Special Rocks for My Dad

At this moment, I am somewhere deep in the Grand Canyon.

Some friends and I are crossing from the south side to the north rim. I’ll be sure to post a detailed account of the trip, complete with what I imagine will be spectacular photos. It’s going to be a grand, epic adventure.

In the meantime, however, I wanted to share something that shows a little bit of why this trip will be so special to me.

Runner silhouetted at sunrise in Davis Mountain State Park.
Sunrise at Davis Mountains State Park. Photo Credit: Dorothy Langdon 

My dad is a geologist — the study of earth and its processes has engrossed him his whole life. In fact, he’s still working and teaching at the age of 83. I can’t imagine him not doing what he does. It’s impossible to separate the man from his work.

When my brothers and I were little, he’d frequently take us on rock hunting expeditions. Sometimes, we’d look for limestone flags to make patio steps. Other times, we were searching for just the right rocks to make flower bed borders. I learned at an early age to turn a rock over AWAY from me, rather than toward me.

I loved nothing more than finding a special piece. Perhaps there was a tiny fossil embedded or crystals of quartz jutting out or a vein of flint running through the core. My dad would take the stone, turn my offering over a couple of times in his fingers, and thoughtfully rub it with his thumb. “Why, Leah,” he’d say, “that’s a little old piece of….” And then I’d get a brief lesson in geology.

Those found rocks were special, and they lived under my bed in a big cardboard box that had formerly housed my giant Raggedy Ann doll. I’d written “Leah’s Special Rock Collection” across the top in marker, just in case anybody stumbled across it and was curious. It collected dirt and spiders; the box tore a little more each time I drug it out to add my latest find; eventually, I had to get rid of it.

To this day, I collect rocks. I can’t help myself. Out on the trail, I unconsciously notice them. When we go out of the country, I surreptitiously sneak a pebble or two into my luggage (and feel guilty going through customs). Something about having a little piece of the world is precious. Take, for instance, the rose-shaped rust-colored stones I have that belonged to my grandmother. You see, when my dad was a young man, he’d gathered them on a field expedition for his new mother in law, who’d placed them in her southern Illinois rose garden. After my grandparents had died, their belongings were dispensed with, and the house sold, I pried three out of the dirt they’d rested in for all those years. Those barite rose stones are synonymous with Me-ma’s house; I could never lose them.

Three barite rose rocks.

All of the special rocks I find make their home with me. Some go in the house, others outside in the fountain, a few wind up scattered in the yard. No doubt I’ll have a little something come back from this trip, a keepsake of the wonders I’ll have encountered in the Grand Canyon. My dad knows; in his 30s, he spent months living in the canyon, studying, working, walking the same trails I’ll be traveling, marveling at the beauty of the formations.

The next time I visit my dad, I’ll bring along my latest special rock, if only to hear him say again, “Why, Leah, that’s a little old piece of…”

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