Rock collecting begins after flood

When floodwaters inundated her house to the eaves in 2011, Ethel Pagett was left to salvage little more than a few pieces of furniture, a hardy rose bush in her backyard and hundreds of rocks.

To the average observer, the rocks might have seemed of little consequence, although the more striking minerals might have garnered some interest.

To Pagett, it’s the story behind the rocks that made preserving them after the flood so important.

She points out a green rock that friends brought back from Alaska. Four red rocks came from another friend, who needed to get them out of his yard to please a buyer and close a home sale.

When a neighborhood barber was closing shop and needed a new place for about a dozen large landscaping rocks, he gave one to Pagett. Taken with the attractive rocks, she bought the rest at a price that turned out to be a bargain considering the barber personally carried them over.

Most rocks were collected on Pagett’s travels or were gifts from friends or family who would bring them back from trips or find eye-catching ones in their fields.

“As I walk, I think about these people. And I walk here every day,” Pagett said.

The flood left the rocks, like everything else in need of a good cleaning. Every morning for many mornings, Pagett spent a couple of hours in her yard with cleanser and a wire brush.

“Every rock had to be cleaned,” Pagett said. “Day by day, I cleaned rocks.”

Today, the rocks decorating her yard look much like they did before the flood. There are some rocks that never quite recovered their previous hue, though. They wear the effect of the flood as just another aspect of the environment that shaped them.

Pagett’s home was selected as Recovered Home and Yard of the Week during the first week of August. The recognition program was started by Minot City Council member Miranda Schuler this summer to acknowledge the recovery occurring in the once-flooded valley.

Pagett collected her first rocks more than 20 years ago. The rocks came from near Lost Bridge, a small bridge over the Little Missouri River in southwestern North Dakota, near where Pagett used to camp with her late husband. One year, they made the trip to find Lost Bridge was being dismantled. In memory of the bridge, they toted four rocks home.

Since then, her collection has grown to include a Canadian rock formed by water erosion from a brook and the fusing of smaller rocks, scoria from Oregon, a rock with embedded shells from Florida, a rock from an oil-bearing region in Australia, petrified wood from South Dakota and hard, black coal from Pennsylvania.

Just as special is a rock that was a parting gift from the boy next door when his family was moving away. Pagett, a member of Minot’s Polkateers, received a number of rocks from her dancer friends.

“I love them,” she said of all her rocks. “I laid every one, and if you ever tried to lay odd rocks, it will drive you up the wall because you have to keep fitting them.”

A friend from Lansford gave her a collection of flat rocks.

“I thought, ‘Oh, that would make a nice walk. Then I began to save everything that was flat,” she said.

She now has a rock walkway through her front yard, leading from one rock-surrounded flower bed to the rock-lined flower beds circling her house. Behind her house and along the fence bordering her house are more rock and flower beds.

Pagett said many of her perennial flowers also were gifts from people who knew how the flood had destroyed her beautiful yard. She lost two apple trees and her lilacs. She said she still is working on restoring her yard.

Pagett also had lost her house in the 1969 flood. At that time, she moved to start over in Sawyer, where she ran a restaurant called The Ranch House.

After the 2011 flood, she considered leaving Minot again. Her rocks are part of the reason she didn’t. Each one represents a friend. Pagett said those friendships are why she stayed.