Last week, I started writing and sharing photos around an idea I’m tentatively calling, Rocks I Have Loved. I’m not sure where the project is going yet. It might be a series of posts, a photo album, a sequence of poems, an essay. Or nothing. I should clarify that I use the term “rocks” loosely to refer to caves, piles or layers of rocks, canyons, mountains, mountain ranges.
This week, I consider one rock I should have loved from a distance.
Geologists call it the Waterman Erratic. Erratics are pieces of rock that differ from the surrounding rock because they have been carried to their resting place by glaciation or flooding. The Waterman Erratic may be the largest west of the Cascades. It’s a marvelous rock, 33 feet high and sixty feet across, in the middle of a mossy forest in the Saratoga Woods Preserve on Whidbey Island in Washington State.
There’s something thrilling and mysterious about coming upon a rock where you wouldn’t usually expect one. Perhaps that’s why even though I consider myself more a hiker than a rock climber, I had to scamper up the Waterman Erratic.
I can admit now, several years later, that I was feeling overly bold and cocky in that moment. I had just retired from teaching and was embarking on a life devoted to more writing and outdoor adventures. Unfortunately, my out-of-shape, slightly overweight body was not ready for the life I imagined.
Someone had secured a rope to make climbing up over the bulge of the boulder easier. With a push on the rump from below, I could hoist myself up easily enough. From the flat, spacious top, I enjoyed the view over the tops of trees.
It was coming down that undid me. Without basic rock climbing skills and sufficient upper body strength, I panicked about four feet from the ground. Convinced I could no longer hang onto the rope to lower myself another foot or two, I jumped. My feet hit the ground at a funny angle, my right knee popped and gave way. I collapsed and howled in pain.
My hiking companions supported me through a mile or so of limping back to the parking lot. My joint flopped loose like a rag doll. The slightest twist to either side brought pain so sharp I couldn’t breathe.
In the coming months, I learned a lot about the anterior cruciate ligament I’d ruptured. It’s the most common knee injury and more prevalent in women than men. My surgeon (a skilled, compassionate, and good-humored man) replaced the ligament with a strip cut from my hamstring. Through several months of physical therapy, my knee healed well. I returned to hiking, dancing, cross-country skiing, hopping over rockfalls. Last winter, I even let my son belay me up a rock wall at the gym.
At times I felt so good, I forgot which knee I’d injured. But in the last few months, new pains have developed. Sometimes the knee creaks like a rusty hinge. Other times, it feels — and sounds — like grit or pebbles have burrowed into the joint. My surgeon tells me my new ligament is fine; the culprit is most likely the meniscus. He had repaired that too in the original surgery, but warned me even then that it might tear again. He suspects it has, and now little dangling bits are catching in the joint.
So Friday, I will have an arthroscopy and probably lose a chunk of my meniscus. If I do my exercises (I will, I will, I promise), I should be fully functional again in twelve weeks or so. That means I’ll still have some summer left for hiking, rock scampering, and dancing. I’m especially looking forward to regaining an ability I’ve lost over the last six months: kneeling. Once I can do that, I’m thinking maybe I should go back and visit that erratic on Whidbey Island. Then I can get down on my knees and bow to the forces of gravity, soft bodies, and hard rocks.