by Rex Burress


What a terrific morning along the river around Glen Pond! The heat that I anticipated after returning from Oakland Camp gave way to a cool mass suggesting autumn airs and, indeed, some of the heat-weakened leaves were tinged with tired tones of warm colors just as in the fall. Poison oak leaves had flamed out, and the cottonwood saplings were becoming yellow. "Seasons are where you find them!"

It was one of those mornings when you can feel and see with magnified clarity, and I hurried down the path to Glen Pond to discover what wonder was revealed in the illuminating light. I had a particular stone in mind.

I intended to photograph THAT stone again. Actually, the stone was a three foot cement structure shaped like a chopped pyramid, and it sat by the pond as a left-over relic from yesteryear, but someone had poured black paint on the side which had run down in intriguing trickilets. Previously, I had photographed the image, turned it upside down so that the lines looked like burnt trees, touched the white places with flame-red dye, and submitted it to the Alameda Fair competition as "Firestorm." It was a winner! Seventy-five dollars for that "manipulation," as my son calls some of my creative efforts.

I needed water to enhance the darks, and I forgot my spray bottle - but there was a discarded bottle at the pond's edge which filled the bill. You're never far away from products of civilization in this litter age!

In the devastation area below Oroville Dam Spillway rocks, early morning light revealed some back-lighted plants and chilled dragonflies. I spent an hour crawling over those stones trying to photograph a pastel skimmer on a twig tip. Those fantastic flying machines had been given a climatic note of impending doom, a time when the winter chill would end their magnificent emergence and disable an insect wondrously adapted to soaring flight.

Finally, one skimmer stayed on its stem, and I could creep in close and fill my macro frame with shimmering radiance.

In the same rocks, a hummingbird was hovering over the rugged landscape - catching dance flies that clouded the air! The fuschia were not blooming yet, and the bird found a substitute food. Two Rock Wrens were in some type of conflict and chased each other endlessly over the rocks. Perhaps they were filled with easy energy from the profusion of groggy insects, but they were indeed birds of the rocks.

Across the river was the great pile of white quartz rocks, indicating where the gold-mining settlement of White Rock had once existed. Rocks are durable landmarks, and even though distinctive trees may vanish in our lifetime, boulders and certain noticeables linger far into the future.

I was reminded of a table-sized yellowish quartz boulder at Oakland Camp where my sketch class met each day. We became fond of that shady spot beneath the incense cedar tree where we found refuge from the sun - and where a thunderstorm descended, breaking the heat and sending us scattering one fine day.

We finally began calling that rock "Inspiration Rock," and I carried a picturesque snag from the river side to place on top for a sketching subject. The snag and the stone were so different, one hard and everlasting, the other so weathered and poised for a return to the dust.

Yet, they were composed of some common molecules inherent to each structure, and on the surface of both stone and snag, lichens and mosses had attached to share minute niches.

In a world of countless stones ... and mountains ... it is to the credit of our personal pathways that we can adopt certain stones and identify with that locale. The big one at camp will endure far beyond many human life spans - a rock of ages - and I wonder how many others will capture that image in their minds to carry back to the lowlands for comfort in leaner times?

I have a little child's book, that expresses the idea of: "Everybody Needs A Rock." Peter Parnall.

Quote: "If somebody says, 'What's so special about that rock?' don't even tell them. Nobody is supposed to know what's special about another person's rock ... In looking for your rock (the kind you can carry, but big rocks can be special too) look for the perfect color. That could be a sort of pinkish gray with bits of silvery shine in it. Some rocks that look brown are really other colors, but you only see them when you squint and when the sun is right."

(Rule 9): "Always sniff a rock. Rocks have their own smells. Some kids can tell by sniffing whether a rock came from the middle of the earth or from an ocean or from a mountain where wind and sun touched it every day for a million years. (Rule l0): Don't ask anybody to help you choose. I've seen a lizard pick one rock out of a desert full of rocks and go sit there alone. I've seen a snail pass up twenty rocks and spend all day getting to the one it wanted. You have to make up your own mind."

Of course, Inspiration Rock at Oakland Camp has been around there for a million years plus. And you definitely can smell it, even though part of that aroma and atmosphere may be from the incense cedar and the ponderosa pine and the herbal atmosphere and the forest birds and lurking animals! They are all connected! Many things go into creating a rock. Go out and find yours!

"As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I'll interpret the rocks ... acquaint myself with wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can."     --John Muir

 © 1999 Rex Burress
July 20, l999