Reading the Rock

By Heather Solsvik

Leaves dropped from aspen trees and floated away on the waters of the Clearwater River near what is now Orofino, in Nez Perce County. It was autumn, 1860. A rugged band of prospectors, led by Captain Elias D. Pierce, had been searching along the banks of two creeks, hoping to find treasure. Their feet, cold wrinkled prunes inside leather boots, traced miles of river. Their hands, aching from work and weather, had touched a thousand stones polished smooth by water. Squatting in the shallows, the hunters searched for the gold they longed to find. Often doubt would grip them, stretching deep shadows across their faces as they scowled into their pans. A month passed, yet the river had not revealed its secret, only the sound of swirling water. But one day as the men worked, rigidly hunched over their pans, Wilbur Bassett hollered across Canal Gulch. The river had finally spoken: gold! This moment in history transformed the Northwest. This remote area, once shrouded in mystery and legend, now became exposed to speculators, pioneers, and adventurers eager to benefit from the river’s offerings.

Like those men in Idaho’s history, I have traveled to the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, a short twenty miles east, with an anxious stirring in my belly—hoping I would find remedies spelled out on river stones. I have turned smooth sandstone over and over, wondering about others who held it in their hands. In that icy water I have reached down to my armpit for an enticing bit of reddish slate, only to discover that it is much prettier in the water than out. I have held warm granite and waited for a parable to emerge. Stones have thousands of stories to tell.

• • • •

My ex-boyfriend called. He wanted to go camping, and for some reason he wanted me to join him. “Umm, what’s the occasion?” I stammered.

“I just want to get out of town for a few days before classes start. We can fish the North Fork. I hear you’ve been learning to fly fish.” He waited for a reply, and I tried to imagine spending a friends-only weekend with a guy who still had a firm grip on my heart.

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