Rock On

As our lovely Fiona Lowe has mentioned, she is writing a series set in the area where I live and occasionally shoots me a question to check the accuracy of her descriptions. A couple of weeks ago she asked, “If my heroine needs to grab a rock and throw it, would she be able to find one?”

After I stopped howling with laughter, I sent her this:


Yes, Fiona, we have plenty of convenient rocks. And a whole lot that are pretty damn inconvenient. It comes of living on what was once the underside of a sheet of ice that crept out across the plains during the last ice age, dragging chunks of the Rocky Mountains along for the ride.

I have a love/hate relationship with our rocks. On one hand, they are not kind to farm equipment or horses’ hooves. On the other, you can read the history of thousands of years in their sizes, shapes and colors. And then there’s the lichen. Brilliant orange, sunny yellow, smudgy black, delicate leafy green. No human artist could paint them any prettier.


During his first deployment, I mailed a rock to my brother in Afghanistan. You’d think he would have been thrilled to get a piece of the ranch to keep him company. I even made sure I picked one with a little extra character in the form of a smudge of dried cow manure. He seemed underwhelmed. Obviously, he didn’t inherit the rock thing.

The rock thing comes from my mother. At least, I think it’s her. I don’t recall my grandmother ever dragging home rocks as souvenirs from her own pasture. My dad tolerates it and hardly ever lets us see him roll his eyes. My mother, on the other hand, gave each of us a big rock for Christmas one year.

I am constitutionally incapable of returning from a walk across the field without my pockets loaded with rocks. These are not valuable in monetary terms. No diamonds, gold, or even semi-precious stones involved. But the variety–dozens of different kinds of rocks. Red, purple, green, all shades of gold and brown, pink and gray. Striped rocks and speckled rocks and rocks that look like frozen ripples of water. Some are frosted with snow white lime deposits. If I remembered my geology better, I could tell you whether they were sedimentary or igneous or whatever. I just pick up what strikes my fancy.

The rock my mother gave me is half the size of a bowling ball, crusted with orange lichen. I hauled it home to South Dakota, then moved it to Oregon, and now it has come back to the ranch with me. What’s so special about a rock? It’s just plain old granite. But my mother plucked it from the rim of the coulee over in the west pasture, an area littered with tipi rings. Once, a hundred, maybe even two or three hundred years ago, my rock may have helped pin a hide in place and protect a family against the ever present west wind. And now, it holds a place of pride in my home.

Kari Lynn Dell – Montana for Real