A River (of Rock) Runs Through It

I’m not one to share a lot of memories in this blog but today’s post is different. Today’s post is a story about what is important and you guessed it, it isn’t fancy or expensive stuff.

In my family, simple river rock holds tremendous memories. My parents moved to Tahoe when the two oldest grandchildren were very young so my daughter and her cousin Justin have the most powerful memories of that home and time. It was located on a street called Easy Street which it was anything but because the backyard was essentially composed of an acre of rock. River rock to be precise. The rock ran up a steep hill that was nearly an acre in size. My father uncharacteristically spent a fortune fencing it in for the dogs although that never stopped the endless parade of wild animals including a mama bear and her cub which were pursued by a large number of animal control folk in the dead of night. They forgot to alert my parents so the general ruckus as they stomped through private property with lights and torches, radios and shouts, caused my mother’s pack of dogs to raise absolute hell. She wisely kept them indoors or animal control might have found themselves in the emergency room counting stitches. Then there was the time that a baby skunk ambled into my parents bathroom. I have no clue why the dogs didn’t sniff that one out but those are just two of the adventures that Brittany and her cousin Justin experienced.

Then there were those rocks. A virtual river, an acre of rocks interspersed with giant pine trees throughout. Geologically, many believed that Lake Tahoe was created by volcanoes although that is actually not the case. Tahoe was actually formed by a falling out of a massive geological block about 25 million years ago, give or take. Time can get loose like a goose when talking geology. Anyway, massive geological blocks created the Carson range to the east, the Sierra Nevada range to the west and Tahoe dropped her dainty geological drawers so to speak, with the basin forming in-between. Using the way back machine, we have discovered that the Tahoe basin was quite a bit bigger in those times so much so that when volcanoes poured lava into the basin (so yes, volcanoes did play a major role), the existing water was basically dammed and the water level rose several hundred feet higher than it is today. That is where my river of rock comes in. Eventually a new outlet was cut, quite near my parents old home as it turns out and a river, we believe, ran through it. Then there was the Great Ice Age of a mere million to two million years ago which further helped to shape the modern version of Lake Tahoe as we know it. Those glaciers from the Ice Age also had a hand in shaping those rocks. Large boulders cracked and thawed, bullied about by the glaciers, over and over, we believe, splintering into the rocks that eventually carpeted my parent’s backyard.

So, what kind of rocks are we talking about here? Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains were created on a foundation of Jurassic and Cretaceous granitic rocks sprinkled with specks of Triassic and Jurassic metamorphic rocks. I have a couple of quartz rocks in my collection as well but mostly, we are talking granite which clearly passes the geologic test of time.

So, while my parents were living there, which feels like yesterday not a million years ago, I began to take the rock back to my home in the Bay Area. Ten, twelve at a time, with the blessing of my parents. They had hundreds of thousands of rocks. Take some, please. Over a few years and a dozen or so visits, I frugally used them to edge a border in my backyard and so, when the contractors came a few months ago to tear apart my backyard, my only instructions were to save those rocks. I knew I had to save the rocks. Nearly everything went to the dump or was recycled or given away (the fancy decorative rock from the old waterfall and pond was of little interest to me so it was gifted to someone willing to haul it away for free), but that river rock I jealously kept. After using some of it in my new rock feature (the pond waterfall feature refused to yield completely to jack hammering so rock feature it was), I told my daughter I had something special for her. She has a semicircle in the front of her home, located underneath the front window and edged with scalloped brick that has long lain empty save for a few sad weeds.

River rock it is.

This is why I spent nearly all of last weekend and most of my tricep strength, hauling those rocks into my garage for safe keeping from the next phase of the yard redo. The rocks range from the size of a large bar of soap up to the hefty girth of a watermelon. And they weigh a lot. Smoothed slick by millions of years of water washing over them, they represent so much more than geology just doing it’s multi-million year thing. They speak more recently of my nephew and daughter, climbing that hill, year after year, sturdy on their small and growing feet, with a pack of patient dogs always in tow, creating adventures that only small children can craft. In the winter, covered in a thick frosting of snow, those rocks whisper the memory of one of my mother’s more intrepid dogs, digging vigorously for the tennis ball those kids threw for her millions of times. Gizzy never stopped going after that ball no matter how deep the snow. I can still hear her nails clicking on the rocks buried deep in the snow as she emerged, covered in a thick quilting of snow, snout to tail, that neon tennis ball triumphantly captured in her mouth. She would only stop when we dragged the her and the kids back into the house, cold and confident, faces bright pink with the cold and clamoring for hot chocolate. Extra marshmallows of course. There is also a faint family memory of one of us eventually falling asleep on the couch only to wake up to find our body covered with a complex highway of Match Box Cars that a small boy had laid with care. His dismay when we sat up was only surpassed by our own surprise when we learned why said boy had chosen our napping form as his human highway.

I can only surmise my own grown nephew now knows not to use his Auntie’s ‘mountains and valleys’ for his cars. I hope. I mean, I really have to hope.

What this story is all about is what is cherished most, what is valued most, more than expensive stuff, more than possessions. It isn’t expensive stuff, it is memories as tough as granite itself, enduring and pure like the glaciers that flowed over those rocks for millions of years. Unlike expensive ‘stuff’ that comes and goes, designer purses that fray and cars that throttle in and out of fashion, those rocks represent the memories that we frugal folks cherish the most. Like the pyramids, rocks — and memories — stand the test of time.

After my triceps recovered, I called my daughter to let her know I would start bringing up the river rock this coming weekend. It was going to take a few trips but I was happy to do it. I then told her there was more than enough for the front area in her yard and her response was that of someone who knew the value of memories to be priceless: “Good,” she said, “Then I’ll have extra rocks to give to Justin.”

We who are frugal know that the most valuable things are always meant to be shared with those we love.

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