrade the gravel (which was super sparse) with a nicer, smoother, rounded type of pebble ground covering. We never got around to it (laziness has its advantages). Entre temps, we began noticing the many different types of stones in our yard... especially when the spring flowers and weeds died back, revealing a bare floor. Though the floor was covered with pea gravel, another type of ground covering revealed itself via those larger, butterscotch-colored rocks Mom kept finding here and there. This home having been built in 1960, it's possible those were here before the pea gravel.

Thanks, Mom, for the back stairs project. We were tracking in a lot of dirt, before Jules began covering the ground with her butterscotch rocks! It's taken months, which makes it all the more a treasure to have. Cécile repaired some of the broken tiles on the last step.

As we pick up stones and sort them, there are the occasional little découvertes that make this pastime so fun and satisfying: from the discovery of objects (lots of shells) to the discovery of the benefits. Rock collecting is:

--an activity we can practice with family
--gets us outdoors, in the fresh air
--good exercise (Mom would add it is great for stretching!)
...keeps us in contact with nature and la terre
--gives us something to look for and bring back from vacation, besides tourist trap items

And I might add one more to this list--our recent interest in rocks has given me a topic to research and to write about today--and for that I am most grateful. Off now to find my Mom and our lovable rockhound....

ROCK ON! I leave you with a few photos of rocks, and thank you for any edits for today's story. So helpful.

le caillou = stone
le galet = pebble
ramasser = pick, gather
entre temps = in the meantime
les découvertes (f) = discoveries
gratuit = free, free of charge
la terre = earth

A stone restanque (rock wall) at our vineyard crumbled. We had it rebuilt before we sold and moved on.

Our new town, La Ciotat, became our rock! 

Kristi beach in italy
Vacation last year in Sicily, and a beach of smooth galets. It's a good thing rock-collecting hadn't yet become an obsession!

Serre Chevalier rocks
Boulders in Serre Chevalier.

A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Merle Minda

It is incredible how well you seem to have settled in living with your mother. I am her age and feel jealous. Félicitations.

Elizabeth Henry

I love to collect rocks as souvenirs of trips, even though they weigh much more than little trinkets. I try to find a rock whose shape mirrors the place where I found it - the shape of a mountain, or a smooth stone from a river or beach. In the past, I picked up stones from various vineyards until I read how harmful that is when multiplied by thousands of visitors doing the same thing. My favorite is a California beach stone that is as round as a grapefruit and almost as large! That one was a bear to bring home, but it is a beautiful reminder of the power of water plus time.

Gail in AZ

I used to have a French pen pal who lived in Normandy. She went to La Ciotat years ago and sent me a small package. In it were tiny, pure white rocks smaller than my fingernail she had found on the beach.

We love rock collecting here in Arizona too! I have a clear glass fishbowl I keep the rocks in that my husband brings me from his hunting trips. He said he always finds a pretty one in the woods when he’s thinking of me. :-)

Maggie Grace

I think this is one of my favorite posts that you have done! I love rocks. My mother grew up on the banks of the Missouri River on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and she had a lifelong obsession with river rocks and driftwood. I think just seeing them in our house and yard made me love them. Whenever we go on a trip I have to pick up a rock or three to bring home. I have bowls and jars full of them and of course they go well with my vases of seashells. Souvenirs don't have to cost money to be precious! I love that Smokey is a rockhound!

Martha Venter

J'adore. Quelle inspiration. Merci.
Martha from CT


Kristin, I have collected rocks from wherever we vacation for many years. I've even hauled some home from France. (Hope that isn't illegal.) Recently, I began to learn (but probably not remember) the "scientific" name for a few found near the Great Lakes. Be very careful!!! An interest turns into a hobby, and a hobby turns into an obsession!!! I'm finding that out the hard way ~ always longing to rock hunt. So you and Jules be aware of what could happen!!! And enjoy.


Our dear Kristi,
Once again you have given us inspiration to look around and find beauty and enjoyment in our own lives.
Simply discover things with fresh eyes and go for it!
What a wonderful lesson for this day--or any day!
Hearing about your bond with Jules,and the sweetness of Smokey just wraps us in hugs!!
Thank you!!!
Natalia. xo

Linda R Higgins

Hi Kristin,
Your post today reminded me of how many times I've picked up unusual or pretty stones while vacationing both near and far. Some I've even marked on the bottom with date and place of origin. After a friend showed me her collection of heart shaped stones I always look for those, too. My grandsons also love picking up stones at the beach, then going through each pile to decide on only a few favorites to take home. Hoping to return to Provence next summer with our extended family to add to our collections!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, chère Natalia. Hugs from here. 💕💕


Bonjour, Kristi,
J'aime bien aussi ce sujet de "Rockhounding". Un autre aspect de cet passe-temps est mettre un caillou et un autre
caillou en balance. Cette méthode précise produit une jolie sculpture pour le jardin. Jules est probablement déjà adroite en cet art. Il me semble qu'avec peu d'encouragement, elle vous bénit par son talent. J'espère que vous me compreniez en dépit
de mes fautes de grammaire et mes fautes d'usage. Merci pour votre patience.


My husband and I made a vow several years ago to stop buying the ubiquitous trinkets that are sold in every tourist shop. Instead, we bring home photographs from our trips, as well as one or two small special items that really 'speak' to us. I love the idea of collecting stones to remind ourselves of special moments. Several years ago, my massage therapist introduced me to rock balancing. She used to head to the beach early in the morning on her days off from work, spend some time searching for interesting rocks, then balancing them precariously atop one another. Although I haven't become an avid rock balancer, I love the meditative quality for the activity when done alone, and just how much fun it is when attempted with my family members, all working together as a team.


This post makes me think of the wonderful French word souvenir. I have some lovely rocks I brought home from a family vacation on Lake Superior on the Canadian side at Pancake Bay. They hold down newspapers on our table on the deck in good weather and are on the hearth in winter. I also have some large pebbles from my last vacation with my mother and sister in Nice from the beach in front of the Promenade Anglais. That was when we last saw you and had a wonderful lunch and afternoon. I have other small rocks picked up in England on vacation and from home in California. Now I have to think ... do I have one from where I have been living for 35+ years ... New Jersey? I must go exploring.

cathia gantz

I brought home rocks from my friends' Texas ranch streambed as souvenirs and placed several in a pot with a plant. My plumber spotted them and went euphoric! He gleefully handled and identified each rock, and almost totally lost it upon discovering that one rock is the oldest kind on the planet. I had to let him have that one!

Carolyn R Chase

I'm reminded of a Fallen Rock sign, on a ride with my friend Chris. She said she never sees the "Chutes de Pierres" signs without imaging a water fall of Frenchmen wearing berets, all named Pierre!

Susan Stafford

You and your mother will love Le Palais Idéal du facteur Cheval in Hauterives. He was a postman who collected rocks as he made his 32 kilometer trek delivering the mail each day. He built his dream palace over the course of 33 years by himself. A 2019 movie « l’Incroyable Histoire du Facteur Cheval » recounts his story.

Kathleen Bidney

Hello Martha,
I too love to collect rocks, everywhere I go. Good to see you on line.

Kathleen Bidney

I have been collecting rocks for many years and I keep many of them in canning jars with the glass tops around my jacuzzi along with shells from many countries. I really wish that I could remember from where they all came, but alas that is impossible. I look for rocks that seem to say “look at me, I’m special”. It may be the color, the translucency, the shape or the feel in my hand. I love to walk along a beach and have a rock in my hand and turn it over and over and cresses it. It is very soothing and meditative.
Plus I have rocks along my driveway and garden, adding a different visual entity. A change of color, texture and form are great ways to distinguish different areas and add visual interest. Your yard lends itself an array of rocks gathered together to create a distinctive area.
Rock away ...Peace, Kathleen

Ian Pitt

As I read this column - and the comments - I was struck (not literally by a rock!) that all the contributions so far have been from women, and got to wondering (perhaps this is not PC in this day & age) whether the female of the species is more fascinated by rocks than the male?

I was reading this week of Mary Anning, a world-famous fossil hunter who lived near to me (but a bit before my time) on the English south coast and who discovered many of the first dinosaur fossil skeletons. She lived in an era when men made almost all the scientific discoveries, and came from a humble background. She too had a beloved dog (Tray) who was unfortunately killed in a rock-slide whilst they were out rock-hounding together!

Kristin Espinasse

Ian, So good to have your thoughtful contribution! Interesting to read about Mary Anning. I imagine there have been books written on her life and will look into it. Sad to read about Tray. Poor thing!

Kristin Espinasse

Thank you, Susan, for this wonderful recommendation. Just watched the movie trailer, here:


Just don’t ever take rockhounds for granite....

Kristin Espinasse

Suzanne, That is genius! 😂😂

Marianne Rankin

I like to have souvenirs of places, but don't want them to look like souvenirs. One of my favorites is a piece of rose quartz, which I use as a decoration. I have other rocks that I've found in various places, and have a few on bookshelves. I have one in the car, and others in pots with plants, so that when I water them, the water doesn't "drill" into the soil. I bought some river rocks for one of my gardens. I just wish I could find something a bit bigger. The kind of rocks my mother had in her "rock garden" when I was growing up I've not been able to locate, even in garden stores. It's surprising how creative one can be with rocks.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)