The big rock is a glacial erratic, that is, a huge chunk of stone that was ripped from the mountains during an ice age, carried along
by the glacier, and left not far from where my house now stands. All this happened around 10,000 years ago. There are many such stones
in the area, but mostly they are much smaller, as rocks are usually broken up when moved by glaciers. I like to sit on this billion
year old piece of stone and watch the forest for birds and animals.
This is the first book in the Big series and my longest running
book in print. The Big Rock is all about geology, and received some excellent honors-
Outstanding Science Trade Book 1988, The
Children's Book Council
John Burroughs Association Children's Book Award List 1988
The Big Rock begins-
"One day in early spring the last bit of snow melted from the top of the big rock. The water ran slowly across
the rough surface, and then trickled down the cracks in the rock's steep sides.
It had been a hard winter. The trees nearby had lost
many limbs in the heavy snow, but the big rock was almost unchanged. It was much, much older than the forest and one more winter had
little effect on it."
When I began working on The Big Rock, my knowledge of geology was limited. Therefore many days were spent reading geology books, so
I could write from a well-informed background. Consulting with experts on Adirondack geology, I learned even more. Writing, as usual,
was a matter of many, many rewrites, getting the facts right and choosing words that would bring the big rock to life.
Before I began
the illustrations, I traveled to the Yukon Territory and Jasper and Banff National Parks, all in Canada, where I could photograph
and sketch glaciers in action. The action is very slow, of course, but the power of these huge glaciers is evident in the trail of
stones they leave behind. Standing before these masses of ice, I could imagine what the continental glacier must have been like, with
ice over a mile thick.
After all that travel, I really appreciated being able to visit the subject of the book anytime I wanted. I
made that short walk into the woods often and drew many sketches of the rock, particularly when the ice and snow were melting in the
One summer day, I was drawing the rock when a Scarlet Tanager flew in and landed on a branch above the stone. You can
see this colorful bird in the last double-spread (two page) illustration in the book.
The big rock is doing just fine these days. The trees that surround it are mostly hemlock, and a few of these are approaching 200
years in age. The soil is very wet in this area, which has saved these trees from the loggers, as it would be difficult to get logs
out through the mushy soil. With so much water, the roots of the trees are shallow and every so often one is blown down in a storm.
We think of the trees as "old", but the big rock is truly ancient and has seen the rise and fall of many forests over thousands of
years. I clean the needles and leaves off the rock every so often. I don't think the rock cares about such trivial matters, but it
is my way of honoring this enduring piece of granite.