When I began to walk my dog this morning, I noticed that she had a slight limp and was favouring her right front leg. I thought that it would be better to stay on the level trail and have a somewhat shorter walk than usual. We would only go as far as the big rock. As those words came into my thoughts, a whole scene flashed into my mind. “The Big Rock!”
“Let’s meet at the Big Rock!” “Don’t tell your little brother!” “Bring cookies!”
At the end of the short street I grew up on was a field. It stretched from the edge of the subdivision where I lived to the new shopping centre accessed from another road. The other two sides of the field were bounded by a steep, wooded drop to a school yard on one side and the early preparation for the 401 highway on the other. It was a place of wildness close to home where we were allowed to play unsupervised.
The big rock lay approximately in the centre of this field of rocks and weeds and discarded construction materials. In my memory, the rock was enormous and very unique. One side met the ground in a gradual slope and then rose to a dangerous height on the other side, forming an overhang. The overhang provided a cave-like place that could be turned into a secret hideout, a fort, a house, or even the cabin of a pirate ship. Scrambling to the top, we had a lookout for enemies (or perhaps parents). We scavenged bits of scrap wood and rusty pieces of metal to make the walls. This was Canadian Shield country, so the big rock was probably granite. There were shiny bits in it, convincing us that our rock contained treasure. If not gold, then at least silver.
When we huddled under the overhang inside our walls of rusty tin, we were in a completely different world. There were adventures and games and varying alliances, sometimes fights between factions of neighbourhood kids, depending on the day. We were mostly eight to 10-year-olds. During the summer, as long as we showed up for mealtimes and when the street lights came on, we could pretty much do as we liked. We hid our bikes in the bushes at the edge of the field so we couldn’t easily be found and also because there were bits of glass and bent nails that could wreck our tires on the winding paths that led to the Big Rock. As the street lights winked on, we reluctantly headed home with dirty hands and faces, scratches and bruises. Forced into the bathtub and then to lay sleepless, on top of sticky sheets in the southern Ontario humidity, I would plan ideas for tomorrow at the Big Rock.
In reality the big rock was significant for only one or two summers before it became “kid stuff” that was left to little sisters and brothers. When I started high school, the field became just a short cut: across the field, through the shopping centre, then the overpass across the highway to the new high school. I remember in about grade 11 giving the big rock a glance in passing. How had it become so small?
A few years later, returning from university in another city, I saw that the field was being turned into streets and new houses. Traffic was zinging along the 401 highway in the summer evenings. There was no sign of the big rock.
Sometimes I wonder if it was that rock that began my fascination with rocks. Wherever I travel, I pick up rocks that attract me, not as big as “The Big Rock,” of course. They remind me of places and experiences. Our house is full of rocks. At times, rocks of various sizes and colours have been on window sills, in baskets, and even as a centrepiece on the dining room table. I have banished some to adorn the flower beds or join the gravel area that now replaces grass in our front yard. (More rocks.) I have loved the feel of climbing on the rock face of “The Chief” in Squamish, B.C., where it feels as if I am hugging the biggest rock imaginable.
As the dog and I reached the big rock that was a landmark on our morning trail, I felt happy that those words had brought up such great memories. After all, they do say that as we age, those distant memories are more accessible at times that what happened yesterday!