Rock Solid

Harry Drabik

I wasn’t aware of solid rock until a joint family vacation using my Uncle Walter’s new Ford. Aside from cut sandstone (easily confused with concrete when I was a boy) there wasn’t a lot of rock to be seen except for crushed limestone in the alleys that was great for neighborhood wars and the blocks found under asphalt paving. Leaving Chicago going west toward Iowa cows and corn dominated until in the Dakotas we reached the Badlands where entire landscapes were made of rock and stone. I was suddenly in heaven. I can’t give a specific reason why rock held such a strong appeal, but I couldn’t get enough of it and at every opportunity collected samples. My idea was bigger is better. I’d lug pieces big as I could manage back to the car for safe storage in the trunk. When the trip was over I’d have solid reminders of various places we’d stopped and I gathered. I figured to learn  at a later date why some were pink, others milky white, and degrees of mix.

Montana and the Rocky Mountains put me into full bore collecting frenzy. My appetite for hunks of rock could not be satisfied. In our meandering journey it was somewhere near Yellowstone I found a favorite specimen missing. In a wild frenzy I began sorting through the trunk trove. To my horror I found many of my favorite rock friends missing. In a childhood rage I confronted the powers above me and was told trunk could not hold the eight hundred pounds of rock I tried to put in it. Every night my uncle or dad tossed what they felt was surplus. I was furious and would have walked back to the last place we’d stayed to retrieve what I could of those lost friends, but it would be a long walk so I decided to keep a watchful eye on the remainder in the trunk. I’d show them.

Of course an eight year old has to sleep sometimes, and once I was out a world war could have gone on without disturbing me. My own nature betrayed me. It was a sad child indeed who saw his stash of stony friends diminish. Rocks got tossed as the accumulation of adult souvenirs grew. Embattled, I dug in and saved what I could, enough rock to fill a shoebox in my room, and many, many times less than the whole of my lost collection.

I can’t say with absolute certainty why I took to rocks as I did, but I think that as a child the idea of permanence had surprisingly big appeal. In my boyhood mind rocks were forever. Seasons changed, I outgrew shoes, our refrigerator had to be replaced, but the rocks in my shoebox were solid and dependable. Our household was not a tumultuous one. The opposite, my family was well on the dull steady side of humanity. There was A laundry day. Rolled socks went into a particular place in the third drawer. Underwear was never left on the floor. But, surrounded by stability I no less valued what solid rock meant to me.

In time I’d get interested in Geology and learned the solidity of rock is temporary. In the rockbound Duluth/Superior, North Shore, and Iron Range we feel anchored and permanent without feeling the solid rock rebound upward beneath us as it continues to rise after glacial ice held it down 9,000 years ago. You almost never hear of the major earthquake in 1811 destroying large areas around Madrid near the Illinois, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri lines. Estimated at 7.5 it was a major quake in the supposedly stable central states. What we see as solid rock is malleable. It bends, folds, and moves, but very slowly same as a rift will open over epochs or the Colorado took a good long while to cut the Grand Canyon as the terrain the river ran through slowly lifted.

Rock solid is temporary. I didn’t want to hear that as a younger person, but it is true. They say change is particularly upsetting to the elderly. Don’t let them fool you. Change upsets everyone and as I see it nearly equally as well. Take away a teenager’s phone or bandage just one of their thumbs and see how well they accept that change.

Think of the ways we have a cabin culture based on an image of an unchanged past. Of the very many living in cities in 1917 how many actually had a summer home or cabin? It was a very small number, and those who did have a summer home actually used it as a summer home where wives and children spent the summer in the country while the male privileged papa stayed in the city to work or came out weekends. Hardly anyone had a summer home or a cabin in the woods, but we have an industry built on an image of cozy cabins with wooden canoes docked outside placid lakes where a moose feeds in the shallows. Do you know how rare and near impossible that scene is? Essentially it did not happen, but on an emotional and assumed level we want it to be true. Maybe it is a human adjustment to any change to want to find and cherish a permanent something as an emotional anchor.

Well if rock solid doesn’t even apply to granite monoliths how much less so does it fit our social and political lives? How closely to Democrats and Republicans today resemble those in the time of Nixon and Kennedy? And there are stark ironies too. Is Bush having meddled in Iraq much different from Obama playing warlord in Libya and Syria? Supposedly different policies and philosophies have an uncomfortably similar and distasteful result. If the world doesn’t make sense than maybe a good old cabin fantasy is awfully appealing. Imaginary solidity may not be much, but it might be all we’re ever going to have. So, imagine well and with senses open.