Have you ever happened upon a wilderness lakeside or mountain stream and discovered human built stacks of stones? You’ve been in the presence of an international, informal club of stone-stackers. Better yet, wade right into the wilderness, choose out a good sturdy base-stone and join the club. You’re well on your way to spending a carefree afternoon, wasting time in the sun by the lake. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in improving life’s balancing act from stacking stones.
Most everything has a center. The earth rotates on a central axis. From the center of that axis radiates a modest little force we call gravity, drawing all other objects towards the center. Try a simple test. Balance a yardstick on your finger. Lay the number 17 or 19 on your finger and watch the stick fall. Then place your finger under the number 18 and watch it balance easily. Stacking stones calls a person to the center. Simply put, the spirituality of returning and resting in God quietly moves us to the center, to the balancing point where impossible loads become possible to bear.
I remember one sunny afternoon at a lakeside a few years ago. One of our sons spent several hours on a single stack of stones. Over and over again, he would raise one stone upon another and over it would topple. He allowed for failure, and finally stuck the stack into a thing of improbable beauty, seven large round stones raised to a height above his head. No two stones alike. Stone stacking requires plenty of trail and error. Find a stone you think will work. Find what you think is the center. Set it gently upon the stone beneath to see how its weight is received by the stack. Make adjustments. Who cares if it knocks the whole stack down? Try it again. Learn the patient art of allowing for failure.
One of the little tricks we’ve often used in stone stacking is the use of little stone wedges, or chinks, to help support uneven stones. Part of the delight of stone stacking is the lack of uniformity in a pile of stones. Stacking bricks holds little interest for me. But why not add an odd wedge of stone here and a prop there to give the whole structure more stability. Often, I’ve been propped up and found my center by the chinking support of a wise word from a friend, a friendly gesture of a stranger or even from a circumstantial event that filled the gap at the right time. Look for these little supports in the day.
After you’ve set a few stones on the stack, take a few steps back, and look. Admire the creation. Inspect the angles. See how the sun plays on the faces of the stones. Get a feel for the whole. With most tasks, we get so caught up in the labor that we forget to take time to step away for a moment, just to pause, look, take a few breaths, and admire our work. Often, within this pause, I’ve felt the sense of where the stones are heading and plunged back into the lake with renewed vigor and clarity to finish the stack.
Take delight in stacking stones. You will not be entering the Pacific Northwest regional championships with this pile. There is no first prize. Your boss will not be writing up a performance review at the end of the day. There’s no deadline. Just you, the lake, and a pile of stones. Splash about, get wet, pretend you’re a child all over again, and set another stone on the stack. The first year our family began stacking stones on the north shore of Lake Quinault in the Olympic National Park, people walked by to gawk at the odd stone statues lining the shore along a rocky point. “What are they?” people would ask. Our answers varied from year to year. To be honest, I’ve never quite understood what they are or why we build them. Part of the answer lies in the wonder of childhood, in the delight children take at playing with the good earth at the edge of the water. The other part comes from that mysterious side of every human, no matter the age, language, culture, nationality or tribe. We all have an inner compass for the center and find delight in the beauty and challenge of keeping our lives in balance.