Weekend trips were my father’s favorite way to unwind. One of his favorite getaways was a ranch east of San Diego along the Mexican border. Semi-arid and craggy, it’s mystique appealed to me as well. It was a relief to escape the crowded Los Angeles basin to this uncomplicated ranch nestled amidst sage-dotted hills. The land’s sparse vegetation and up-thrust boulders made it difficult for man or beast to inhabit.
We would hike, hunt, four-wheel, fish, and get grubby among granite formations, sage, sand, and scrub oak stands. On the lookout for artifacts and fossils, I walked nose to the ground, hoping to spot a flint chip or arrowhead. Despite my dedication, all I got was a crick in my neck.
One day my family decided to explore an adjacent arroyo. A nearby granite outcrop provided the best vantage point, so my parents, brother, and I clambered onto a house-sized boulder. This huge, gray and white striated chunk of igneous rock rose statue-like from the landscape. Surrounding earth had eroded, providing a clear view over the wash below.
Atop the rock, we noticed pockmarks the size of cereal bowls gouging its face. Curious, I crawled from indention to indention like a blind person reading braille. What was their purpose?
Because an ancient Indian cemetery existed nearby, I realized natives called this place home. From my overlook, I could see plentiful stands of oak. From studying fourth grade California history, I knew that ground acorns provided a primary food source for early inhabitants. Aha! I stood upon a communal grinding rock.
From the number and depths of depressions, this slab had served generations of women as the local grindstone. My imagination flew as I fancied friends gathering blanched acorns, babies, and toddlers to work and gab at “the rock.”
As I leaned against the gritty surface and closed my eyes, layers of time stripped away. Morning sun had warmed those women’s backs as they leaned into their work of turning seeds to flour. A sea breeze blowing inland had rattled oak leaves just as it caused leaves to whisper to me. Those long dead mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends undoubtedly talked about the same things women talk about today: family, work, joy, and sorrow.
After examining this outcrop and the sandy earth surrounding it to find scores of potsherds, my family hiked down the gulch, hoping to find more treasure. That day was lucky indeed, for we found a vanished woman’s simple rolling pin, the stone she carried to the grinding rock. Size-wise, it compares to its modern equivalent. The ends reveal wear from years of mashing acorns.
That generated more questions. How did she lose this stone? Who lost it? How long ago? Was she running in fear unable to lug that heavy, awkward tool with her? I don’t know the answers, but that artifact became family treasure carried from state to state during repeated moves.
Eventually, it ended up in my home. A few years ago at an auction, I lucked upon a metaté. Though from distinctly different regions and tribes, uniting the two seemed right.
Each time I move them to vacuum, they remind me of discovering an ancient landmark, that connected me to those who came before. Women gather now as they did then to labor and talk about important issues: family, work, joy, and sorrow.