Painted rocks

“Painting a landscape is not always a good thing” in the Philadelphia Inquirer (August 14, 2007).

The rocks have stood there virtually unchanged for 20,000 years, giving visitors a present-day glimpse of a long-ago past.

It’s known as Boulder Field, and its nearly 17 acres of sandstone and rock is an awe-inspiring site to anyone visiting Hickory Run State Park in the Pennsylvania Poconos.

Coming upon Boulder Field, the eye cannot help but be impressed by the grandeur of the landscape. Rocks dot the horizon, some of the boulders stretching as long as 26 feet. In the distance, park-goers gingerly dance across the field, dwarfed to ant-like size in an odd Martian-perspective sort of way.

Such are the time-stand-still remnants of the last ice age. Shifting and melting glaciers acted as a slow-moving bulldozer some 20,000 years ago, heaving rock and unearthing the surface in Earth’s ever-patient style. Not much has changed since.

Or so I thought.

Joining the pint-sized people on Boulder Field, my wife and I began the rocky dance across the surface, holding our toddlers’ hands with clenched fists. The landscape was spectacular, but one quickly realizes that to successfully traverse Boulder Field without suffering a broken ankle, one’s eyes need to be fixed low – at one’s feet, and at the next rock.

Looking down, I am loathe to discover some not-so-long-ago evidence of recent geological shifting.

“Tim ’08.”

Apparently today’s visitors to Boulder Field weren’t its first. Seems “Tim” happened upon the rocky landscape, during a heroic Lewis and Clark exploration of the great outdoors, I’m sure, way back in 2008 – with spray paint in tow.

Sadly, Tim was not alone.

Walking across Boulder Field, one quickly discovers that Boulder Field has been visited by more than its share of rock artists.

Jason was there too. Along with lovebirds John and Mary. Not to mention T.J. and other semi-anonymous initialed trailblazers.

What strikes me most about this is that all of these explorers had paint with them on their trek to Boulder Field. They did not simply yield to an impulsive ego-driven temptation to preserve themselves in bright blue or orange. Rather, they knowingly went to Boulder Field with aerosol can in hand.

Even the entire Jones family was there! Packing up for their summer vacation to the Poconos, I can hear Mr. Jones going over the checklist with his kids:

“Okay, we’ve got the tent and camping stove.”


“Lantern and binoculars.”


“Bug spray and Frisbee.”


“Spray paint.”

“Whoops! Almost forgot, Dad! Let me run into the garage and get some. What color should we use this year?”

“Red would be good. Holds up well under the elements.”

Ah, Americana. The great outdoors and the smell of aerosol!

Standing on the rock, I could feel bitterness begin to well up within me. A disheartening sense of discouragement at humankind. Are we really that arrogant? Or is it insecurity with our lives’ meaningfulness? Perhaps it simply can be chalked up to boredom.

I began to rationalize other less-permanent acts of the artistic ego in action. The dilapidated brick wall. The freshly painted storefront. The bridge overpass. All tempting targets for the modern-day male and his empty search for manhood. And much of it for bragging rights. This I could understand. Though still discouraging, such youthful rebellion is hardly ever permanent. Fresh can of paint; fresh canvas.

At what point does the ego yield to the greater power of nature?

For 20,000 years, Earth has slowly crept along since the last ice age, and the beauty and permanence of Boulder Field humbly stands before us as a testament to time, patience and the beauty of creation.

Disheartened, I begin the trek to the car. Once off the rocks, I turn and look back once more at Boulder Field.

Suddenly, my heart is captured again by its grandeur, its spirit of resiliency, its knowing sense of hope. From afar, not a single spec of paint is visible.

In the community of rocks, only beauty can be found.


  1. The timing of your Hickory Run column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was timely for me. We were at Hickory Run on Thursday July 15th as part of a family road trip to Philadelphia and points East.

    I also was upset to see the number of rocks written with graffiti. In particular, there were multiple rocks throughout the field written with the name of a mother and 8-year old son. What type of lesson is that to be teaching?

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