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Rock Balancing And The Art Of Presentation

Years ago I became interested in stacking rocks (more about this below). You know, the kind of thing that you’ve seen in a million stock photos and motivational posters that say “BALANCE” and stuff like that.

I like to go on walks among trees, and especially near creeks that tumble over stones. These kinds of areas are inspirational for weekend rock balancers and you see their handiwork frequently. Usually the results are pretty plain and homogenous: flat rocks on top of each other like a stack of pancakes, obviously not natural and also obviously not in danger of toppling. There is never the thought “how is that possible?”

An idea came to me: what if I took these found stacks and, using the same rocks, tried to create balances that are more dramatic? It felt like a fun challenge, let’s do it!

Here are a couple of before and after photos from a recent walk:

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Before
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After
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Before
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After

Same rocks, different configuration. (If you’re counting, one stack started with seven rocks and ended with six. I dropped one and it fell into a leaf pile and I didn’t try to find it.)

The process is as pleasing as finally getting everything to balance “right”.

It’s kind of like “what I do”

It occurred to me that the “assignment” of using given materials is like one way I collaborate with certain people: taking their “rocks” (text, images, etc) and using them to create something (a website) that is more dramatic, more pleasing, “more” than what they would have created on their own. Even without doing any editing a better presentation can be made, and the results can be both astonishing and satisfying. I enjoy the well-defined parameters and the creativity that can blossom within them. It especially feels good when I am able to make space for “rocks” that maybe are harder to work with — not as inherently pleasing, perhaps — and they become part of a larger assemblage that works.

Wanna try rock balancing?

Everything I know about doing this I learned from Peter Juhl’s short and insightful book Center of Gravity: A Guide to the Practice of Rock Balancing. One small section of the book clearly teaches the fundamentals and you may amaze yourself (and others!) with how quickly you start making noteworthy balances.

How I got started

When I lived in San Francisco (2000 – 2006) man-made rock formations appeared along the coast line, improbably balanced into columns. Years later I learned they were the work of (or inspired by) Bill Dan. At some point while walking through the Palace of Fine Arts I saw a Snapple bottle balanced on edge on a pillar base. If you click through to the Bill Dan entry in Wikipedia that I linked above you’ll see a can he balanced in just such a way. Did he balance the Snapple can I saw? I don’t know. But I was shocked, mystified, and intrigued by what I saw. It stayed with me.

Sometime in the 2010’s I started accumulating “board” games in which the goal is to stack various things. One of them (Rukshuk) even had fake rocks used to create simplified versions of real-world rock formations. Finally I realized I really wanted to stack real rocks which led me to the book I mentioned. (Kind of like how after years of hand-drumming I realized what I really wanted was to play a drum kit in a rock band, which is another story... and, hey, I guess "rock" is a thing for me, haha.)

Rock balancing is not exactly a compulsive hobby for me, but I greatly enjoy it when I do it. It is usually near running water, and the sounds combined with the focus create a meditative experience. It’s wonderful. Just writing this I find myself taking a slow deep breath and feeling more calm. If this is interesting to you, I suggest you try it yourself!


Earlier Post: I will be a hummingbird

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