Saying goodbye on Douglas Pass
The celebration of life we went to Saturday for my dear friend did more than stir up memories of him. It stirred up the passion he helped kindle... a passion for rocks. One of the speakers during the service reminded all those who were gathered of one of the many lessons he taught us, 'play with rocks.'
I grew up loving rocks. I've had rock collections for as long as I can remember. I could, and have, spent all day digging, searching, collecting. My friend was the one who taught me a true party trick, to lick rocks. Yep, we did it ALL the time. Sometimes the drive to know what's under the dirt right now is too much to bear, so you give it a little lick and take a look at what you've unearthed without waiting for water or proper prep materials. It happens.
You're talking to someone here who loathes bugs. Almost all bugs. To the point of serious anger and hysteria if they get close. However, I see nothing wrong with licking an ancient mosquito or other little crawler if I split open a rock and find one. This weekend, I did a lot of that. And I shared this earthy habit with Brandon.
After the service, we gathered outside with my family and talked about our friend. We remembered some more funny stories, but I still didn't feel like I'd said goodbye. I wanted to do so privately. Somehow, Brandon knew where I needed to go. Douglas Pass, in Garfield County, CO. I'd hunted fossils there lots of times with our friend and many family members. It was the perfect place to embrace his lesson, raise a beer in his memory, and lick some rocks.
We left Sunday, Monday was Labor Day. We got to where I'd remembered digging as a kid only to find a US Government No Trespassing sign feet before the field of shale I'd scrambled around on for years. But we found a few other pits scattered around, got out our rock hammers and putty knives and started wailing away. That night, over a couple of beers, Brandon wisely asked me to share stories about our friend. I even explained to him how working a fossil quarry is done. A healing evening, to say the least.
I haven't done much rock hunting since I met Brandon. Actually, since I moved away to Kansas for grad school in 2002. The technique came back and I showed Brandon what to do, just as our friend had once taught me and hundreds of others. Brandon found some leaves and some bugs and we played in the dirt for a couple of hours. My biggest prize was the leg of a cricket. No, I didn't lick it.
Being the first human to ever see something is a pretty damn cool adventure in my book. The mystery, the unknown, the thrill of the hunt, the adventure are what have always called me to fossils and artifacts. In this small way, I'm an explorer.
Years ago, I found this flower while out in the Piceance Creek Basin with our beloved friend. I remember working this pit with him and my little brother. I pried up the layer of rock, saw what lay beneath, gasped, and lost my grip on the crowbar, dropping the slab back down. I cracked the fossil, but it's still beautiful. My friend searched through his books at the time and never could find a match, even though he was a supersmart geologist. I've always cherished the belief that I found something entirely new. Even fantasized a little about having something named after me.
I stop and look at that incredible little flower fossil every now and then when I'm dusting the house. I always wonder about it, but let the mystery and the laziness live on. I always thought I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up, or a geologist. But chemistry was hard, so I took the easy way out and became an entirely different kind of 'ist', a journalist. It was easier than easy for me. I thought because it was easy that it's what I was meant to do. It took me a long time to learn that easy isn't the route adventurers and explorers take. Someday, I'll be back at school, enduring the torture of getting my ass kicked by chemistry for the simple pleasure of feeling dirt under my nails and seeing what no one has ever seen before.
Did the trip work? I'm still sad. Still shocked. And while I didn't actually say 'goodbye' I built another memory of him, even though he wasn't there. I got to share what he'd taught me, dig up forgotten longings, and do a little exploring. Maybe he was there after all...