On a bright blue-sky fall afternoon with the wind tugging cold at my face, I stood ankle-deep in an icy, clear stream, tipped a bag of stones and released them back into the wild. The rocks flashed in the sun, fell into the rippling water and nestled in the stream bed in apparent relief. Many of them were heart-shaped.

In a small, private ceremony, I returned Mom’s rocks to God.

Next came the shells, all hand-picked from beaches along the Florida coast. Each a work of art unique in some way to the eye that spied them and the hand that rescued them from unappreciated anonymity. They also flashed and fell and sank with bubbles of joy, reunited with the sea – or as close as it gets to Tennessee.

Along the carved stream bottom the treasures shone bright and out of place, their original places long forgotten. The current location of the stream lined with hearts and seashells is known only to hikers, close family and it’s maker.

It was a fitting depository for so valuable a collection, so carefully curated for so long.

It all began in the 1930’s when a great-uncle in the middle of a farm project reached out a hand and demanded,”Give me a piece of string!”

Dad, a boy fascinated with his uncle’s work, replied that he didn’t have any string.

“What?” came the incredulous reply. “Why a boy always ought to have a piece of string and a rock in his pocket.”

No explanation was given. Apparently a boy was supposed to know such things. So, Dad found a piece of string, just in case. Easy enough.

The rock, however, proved to be a bigger challenge. There were so many choices. Which one was the rock? As soon as he chose one, another better rock appeared to tempt him with curious shape or intense color. It became a lifelong fascination.

As long as I knew my Dad he had a rock in his pocket. I don’t know what happened to the string.

As a result we all developed rock collections. I specialized in throwing and skipping rocks, another art Dad taught us.

Mom preferred bright colors and heart shapes. After Dad passed it was like finding a love letter from him, left just for her in the sand or mud. She couldn’t pass them up.

After an unexpected reaction to a medicine, Mom’s recall wasn’t as sharp as before and it made the treasures and memories even more precious – and plentiful.

When she moved in with us, there were countless times I held my breath as she stopped and stooped to look at a possible treasure, head close to the ground. I pictured falls, fractured hips and hospitals while she saw endless jeweled memories.

They soon covered every available surface – night stands, book cases, Great Grannie’s pie shelf and Singer sewing machine, window sills and dressers. When, for the sake of my wife, I asked that she clean up a little the collection was sealed, bagged and tucked into drawers.

Memory lapses increased to the point that she needed notes to remember how to unlock her bedroom door. When Mom called Suzie from a block away to ask her address it was obvious we were not up to the job.

This week I returned Mom to God’s care. After three years of doing my best, I signed an endless stream of papers checking Mom into an assisted living facility – Willow Something, ALF.

Willow Something is nearby, lively, social and safe. We can pick Mom up any time. But there was no room for her collection of geological treasures. There were too many.

Throwing them away was an insult, like tossing diamonds into a landfill. Storing them was impractical. That’s when I decided to return them to nature where they belonged.

They are God’s rocks after all. They were here long before us. And will be here after us.

We do not own the rocks in our pockets any more than the leaves own the trees. Eventually, we all must let go.

I marked the spot carefully so that I could bring Mom by later, waded out of the stream and into a river of memories.

On the walk home the brush beside me exploded in movement as some large animal fled with a crash. It was too fast to be seen as I slowly pried my mind out of the past.

I was suddenly aware of the beauty around me.

A dozen robins settled across the path ahead and fed until I walked through them.

Four chattering young girls came toward me, settling on a wooden bench to take pictures of this fleeting moment.

I shook my head clear. Better to soak up this rare day rather than lose it in reflection.

When I walked back into the house Suzie held up two large bags of rocks for my inspection. “Want to go back?” she asked.

I didn’t. There were undoubtedly more rocks to discover tucked in drawers and pockets.

We may never find them all . . . I hope.