On Collecting Rocks

I emptied my purse recently, to make sure that I had everything I needed in there, which is not always a guarantee with me. I found a whole lot of random items—a phone charger cable, chalk pens, a jewelry case, some mail, my watch, business cards, credit cards, bus passes. Five different lipsticks, a hairbrush, and my Bluetooth speaker. The contents were a little more random than normal because of the wedding.

My baby sister got married in the middle of January, and as bridesmaid, my purse still bore the remnants of a bridesmaid’s emergency kit. I had used up all the Shout wipes cleaning the hem of her dress after beachfront photography, but there was plenty of evidence for all the ways in which my purse had been used on the day. What I did not expect were three rocks.

Three small beach stones, smoothed by the ocean, gray and innocuous. I held them in my palm for a moment, confused. I’ve been known to pick up rocks to symbolize special occasions or moments I want to remember. Near my fireplace rests a large blue-glass jar that holds my rocks, shells, pieces of pottery, bits of sea glass…the detritus of journeys taken.

Some of my rocks are slightly illegal, picked up on travel to historic places. Some are plain, some are especially pretty. None carry any real value, except to me. Once when my sister helped me move she picked up a small box and, surprised by its heaviness, opened it. “Is this a box of rocks?” she asked, nonplussed. “Yes.” I said. She gave me an acid look and added it to the stack of boxes for the moving truck.

I looked at my jar of rocks, and then at the three pebbles currently resting in my palm. I took the sharpie pen at my desk and wrote a word on each of the rocks.


Over the past year, I’ve been doing an inspection of my life. I’ve come to think of the emotional baggage I carry around as rocks. Some of my rocks are legitimate. Some are really things that I own and should carry around for a while, perhaps because I need to learn from them. Some, maybe, I need to let go, drop them into the ocean and let them be gradually worn away to sand by a force bigger and stronger than myself. A lot of these burdens I carry around unnecessarily. Perhaps I’ve even taken them on without realizing it, as with the three real rocks I found in my purse.

I had two guesses, by the way, as to where those rocks came from. The day of my sister’s wedding, we were taking photographs at a beachfront park with the wedding party, which included all three of my siblings and my two nieces. My youngest sister, who was the bride, wasn’t suspect as she was a) a little busy thinking mainly about managing the hem of her wedding dress, and b) not as explicitly prank-minded as the other two suspects — my other two siblings. Those sassy middle kids. The following story explains why they were my top candidates.

Once, on a family trip out to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state before there were any in-laws attached to our family group, my parents and all four of us siblings hiked to the Dungeness Point lighthouse. Dungeness Point lighthouse is at the end of the Dungeness Spit Trail. The spit is 5 miles long, one of the longest natural sand spits on the west coast, so the “hike” is just over 10 miles to the lighthouse and back. And the word “Trail” is misleading, because walking on a sand spit is not like walking on a trail—the spit itself is maybe 50 feet wide, depending on how high the tide is, with water on either side of it. Like any beach, it is not flat, but peaked in shape because the tides push earth and debris up to the top of it on a regular basis. Since it’s such a narrow piece of land, the tides work on it from both sides.

Hiking the spit is best done one of two ways; one, playing “hot lava” and jumping from driftwood log to driftwood log, where they are arranged along the top of the spit, and the other, to walk it at a lower tide time so that you have more solid, damp sand to walk on. Otherwise, hiking through ankle-deep sand that spills into your shoes, or walking on ankle-rocking seastones are your only options.

We took a few rest stops along the five miles in to the lighthouse, stopping to sit on driftwood to rest our over-taxed ankles, snack on granola bars and sip water, and watch a pair of seals that tracked us most of the way, popping their heads up every now and then and cavorting in the surf.

At the lighthouse, we sat on the sandy green lawns around the buildings and ate sandwiches for lunch. Dungeness Point lighthouse is owned by a collective private group, and each member of this group has the chance to keep the lighthouse for a week every year. Each new group of keepers is driven out by vehicle at the lowest possible tide (the only time the spit is wide enough to accommodate a vehicle), along with food and water for the week. They mow lawns, lead tours, maintain the buildings and, presumably, write beautiful short stories and novels while looking out at the gorgeous pacific sunsets and the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges seen in 360 degrees from the top of the lighthouse. I want to keep the lighthouse one day.

We hiked—or more accurately, trudged—the five miles back out, keeping pace with the seals. I had one earbud in and was listening to music off and on as we trudged through the soft sand toward dinner. Back at the parking lot, we piled into our old suburban. I dug through my backpack for my lip balm or some other such necessity and there, as my hand was swimming through the detritus of necessities, food, snacks, phone, etc., it came across something large, cool, round and heavy. I pulled it out and stared at my hand while my two middle siblings giggled like hyenas. I looked up at them, and held the open bag so I could see more clearly in the late afternoon light. Inside were several pounds, at least, of granite beach stones, most about the size of my palm. At every rest stop along the way, those two chuckleheads had entertained themselves by sneaking rocks into my backpack.

Now, I love my siblings and my family, but the best of families can still do this kind of thing to each other in an emotional sense. We may not even know what kinds of rocks we’ve subconsciously added to each other’s burdens. The thing is, it’s up to us to occasionally take the time to review our rocks, take a conscious inventory, look at the things we’re carrying with us and decide if we need them still. Perhaps there are things we can learn from carrying some weight for a while. But sometimes I just need to lighten the load. The truth is, once someone has unloaded a rock into my purse, whether intentionally or subconsciously, it’s mine and I get to decide what to do with it.

I haven’t thrown out my rock jar, but I have begun labeling them. I write the date and sometimes their found location. Every once in a while I sift through them, remembering moments of realization, moments of grief, anger, joy, peace from when I picked up those stones. They are tangible reminders to me, and they tell my story when I need to be reminded of the truth about myself that I sometimes forget.


Those three little rocks are now labeled, too. They had their portrait taken and posted to instagram, and my brother very much enjoyed his little joke.

And they, too, are reminders to me—reminders this time of what I do not have to carry.


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