Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Travelblog Two: Rock Epic

The Netherlands is a wonderful place, a beautiful country. As with anywhere, there are drawbacks. After all, every silver lining has a cloud, but the reverse is also true. Every cloud has a silver lining. For every modern, less than attractive high rise going up to help house Holland’s people, there is both a well-preserved centrum harkening back to very old days and discouraging of modern inconveniences such as automobiles, and an area of rolling green open land. Often, all three are within a kilometer of each other. Holland is flat. Much of the country is at or below sea level. There are a few hills in the country and one official mountain at barely one thousand feet high. It is located in the very southern corner of the country, near Maastricht, and on the German/Belgian borders. Holland is a country in which I would not expect to find rocks, and, truly, the country has none. It has peat and the occasional really hard mud clot. It has goat horns preserved in the peat bogs near Giethorn (Goat Horn). But rock collectors do not scour the countryside looking for amethyst geodes, or if they do they have set themselves up for major disappointment. Still, the Dutch love rocks. In Giethorn, for example, there is a rock shop to rival anything I have ever seen in America, including our own Montana gem, Kehoe’s. It came as no surprise that there was a rock show in den Bosch (short for s’Hertogenbosch). Annemieke, our good friend Hanneke, Diane and I had to go. It was the Sunday before we were set to return home, and it was a rainy and windy day. We walked from the Rutgers house to the train station, huddling under umbrellas in serious rain gear. We took the train to den Bosch, rendezvoused with Hanneke (who came from Nijmegen), and went inside. The show took place in a fairly large conference room and displayed a wide variety of very nice specimens, carvings and jewelry, all, of course, for sale. It was as mini-Tucson with mostly reasonable prices. Since we were traveling by air in two days, Diane and I felt safe to go looking, knowing weight would preclude us from buying very much. Without a vehicle to transport it, we figured neither Annemieke nor Hanneke would choose anything much larger than a kilo or two. It was the back pack limit. But there is never any accounting for love. A natural citrine specimen from a vender’s private collection caught Annemieke’s eye. It was plain, yet elegant, simple but huge. The price was unbelievable, and I stood there thinking, how in hell are we going to get it home? Diane said, “We’ll find a way.” Hanneke said, “You’ll find a way,” knowing she was going a different direction. I said, “I suppose we can carry it together.” Annemieke said, “I’ll take it!” She then became the proud owner of a rock weighing fifteen kilos, about 33 pounds – the size of an infant and almost as heavy as my suitcase fully packed. Then began the journey home. The merchant wrapped the rock in four canvas bags and I found I could cradle it against my chest. We made it to the bus, to the train station, and onto the train in short jaunts. People stared at us, wondering what was in the bundle I guarded so closely. On the train, the rock had its own seat. When we arrived in Culemborg, the final part of the rock’s journey to its new home began. The rain had stopped, mercifully, and the wind had died down somewhat. Using the same technique of cradling the precious bundle against our chests, we traded off every block or so and managed to bring the new addition into the Rutgers’ home. Erik later found a stand on wheels so the rock could move from spot to spot in the living room, always looking for the best light to show off its citrine crystals. Hanneke told Annemieke that the rock is a link between us all, like we needed another one. Of course, she’s right. I say the rock is a story, rock epic of strength, determination, perseverance and friendship. I think I understand now how the Spartans must have felt when they looked down from Thermopylae at the Persian army camped in the valley below. Thousands of campfires covered the valley, each one warming hundreds of soldiers. The Spartans had a force of just ten thousand at the start, ordered to hold the pass against that horde. I reflected on the Spartan motto: Come back with your shield or on it. My own modern version now goes: Come back with your rock, or under it. Holland does have rocks, and lots of them. They just started out somewhere else.

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