So I step forward through the crowd of fifty firefighters, and pick up my 19 pound rock. They all look pretty much the same, gray quarry rock with jagged edges. But one is mine, I can see it. It just feels right in my hands. This is my burden.
It is the one year anniversary of the day when 19 young men died in the flames of a fire they were fighting while they tried to protect a town from burning. For the next 19 minutes, I think about them while I carry this weight, this burden of remembering not only them but all of the others.
Some people walk in groups with their rocks. A few run. Some do calisthenics. Many wander alone into the woods. I walk on a forest trail, shifting my rock from my shoulder to my arms. It feels heavier now. It is the weight of knowing what their last moments must have been like, when they knew there was no way out, that their final view would be burning sagebrush under an angry sky. It is the weight of responsibility of keeping my crewmembers safe on the fires of the future. It is the weight of all those unfinished lives. It is almost too much to bear.
After 19 minutes a fire truck siren wails through the trees. Firefighters emerge from all directions. One by one we place our rocks on the ground, making a cairn. I go last. I carefully place a wildflower on top of the pile.
My arms are now empty. But the weight is still there.