A few weeks ago, while camped out somewhere in the 47 miles between Twickenham and Clarno on the John Day, I trailed behind my Aunt as we walked along the shoreline towards a bend in the river where the current got strong, so we could go in and float back down to camp. It sounds simple, because it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s not one of life’s greatest pleasures. Show me a man who says he doesn’t love to wade chest deep into swift water on a hot day—toes curled around a pebbled bottom until the last second—until the current sweeps him away, and I’ll show you a liar. Bobbing around in the water, your life jacket hitched up to your neck—maybe a beer in hand, I wouldn’t blame you—it’s one of the best feelings. The absolute best. Vegas didn’t invent the idea of the lazy river, friend. Mother Nature perfected the art eons ago.
Anyway, I digress. The point is not the splash n’ giggle we were going on, it was the rock collecting happening along the way. The bank we were walking down was covered in stones—boulders, pebbles, jagged squares of quartz and the dark black glint of obsidian—and we were keeping an eye out for the good ones. Good is relative, of course. My Aunt favors the yellow-ish hue of citrine quartz, my Mom picks up the heart-shaped ones, even if it’s just the gray of river rock, a fellow floater in our group collected only the darkest green. I picked up lots of rocks and put down most. It’s not that I’m particular, it’s that I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I like what I like, but I don’t really know until I see it up close, hold the weight in my palm. Every now and then a small one would speak up, or feel warm in my hand, and I would keep it. This is how I go about rock collecting. Listen, think for a minute, put it in your pocket and go on. Or in this case, keep it clenched in your fist while floating down the river and stow it somewhere safe once you make it back to shore.
I brought the few special rocks I kept home, and now they sit on top of my dresser. It has been a year of change for me, everything going liquid just when I thought for sure what I had was solid. I realized this morning—the first Monday when I’ve woken up beholden to no one and nothing in the near future—that this past year I’ve been rock collecting through my own life. I’ve been picking up the pieces—my job, my relationship, my hobbies, my friends—holding them in my palm, and listening to the still, small quiet voice that likes what it likes. I set down what rankled, what felt jagged in my hand. I let go of what didn’t suit me. And I clutched tightly to what spoke to me, what resonated deep in the center of my chest with a feeling of rightness. And I decided now that I’m rock collecting with purpose, with a vision of what I want in my mind—hunting out that perfect stone, the exact thing I’m picturing.
I am not interested in carrying stones that weigh me down. I want only what I can hold up to the light and see, gently, what will serve me. Here’s to having the best rock collection—for ourselves—around.