A wise lover of mine once told me, “We all have a demon inside of us, something we’re trying to escape from.” For some of us it’s a nasty divorce or the constant struggle of weight management. For others it’s the lingering memories of a painful childhood or an ongoing illness. Regardless of what it is, we all know that feeling of wanting freedom from whatever it is we think is holding us back.
In the middle of the most vacant area of the country, where the land lies flat and you can see for miles, there is a rock. From a distance, it appears to just be a mound in the ground, a hump in the very flat land. But it is a big rock, bigger than several football fields, and as tall as a skyscraper. It is hours away from any semblance of civilization, so I was confused and frustrated with the several hours we spent driving in the vast land of Wyoming to see a rock. I believe I was around 12 years old.
For several years during my childhood, my family would pack up into a minivan and spend a few weeks driving from Ohio to the West. On this particular summer trip, we had visited the Dakotas and seen the Badlands, and Mount Rushmore, and the Crazy Horse Monument. We had visited Devil’s Tower and been through several National Parks. By the time we reached Independence Rock, I was simply exhausted with looking at rocks and trees and expecting to feel as though they’d touched my life. I felt no different about any of the memorials and monuments than I did about the tree in my very own backyard.
But for some reason my mother was adamant that we spend hours in the car to see this rock. Once we arrived at the rock, we pulled off of the deserted road into a small, gravel covered parking lot. There were maybe a dozen other tourists visiting the rock. But they weren’t just reading about the rock, or taking pictures and moving on. They were on the rock. I saw small bodies from afar, all wearing different colors, scattered on the surface of the giant piece of granite protruding from the field we were standing in.
My younger siblings took off running for the rock, full of pent up energy from our drive. My mom followed behind them with her camera and my dad helped me through the gravel parking lot, tipping my chair back on two wheels and pushing me to the edge of the rock. Julie and Matt were halfway up the oval shaped rock when I decided I wanted to go up too.
I wasn’t sure how far I would make it crawling on my hands and knees. It was cool to the touch and with every move I made against the hard granite, the bones in my hands and knees would scream with caution. I switched to pushing myself up on my bottom for several minutes and became exhausted with this method as well. I spent the next half an hour alternating between sliding and crawling, all the while wondering how I was going to get back down.
About three-fourths of the way up the rock, I stopped. There were people all around, but all doing their own thing and exploring. I looked off in the distance and felt a breeze blow against me. It felt good. I was warm and sweaty from my climb. I sat on my bottom and looked at the rock surrounding me. It was covered with inscriptions. Carvings from hundreds of years of travelers. There were names, and dates, and drawings. And there were wishes. Dreams. Struggles. I ran my fingers over one of the indented words and pictured a young woman wearing a blue dress and bonnet, carving her dream into the rock as her horse and buggy waited at the bottom.
Independence Rock lies along the path the emigrants moving from the East to the West traveled. There were wagon ruts nearby. Most emigrants left their homes in the East in early spring, and the goal was to reach this rock by July 4, Independence Day. Thus it was named Independence Rock.
But for me, Independence Rock meant something else. It was the place that families came and wrote their dreams, their accomplishments, and their fears…their demons. It was a rock they would pass just once in their life. It was a place they could write their worst fear and leave it behind, never to see it again. It was a place along their path that marked a turning point in their lives, a moment when things would change forever.
I thought of the thousands of people that had passed by this rock. I wondered how many lives were changed by this rock. How many demons were left behind, inscribed into something that would hold onto them forever?
“Renee, turn around,” my mom hollered at me, camera to her face. I was startled from my train of thought, and when I looked up, I noticed that the sky was turning a beautiful shade of purple as the sun was beginning to set. Here I was, hundreds of feet in the air, sitting on a rock that I had climbed by myself. And while I never made it to the top, I knew that my own demon had been defeated. And it was a great feeling. Finally, after days and days of visiting rocks, I found one that touched me. One that gave me some independence that day, the will to climb into the open air and be free without the confines of my wheelchair.
We spent the next 20 minutes scrambling to get pictures before the sun set, and before I knew it, I had to make my journey back down with the others. I quickly attempted to carve my name, Renee, into the hard surface, knowing I would likely never visit this place again. It was just as difficult to get down as it was to get up, but it’s an experience I will never forget. Not because of the rock, but because of the feeling. The feeling of accomplishment. The feeling of doing something I thought I couldn’t. The feeling of independence. Independence Rock.
Unfortunately, as this was such a long time ago, I do not have any of my own photos from this experience. My words cannot truly capture the beauty of a rock in a field.