Time In My Hands

I used to be in the habit of bringing back small bits of geology from my trips, but I became jaded the last couple of years, less willing to allow myself to be astonished at the simple marvels of the physical world. Plus, rocks are heavy. I backpack “ultalight,” meaning I never carry more than 35 pounds in my pack, no matter how long I’ll be out, so everything in there is essential. Except a rock; believe me, there are plenty of rocks where I travel. I could buy people t-shirts, but I bring back rocks. So to carry a rock useless to me up and down mountains, pack it in my checked baggage, give it to someone, and hear “oh, a rock,” can be disheartening. You can understand my loss of enthusiasm.

I brought these rocks back for me, although I did disguise them as a gift, thinking they might make someone happy. The one above is from the bed of the North Fork of the Flathead River, just south of the Canadian border. The idea of the North Fork of the Flathead River has been an ambition of mine since I learned of it several years ago (https://georgeschools.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/its-all-bear-country/). The rock weighs two and a half pounds, and it is amazing. It was deposited during the Precambrian, so 1.4 billion years ago or so, perhaps in the general vicinity of where I found it, but even a rock can move a lot in a billion years. If a geologist digs it up in my Texas back yard a billion years from now, she is going to be perplexed. Those perfect lines across it tell a story that I don’t understand completely, but it is enough for me that they tell a story that is true.

The second rock is from Boulder Pass, 8,000 feet above sea level. It weighs over four pounds, so you have to understand how beautiful this rock was in my hands, in that pass, that light. I held it and said out loud “you are beautiful.”

Boulder Pass

It is a bizarre compulsion to want to possess a thing beautiful because of where it comes from; like wanting an autograph from someone famous. But I carried it down those mountains and out to have it physically mine forever. The rock’s lines tell a story, but the place I found her tells a stranger one. Everything in Glacier is water and time, but a billion year old seafloor mudflat 8,000 feet above sea level puts you in your place.

I have suspected this before, but people sort of look at me strangely when I talk about it, eyes opened unnaturally wide and a weird smile fixed on their faces: something changed in these rocks when I took them away from their place. They do not glow, not like their glow when I first saw them in a wild river bed, or high in a mountain pass. I have carried rocks back from many places, given them to a very few people, and the most beautiful ones have all done this. I experimented today, sat these rocks in the sun to heat them and see if the Texas humidity had robbed them of their luster, but the glow has not returned. But holding them in my hands for my experiment, I felt again the same thing I felt when I first held them: “You are beautiful.”