Rock Hounds

Explore your own backyard.

Ben Percy and his dad     Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Percy

Folk Wisdom

"You hear so many people say how they used to run, ski, bike, camp, etc. before the kids came along. Why stop? Make it work. We don't watch TV. We rarely go to the movies. We get out there and do the things we love. This is what our kids know." —

We never went to Disneyland. We never left the state, Oregon, except once to visit Yosemite—another time, Yellowstone. Our vacations were more expeditions. Weekends, summers, we would fill the back of our Ramcharger with picks, shovels, trowels, paintbrushes, fly rods and tackle boxes, a canvas tent, and balled-up, twined-up sleeping bags that looked like pupae. The cooler we set in the cab to pull cold Cokes and summer sausage from as we drove into eastern Oregon to rock-hound and fossil-hunt. On the console rested Forest Service maps, roadside geology books, and my father's .357. One time I asked him why he kept it there and he said, "Because you never know." We drove to the Ochocos, to Christmas Valley, to the Malheur refuge. We hiked canyons where we spotted western rattlers twisting along dry riverbeds, a cow carcass ravaged by coyotes, and basalt walls splashed with picto­graphs, etched with petroglyphs. We drove over cattle guards and along dirt and cinder roads and parked in the shade of gnarled juniper trees that seemed to twist upward in despair.

The air was hot and dry and smelled of sage. Our lips cracked and bled. We uprooted petrified logs, hunks of obsidian, quartz, agate, opal, jasper, nests of thundereggs and mudballs. We chipped away at the fossil beds outside of John Day and stacked in our truck squares of volcanic ash with bones and leaves imprinted on them. With these we decorated our house, jeweling every windowsill and bookshelf, every dresser and hutch. Once, we unearthed a deer skull encased in pink crystals and later set it in the center of our dining-room table like a sugared ham.

I used to complain. When my friends went to Florida and California and Mexico, and when I unrolled my sleeping bag in the sand and lay my scabbed, muddied body down on it, I wondered aloud why we couldn't be more normal, why we couldn't climb on airplanes and fly to faraway places and return with T-shirts advertising the name of some themed restaurant. My father would respond only by looking at me with hooded eyes.

I have still never been to Disneyland.

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