A half century later I’m the one searching
for those piles of rocks along Auburn Folsom Road.
The man who led us there died 15 years ago,
and I begin my quest for river rocks thinking of him.
But as I drive past the spots where we once hefted rocks
into the trunk of my father’s Chevy, the two-lane road
has morphed into a four-lane highway, one side
rimmed with houses, shopping mall, light rail
replacing railroad tracks. No longer a safe place
to pull over and paw through piles overgrown
into hillocks sprouting grasses and trees.
Five decades of rain and dust and debris have turned
the mounds into living organisms—although perhaps
they always were alive, those river rocks keeping
their stories to themselves.
I want these rocks—suddenly attached to memory
like ions clinging to water molecules. I want
them in my life again, in my yard,
far downstream from where I started.
As I drive and search, the prayer arrives:
“Our father, who art in heaven, Roger be thy name,
guide me to a quiet place where I can safely
lift rocks in peace, in the name of all that is holy—
river, rocks, you, the universe, amen.”
And I turn down a road into a space once populated
with grasses and oaks, perhaps a deer trail or two
the only way through, to find myself arrowed
into a small, empty parking lot. I park, head down
a bike trail that I suspect meanders toward Lake Natoma,
dredged more than sixty years ago from American River soil,
those rocks joining the huge field of tailings left
a century earlier in the rush for California gold.
And around a curve they stand, gleaming as if brand new
under summer sun: naked mounds of river rock.
I climb one pile, feel stones shift as my weight
bears down, chuckle at the top to see a field
of exposed piles undulating northward,
as if deposited just for me.
I grin my thankyouthankyouthankyou to the sky,
set to work hefting, selecting, tossing keepers toward
the bike trail, know that I will come back, come back,
come back to this place outside of time.
Again and again I will load rocks “yay big,” as he
used to say, into a red bucket on a wheeled cart,
tow it up the trail behind me to my own waiting Honda,
transfer each rock into that welcoming space,
head back down the trail for more—
each step a meditation,
each rock a memory,