“THE LAST ROCK” CABIN
“Then in the half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it.” Norman MacLean
There is a place in the woods that waits for us – tolerant, unwearied, uncomplaining in regards to how long the periods of time are before we recognize our need for it.
It knows, this place, that eventually, hurried and urgent schedules will drain from us the truth of ourselves, and we will need to be reminded again.
It knows, this cabin, that when we have exhausted all supplies of strength within us, that our hearts and our souls will always lead us back here.
It waits patiently, surrounded by woods, because it knows its purpose – it is fulfilled in its purpose…and so are we. Because my husband’s brother bought it a few years back, and sanctioned it as a place of refreshing and reviving. And so it has become.
People name their cabins sometimes.
Names like, “Peaceful Woods” or “Shady Brook.” Names that reflect the surroundings – or the feelings brought forth upon crossing their thresholds.
Don named his “The Last Rock” cabin, and then offered it for family and friends to use.
It lies nestled among the forests of the Ozark Mountains, where roots grow deep – and traditions grow deeper.
With a river close by, that roars its welcome in the torrents of water that flow daily from a natural spring. It rushes — cascading over shelves of moss-covered boulders, making its way down the valley, under bridges, and over falls. It races past wildlife and onlookers, and diligent anglers trying to trick trout onto hooks disguised as insects.
She is mighty – this river – and though stones and boulders try to confine her – she is always victorious. She goes over them, or around them, or covers them – but they never contain her, try as they might.
We love the seasons that the cabin and river reveal.
In spring, the warmth causes new leaves to unfurl on the trees and bushes. Tails of young trout slap at the top of the water. The stronger ones are able to rocket their bodies into the air, in pursuit of the fly unfortunate enough to land lightly on its mirrored surface.
In summer, children splash in the river, and fish tease. Anxious men, who call themselves “Fishers of Fish,” dot the length of her, hoping to catch a great tale to tell. Rods and reels lift gracefully into the air, pose frozen for a millisecond of time, and then, with a flick of the wrist, their line makes graceful patterns against white clouds, before settling ever so gently onto the top of the still water, guided by expert hands.
Picnics are eaten, trails are hiked – but always — always in the background – the music of the roaring river.
Autumn turns the river golden from the reflections of the cottonwood and birch trees. Like grand old ladies, they exchange their summer green wardrobe for dazzling reds and vivid oranges. They pose as if for a picture, framed by brilliant blue skies thrown in for the sole purpose of God showing off.
And winter – if you can get past bare branches and gray skies – winter is a sweet unknown, revealing small springs along the hillsides that have frozen in the frigid air. And there is glory in the twisting and unfurling of branches made bare by the season. Like sentries, Divine orders posted these trees along the borders of the water – some with arms stretched up towards the heavens – others with arms bent down to lend a hand to anyone with a hankering for a climb in its boughs.
The wind bites now, campers and vacationers have returned to warm homes and busy schedules – leaving a holy quiet in the forest that is broken only by the faithful sound of the river.
But the season that brings the most delight, is the season of the heart as it makes its approach. Off crowded highways, past flea markets and homemade ice cream stands, onto winding roads enveloped by lofty pine trees on either side. They give only a peek into the secrets that lie in the forests beyond view.
Each turn, each mile-marker, drawing weary souls closer to a restoration that comes only from allowing the woods, the breeze, the quiet, and that great river, to wash away the cacophony of life’s distractions.
The cabin, and the river, become not just a destination – but more importantly, a state of mind. That safe place where hectic schedules are left on the front door mat. And the mind reminds itself that here – here we can breathe. It is our place of letting go.
Letting go of demands and business trips, and grabbing instead, onto more important things, like campfires, and fly rods, and each other.
The cabin welcomes us into it’s world — where fish do not care about titles, or failures, or successes.
They are just fish, and the woods are just trees, like the river is just water — and we are just ourselves.
And it feels like it has always been so, but before the comfort of the cabin, the family camped out in rugged tents.
The memories of the family – the memories of the cabin – began long before the cabin was even built.
And the reminiscing of the river springs from years of sleeping on cots, beside parents and little brothers, as frogs croaked and crickets chirped. Years of campfires provided the perfect backdrop for talking, and teasing…and hot dogs charred on sticks; fish on the line, outdoor showers, and lazy afternoons jumping into the water from submarine rock.
The remembering encompasses decades of shirtless little boys standing in the middle of that river, wet jeans cuffed up around the knees, small hands digging under cold water searching for treasures – and rocks.
What boy would ever want to leave? Who, among them, didn’t beg their parents for just one more day…one more day?
But, as in all things, good-byes must be said, too soon comes the repacking of the car and the farewell to enchantment.
That last slow walk beside the river that roars, and the beautiful rocks that lay in her bed, carried a longing in little boy hearts, to try to take her with them – or at least take her with them as far as possible.
No one remembers exactly when – but one year – tanned little fingers chose one last river rock to put in his pocket – and told no one of his secrets.
After the car had been stuffed to its limits with tents and cots, sleeping bags and camping stove, wet swimming suits and fishing poles – four little boys crawled into their seats and said, “Good-bye” to the river. Heads and arms stretched waving through rolled down windows – squinting from the sun, as hot summer air blew against their faces.
Right before the river disappeared from view, one pulled his rock from a wet pocket, and threw it out the window, exclaiming in triumph, “I was the last one at the river – I touched the last rock – I threw the last rock!”
And so he had been – the last one to touch, not just any rock, but one from the river herself, whose waters roared in sync with the beats of the hearts of all who stood by her, or in her.
And the tradition lives to this day – at the end of any time spent, here at this cabin by the river – of searching for that distinct rock that reveals the river in our own lives.
Each of us, no matter the age, knows the importance of finding our own “last rock.”
It represents not just the river, but our connection to her through the years of memories that came before us. It conjures up remembrances of the mouth of the cave, and fish on the line – but more importantly, of faithful hearts and solid love.
Sometimes the experiences of the year determine the choosing of the rock.
Some years, the chosen rocks are jagged and rough.
Some years they have been smooth and shiny.
But, always the rocks have been from the river and her banks – steady, reliable, enduring.
So the memories in picture frames that hang on the walls of the cabin, uncover the mystery of the river from past years, and gather them forth, to forge themselves inseparable with the present – and future.
We are well aware that the truest blessings are not the logs that make up this cabin, or the porch that bids us to sit and dream.
The greatest of all gifts is the collection of memories that live in the hearts of family, unencumbered by structures, and unbreakable by anything life could throw at them.
The past and the present – the tent and the cabin – the boys and the rocks – linked forever and unfettered by time, remain connected to a river that brought them forth as men and continues, to this day, to bring them more fully into themselves.
The river was, and continues to be, that place we are restored and leave renewed – always planning the next return before we even leave her behind.
This cabin’s front porch has become a sacred place – where men reminisce about who caught what fish, and who trapped the most frogs when younger, and which of them is the better angler. Where problems are solved and blessings are counted – and men remember the joys of being brothers.
Always close by – the river.
The memories she contains spill over rocks, tumble into pools, and land in her beds, on the rocks beneath our feet.
This river, she grounds us – almost as strongly as she binds us – to her – to each other – and to the God who masterfully crafted all of it.
And the Maker of the river strengthens us as He shows us how the river reflects us – our resiliency, our determination, capable of going over – or around – obstructions that keep us from our purpose.
And the cabin that comforts, and the river that inspires – have healed us once again.
So we stoop, and choose, and roll gently between our fingers, our own rock from the bed of the great Roaring River, as the water swells over, and around, the boulders that cannot stop her.
The chosen stone our reminder of who we are, and Whose we are, and where we belong.
And the river breathes her pleasure.
And so do we.