Rock picking: A family adventure

When my father-in-law, Keith Hinchley, was alive, he would beep his horn at the end of the barn and tell me that the neighbors were already in the fields.
“Where is Duane?” he would ask.  
Of course, the neighbors didn’t have cows to milk. Duane would be mixing feed or hauling manure while I milked.
Keith had his eyes on everything in the neighborhood and would hear the local news at the coffee shop or the co-op. He knew who was selling their cows, their land or even farm tractors or equipment. He knew the best place to buy a truck and also a good place to eat when it was a rainy day after picking up parts. He was the motivation that kept us moving and making sure we could be proud of our herd, farm and fields.  
He also was the guy who wanted the tractor greased so he could hop in and get rolling as soon as the soil was dry enough to work it up. If we didn’t have enough help to pick rocks, he would drive the loader, and I would ride in the bucket. We would be cruising along, and I would see a stone, and I would raise my hand, jump off the bucket and pick it up. If he saw a rock and I didn’t, he would beep the horn. That got old quick. I would try to see every rock before he did so the horn didn’t have to blare in my ears. We could run through the fields that were clean very fast, and it seemed we could stay far ahead of the planter. In the fields that were loaded with stones, I would be walking in front of the bucket and tossing them back. We worked together and got the job done. Every once in a while, I would find a special rock, and I would put it in the cab of the tractor by Keith to bring back to my garden. As the story goes, his wife, Ruth, would bring back special rocks too.
As our kids grew old enough to ride with, we would pick rocks together. I would joke with their friends that they could become a rock star if they wanted to help us. As we were picking up stones and tossing them into the bucket, we were always talking and trying to make the best out of a horrible job. When a cool rock was found, it went into the cab of the tractor. Many times, the rock was sparkly or a dark red, maybe a pretty pink granite one, or it just looked unique. If this is the excitement that makes a dreaded job go faster, I am all for bringing home a few brilliant gemstones to be put around my flower beds.  
I know picking rocks is a dreaded spring job we all hate to do but one that must be done. Now, all of our children are gone except Anna. It is a job that seems to fall on her, but she has found a few exceptional rocks as she has picked and found that they are not just any stone; they are actual tools that were used by people from long ago before even the native people from our area.
She has found a few Neolithic mortars and stone tools that were used for grinding, rocks with a soft edge and worn smooth by grinding seeds or grain, and holes in hand-held rocks that were used to make food. I knew they looked like tools, but she looked them up. Sure enough, she was right. They are tools from people who lived on the land we are now farming. These Neolithic people were skilled farmers, using stone tools for the tending, harvesting and processing of crops. They lived here from around 4,300 B.C. down to 2,000 B.C., so 6,000 years before the present.
Anna also has a large collection of omar rocks, or Proterozoic Omarolluk. These are stones that are fine-grained sandstones and mudstones with tan calcareous concretions or recessive holes from eroded concretions. They have a distinctive type of hole or bubble look to them. Glaciers moved omars from the southeastern part of the Hudson Bay to central Canada and into the U.S. where they became deposited on moraines as they traveled, carried by a glacier or ice sheet. Omar rock types have been dated to 1.76 billion years old.  
We still bring home sparkly stones, ones that would make great stepping stones and ones that look special for whatever reason. The floor of the tractor cab is a perfect spot to haul them back to the farm. Just knowing that there may be another great stone to find keeps Anna’s hopes up as she is clearing the field of stones to plant next year’s crop. Rock picking is now not only a dusty, dirty job; it is also an adventure looking for the next great rock that is waiting to be found.
    Tina Hinchley, her husband Duane and daughter Anna milk 240 registered Holsteins with robots.  They also farm 2,300 acres of crops near Cambridge, Wisconsin. The Hinchleys have been hosting farm tours for over 25 years.


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