The Big Rock (Shh…it’s a secret)
Although, I don’t remember when exactly, I suppose I learned about it from my older brother and my friends from their older siblings. Eventually, I showed my little brother the way. With lunch and supplies in tow, it was a day’s hike deep into the woods. The only indication we were on the right path were benign natural markers – left at the half fallen tree nestled behind the forked branches of another, straight when the trail becomes very sandy, a final climb up a foreboding, winding hill meant you were just about there. These waypoints were always intrinsic to the boys of Rolling Hills. We just knew.
The Big Rock, a mammoth boulder, stood in stark contrast to the otherwise flat, sandy terrain of Long Island’s Central Pine Barrens. As we climbed the rock face (the younger kids reaching only the small ledge of the first tier, the older boys making it to the summit), we gave little thought to why this was here. Something having to do with a glacier, maybe. Actually (Science Alert!), boulders like this are called glacial erratics and caused by retreating glaciers 20,000 to 11,000 years ago. There are quite a few sprinkled throughout Long Island (thousands of various sizes, in fact). Geologists believe the erratics originated either from Westchester, NY or Connecticut. Being on the eastern end, ours probably came from Connecticut. One of the more famous, Shelter Rock, even has a road named after it.
Our erratic wasn’t on any map, had no advocacy group fighting to preserve it, and was not part of any trail guide. That was fine by us though. It was ours. No one else knew about this treasure. Sure, the rock face was covered in graffiti. But, we reasoned that this could have only been left my Native Americans many, many years ago. For example the ancient paint scrolls declaring, “Jason wuz here, -87″ clearly showed that the Indian Jason was here in 1487 (5 years before Columbus made it to the West Indies). Yes, that was proof enough for a 10-year-old boy.
A few weeks ago, I took my mountain bike with me on a visit to see family. After a fun afternoon romping around new trails at a nearby county park, my brother asked if I wanted to detour to the Big Rock on our way home. I looked at my watch. Remembering the times when packing a sandwich was required, I asked, “It’s already 3 o’clock. Do you really think we’ll have enough time to gets there and back?” He told me to just follow him.
We hit the trail hard but not too aggressively. Despite years since I was last here, everything came back quickly. I did stumble a few times. Wait, this can’t be the left turn already, I thought. But it was. To my astonishment, we reached the boulder clearing within 10 minutes. I dismounted and stared at the Big Rock. Hmm, smaller than I remember. Weathering. Yes, that must be why the rock looks half its old size. Or was it my memory that’s been weathered by years of relentless nostalgia?
Later, my brother posted a photo of his bike hoisted onto the rock on Facebook. The comment block immediately flooded with 30-something-year-olds who grew up in the area that (1) instantly remembered the adventures they had there as kids and (2) couldn’t believe anyone besides their closest neighborhood pals knew about the Big Rock.
Some secret, I guess.